Latest report: BMW 5 Series Touring long-term test
04 May 2021
Author: Pete Tullin
Our 5 Series picked up a puncture, but its run-flat tyres saved the day.
|BMW 520d Touring M Sport Pro Tech |
|P11D price:|| £50,780|
|As tested:|| £56,685|
|Official consumption:|| 51.4mpg|
|Our average consumption:|| 47.2mpg|
3rd Report: Deflated but not defeated
What is that saying? 'The course of true love never did run smooth'?
This definitely seems to be the case with our BMW 5 Series Touring.
Now, before we go any further, just as I did in March, I will caution the 'I knew German cars weren't as reliable as everyone thinks' brigade before they jump to any inauspicious conclusions.
I will admit, it has only been a matter of weeks since the Touring's rear-wheel-drive layout and its inability to gain traction saw it stranded on my drive under six-inches of snow, and yes, another debilitating problem in such short-order could be seen as a pointer to sketchy unreliability. However, once again, the cause of the 5 Series woes had more to do with the fickle finger of fate, rather than any mechanical meltdown. Yes, I'm talking about the curse of the flat tyre.
If you're a high mileage person then you'll probably consider this deflating experience an inevitable consequence of the job and regard it with Zen-like calm, knowing that, depending on where and when said incident happens, it will either put an inconvenient dent in your working day or completely ruin your weekend. Probably the latter.
Fortunately, and much as I'm loathe to say it as over the years I have been a severe critic of the technology, my experience turned out to be little more than a minor blip, because the Touring is fitted with run-flat tyres.
I'll go into the reasons for my dislike of run-flats in a moment but for now, all I can say is they pretty much saved my bacon.
Setting out from Kent, facing a 70-mile journey to Hampshire, I had just cleared the confines of Sevenoaks and within spitting distance of the M25, when a low-pressure warning light pinged up on the Touring's big central infotainment screen.
Concluding caution is nearly always the better part of valour, I speared off down the slip of a road less travelled, so I could ascertain whether I was the victim of a pernicious nail or just a rogue sensor.
With older generations of BMW, you were left to play a quizzical guessing game, trying to identify which was the stricken member of the rubbery quartet, and because of their structural integrity, it was a devil of a job to identify which of the four had pulled a sicky. Thankfully, the latest 5 Series does the Poirot work for you and delving a little further into the menus revealed the near-side front tyre was ailing. Our 5 Series also comes with a concierge-style helpline, so I pressed the summoning button and sure enough, it connected my phone to an angel of mercy in BMW's call-centre. Unfortunately, she told me that although they would be happy to dispatch a rescue vehicle, little could be done in the way of on-the-spot repairs and the total of their endeavours would be to escort me to the nearest tyre fitting centre.
Agreeing with their diagnosis and given the rigid stiffness of run-flat tyres will allow the vehicle to continue at speeds up to 50mph to a suitable place of exchange, I continued my journey via back B-roads until I could get home and arrange for a new tyre to be fitted the next day.
As I said earlier, my dislike of run-flats is well documented, because of their unyielding structure and the negative effect this has on ride quality. Given the Touring is fitted with 20in wheels and lowered M-Sport suspension, my fears were the next six months would turn out to be more torture than Touring.
Thankfully, the Touring's ride, although taut, is far from harsh, due in no small part to the adaptive dampers that are part of the £2,495 M-Sport Pro package, but also the Touring's self-levelling rear suspension appears to give it a comfort advantage over an equivalent 5 Series saloon.
So, providing the fates don't intervene once again, I'll crack on enjoying all the delights the Touring has to offer.
2nd Report: Spring brings light relief
Is there anything more frustrating than getting a new toy and not being able to play with it? That's exactly how I felt about our new BMW 520d Touring, because within 48 hours of its arrival it was undrivable.
Before you get carried away with thoughts of 'I knew German cars weren't as reliable as everyone thinks' I confess, the Touring's malaise had more to do with the fickle hand of Mother Nature than any mechanical meltdown.
Although, putting its power to the road via the rear wheels did play a significant part in its ignominious demise. Stuck on my inclined driveway, under six inches of crusty snow, atop a Teflon glazed surface and despite my judicious scatterings of grit, copious amount of swearing and sweaty shovelling, the rear wheels were rendered incapable of gaining any sort of purchase.
Thankfully, after a couple of frustrating days of working from home, the sun finally put its hat on and I was able to extradite the Touring from winter's icy grip.
Had we specified out Touring with xDrive would things have been any less debilitating? Possibly. That said, I'm less inclined to think of four-wheel-drive systems as a wintry silver bullet than most. Yes, all-wheel drive undoubtedly boosts traction, but they are no help when it comes to braking on icy surfaces and that additional component mass can actually exacerbate stopping distances.
Winter tyres have long been legal requirements in chillier parts of Europe once the nights start to draw in, and they are undoubtedly the best solution to keeping matters moving.
Here in the UK, we still see the added expense and hassle of storing additional black hoops as too much of a faff, and we continue to muddle through with crossed fingers.
I feel that attitude might be quite different if more folks realised the traction, grip and associated braking performance of non-winter tyres is significantly reduced even at a relatively balmy 9°C; something to consider the next time you find yourself travelling a bit too close to the car in front on a dark, chilly night.
Despite its stuttering start to life with yours truly, I simply love the Touring, thanks mainly to its strong power and excellent refinement. I'm a particular fan of quiet cars and their ability to ease the working day because noise is a significant fatigue-inducing factor.
