The skinny: As far as large luxury sedans go, few have the enduring cachet of BMW's 5 Series in Australia. It might lag a little in sales behind the Mercedes Benz E Class, but its blend of handsome lines, potent performance, and generous interior space appeal to both private and hire car buyers alike.
It's an all-German battle for supremacy, but few cars command the attention of aspirational buyers like BMW and Mercedes Benz.
At the middle of the 5 Series range sits the 535i, with performance courtesy of BMW’s turbocharged straight-six. Despite having passed the midway point of its life-cycle, the 535i still delivers on spearing performance and prestige accommodation.
Vehicle Style: Large luxury sedan
Price: $121,240 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 225kW/400Nm 3.0 6cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.9 l/100km | tested: 11.2 l/100km
BMW’s executive sedan is in a pretty good place. It sells at almost double the rate of the Audi A6 and Jaguar XF, although the latter is deep into run-out.
In fact the only car that outsells it in the category is the E-Class, from the rampant and seemingly unstoppable Mercedes-Benz.
However, BMW's reputation for rapier handling and precision gives the 5 Series range an appealing point of difference compared to most in a segment that's spoiled for choice, futher enhanced by the M Sport featured in this review.
Good looks, certainly, strong levels of equipment, and a powerful but gentlemanly turbo six-cylinder engine round out the 535i package.
Despite strong opposition, the BMW 5 Series continues to be an appealing proposition.
- Standard equipment: Dual zone climate control, leather seat trim, proximity key and push-button start, cruise control with speed limiter, front and rear park sensors, 360 degree cameras, self-parking assistant, heat insulating glass, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights with high beam assist, auto dimming mirrors.
- Infotainment: 10.2-inch colour screen, iDrive controller, satellite navigation, 20GB hard drive, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, 16-speaker Harman Kardon audio
- Cargo volume: 520 litres minimum
Take a peek inside the 535i and you’ll find nothing but the best materials, fit, and finish.
The car tested here features the Exclusive pack, which adds extras such as a leather instrument panel, Nappa leather seats, soft-close doors, and rear sunblinds, along with added safety systems (see Safety section) for $3800
The M steering wheel, on the other hand, comes as part of the M Sport kit, which mostly focuses on exterior styling, but adds the sports wheel and M scuff plates to the inside.
Power adjustable front seats provide a range of adjustment, and offer wide backrests able to cosset and accommodate all shapes and sizes.
Rear seats are also broad and comfortable. There’s enough width for three abreast, but the centre spot is a little compromised by the transmission tunnel.
Head and legroom in the rear are generous enough to be used by adults without compromise.
The same goes for boot space, with 520 litres of storage, and, with a deep low opening, loading luggage is an easy task. Rear seatbacks offer 60:40 folding, and there is a ski-port for loading long items as well.
Extra finishes, like the wood inlays in the interior are impeccably finished, and the interior is precisely constructed and firmly assembled.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 225kW/400Nm 3.0 litre six-cylinder turbo petrol
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes, vented front rotors
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering
Where the ‘35i’ engine range is something of a firebrand in BMW’s smaller vehicles, the 535i is a much more refined conveyance.
The extra weight of a 5 Series body over say, a 2 Series, means the 535i isn’t quite as rapid, but acceleration is still authoritative and instantly brisk should you go looking for it.
The 535i’s Twin Power 3.0 litre in-line six-cylinder engine utilises a twin-scroll turbocharger and produces 225kW of power at 5800rpm and 400Nm of torque between 1200 and 5000rpm.
In city driving, the stout torque delivery ensures effortless progress, even with a full compliment of passengers.
Away from town, the 535i is capable of effortless overtaking, with plenty left in reserve to tackle steep hills, and enough zest to feel sprightly on the right stretch of road.
Coupled to a silken eight-speed automatic, the big BMW four-door competently fills the grand tourer role offering a decent turn of speed (or 'indecent', if you should really ask it the question), without compromising on comfort.
Part of the M Sport package includes fimer M suspension. It's ok, you will warm to it if you enjoy the feeling of the 'thoroughbred' through the wheel.
While the M suspension suppresses body roll and tightens handling, it doesn't completely throw ride comfort out the window.
There is a slightly muted feel to the steering (common to most cars with electric assistance, rather than hydraulic), but the steering is free from off-centre twitchiness and is quick to respond should you wish to tuck into a tight bend.
Road and wind noise are also kept to a minimum, while engine noise, even at high rpm, barely registers.
Up against the Mercedes-Benz E400 the 535i has a slightly more 'alive' and sporting feel behind the wheel, despite the Benz producing an extra 20kW and 80Nm.
Official fuel figures also favour the Mercedes, with 7.6 l/100km versus the BMW’s official 7.9 l/100km. On our mostly city-based test drive however, the big Beemer blew the figures out to 11.2 l/100km.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - the 5 Series range scored 36.53 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2010
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, dual front side, full-length curtain), active front head restraints, front seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, electronic stability and traction control, Active Protection, which senses an accident and prepares the vehicle by pre-tightening seatbelts and closing windows.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
BMW’s 5 Series range crosses paths with the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Jaguar’s new-model XF, launching in Australia soon, is also worthy of consideration.
Japanese luxury contenders include the Lexus GS range and the Infiniti Q70 - both of which are due to launch updated versions in Australia soon.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Comfortable and spacious, and with a decent spread of luxury features, the 5 Series range wraps nimble handling with luxury and space.
Adding the M Sport package adds just the right subtle amount of visual menace to the exterior, and ticking the box for the Exclusive package takes care of dressing things up inside.
As an executive express, the 535i is quiet, and comfortable. But once clients or family are out of the vehicle, you can point it at a winding mountain road and enjoy its sports dynamics and sharp handling.
Edging out the Mercedes-Benz E400 on value, and towering over Lexus and Infiniti for brand caché, performance, and equipment, the 535i represents strong buying in this segment.
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