Given the Touring's 500-mile travelling capability on a full tank, it is all too easy to spend long periods behind the wheel and the Touring has several tricks up its sleeve to help keep me alert. These include a sensory reinvigorating programme, which delivers a face full of refreshing aircon and a rather evocative scent, accompanied by an upbeat musical melody.
All good stuff, but the highlights for me are the Touring's optional Icon Adaptive LED Headlights. This select and forget arrangement does a brilliant job of reducing soporific inducing eye strain, as it automatically adjusts a matrix of individual lenses to block out certain areas of the road so as not to dazzle oncoming drivers while leaving complementary lenses unregulated to provide maximum road coverage.
It can also dim areas consistent with the rear of vehicles I may be following, while continuing to shine past the flanks of said vehicle and off into the distance.
If I'm honest, I nearly fell off my chair when I saw the price. At £1,000 I was set to pronounce them an extravagant dalliance until I awoke my old Porsche Cayman from its slumbers and took it for a cobweb blowing cruise prior to a MOT appointment the next day. Caught short by the failing light, the intense eye strain and heightened levels of concentration required to navigate a country road lit only by pallid xenon lights did more than anything to convince me of the extraordinary safety benefits the Touring's epic illumination system delivers.
1st Report: Generation gap
I'm not one for nostalgia, but when editor Simon Harris suggested I run around in a BMW 520d Touring for the next few months I did get a wee bit dewy-eyed. That's because my long-term relationship with the 5 Series stretches way back to 1995.
Although the 5 Series in question was supplied via the BMW-approved used scheme, with 20-odd thousand miles on the clock - and at first sight, I wasn't entirely convinced by the rather questionable maroon paint and distinctly iffy beige velour interior - I didn't care; it was a 525i and it was mine, well, at least it was for the next six months.
Excited almost to bursting point at the prospect of unbridled performance from its pearly 190hp six-cylinder motor - be still my beating heart - imagine my chagrin when the subject of my adulation turned out to be an absolute clunker.
Most of my bubbles were popped by the combination of four-speed slush-matic gearbox and Noah's ark torque converter technology, which, together, took about a quarter of a mile to fully engage and always felt as if they were on a mission to reduce the engine's power output by at least 50%.
Strangely enough, our new 520d's four-cylinder diesel engine develops an almost identical power output to the old six-pot. But how a 1990's petrol burner and a modern turbo diesel engine go about generating their power is as different as the combustion processes of a nuclear fission plant and a coal-fired power station.
Linked to the now ubiquitous eight-speed automatic, which was initially developed by transmission gurus ZF in conjunction with BMW, the immediate lock-up of the clutch packs married to the 2.0-litre motor's immense torque, aided by an 11bhp 48V starter-generator, are on a scale that would leave my old nail rattling its tappets in sheer disbelief.
At 55.4mpg, the 520d's official WLTP fuel consumption is different gravy also when compared with the mid 20s mpg a Marlboro-smoking '90s business traveller would have expected to achieve. That said, early indications of my mainly motorway drives, suggest I'm achieving closer to mid-40s mpg, although I am expecting this to improve as the engine beds in.
The 520d's engine is RDE2-compliant (as are all new car engines for 2021), so it isn't affected by the 4% benefit-in-kind tax diesel surcharge. But it does produce 146g/km of CO2, giving it a BIK rating of 32%, which looks pretty punchy next to the 10% implication that drivers of many of the latest generation of plug-in hybrids enjoy.
I'm more than happy though, because not only am I able to luxuriate in the 520d's effortless power delivery, but I'm also completely blown away by its phenomenal refinement. Along with the 48-volt mild hybrid system, which helps soften the coughs and shudders of stop-start events, the combustion rattle of the motor is so unobtrusive that most of my passengers so far have been unable to tell its pop-bang signature from that of a petrol engine.
Undoubtedly, some of this is down to the latest infinitely variable valve timing and rarefied fuel strategy, but it's also a product of bathing the engine in a thick synthetic coating to help reduce mechanical whirrs and lashes. Yes, some tingly vibrations can still be felt through the floor and if I place a hand on the steering column I can sense some subtle engine pulses, which may go some way to explaining why BMW seems obsessed with fitting such thick-rimmed steering wheels to its vehicles.
Our M Sport spec car features a vast array of equipment, so I'll save detailed analysis for my next report. Suffice to say, I've always considered BMW iDrive controller to be the best and safest way of selecting and displaying infotainment menus.
BMW isn't oblivious to the growing appeal of touchscreens, however, so this and voice activation are included as an interaction portals. Consequently, I will be making a concerted effort to spend more time prodding and engaging in conversations over the next few months. That said, I draw the line at gesture control, which allows a rotating hand in mid-air to increase or reduce the system's volume. The last thing I need is for a fellow road user to mistakenly think I am giving them the Royal wave.
Automatic transmission with gearshift paddles, M Sport suspension, run flat tyres, roof rails, leather seats, heated front seats, automatic air conditioning, BMW Live Cockpit with online services.
Adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist - £1,000
Technology pack: including head-up display, Harman-Kardon surround sound system, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging and gesture control - £2,495.
Comfort Pack: including steering wheel heating, comfort front seats and luggage compartment package - £2,495
M Sport Pro Pack: including 20in Alloy wheels, M Sport braking system, sun protection glass, M seat belts - £2,495
Panoramic glass sunroof - £1,495
Parking assist plus - £650