January 29, 2007
BMW has built some exceptional sports cars over the years, and within the last decade the Munich-based automaker has entered the SUV fray with a vengeance. But BMW has really built its stock in trade on a legacy of sporting coupes and sedans that mystically blend superb dynamics with utility and comfort. Nobody does sport sedans like BMW.
This point was driven home while testing a 2007 530xi equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. Sure, all the wood, leather, mod-cons and spectacular Harmon/Kardon LOGIC 7 sound system can trick one into thinking this is just another luxury sedan, but the information filtering up through the tautly sprung chassis and the accurate and perfectly weighted Servotronic steering tell another story. Carve into a bend and the all-wheel-drive 530xi, with a 40/60 front to rear torque bias, takes a set and calls out to the enthusiast within.
Heel and toe downshifting in an upscale sedan? You betcha. The pedals are perfectly set up for it, and the six-speed shifter is a delight. You’d think a manual would be out of place in a car like this, but to this tester, it feels right at home. Although I am among the rare few who will experience this: BMW predicts 95% of 5-series buyers will go automatic. Their loss.
The 530xi is powered by a magnesium/aluminum block DOHC 24-valve 3.0-litre straight-six that produces 255 hp at 6600 rpm and 220 lb.-ft. at 2750 rpm. This relatively light 164-kg engine features BMW’s trick throttle-less Valvetronic intake system which imparts it with sharp throttle response and linear power delivery.
There are certainly faster sedans out there, but this engine is so smooth and sexy sounding when running up through the gears, I could be perfectly happy with it. BMW claims the six-speed 530xi dashes to 100 km/h in 7.0 seconds, which is nothing to be ashamed of. About the only time the car felt wanting was when calling for top gear acceleration on the highway.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of this engine is its surprising economy. Even in this 1660-kg sedan, I managed 9.9 L/100 km (premium fuel) over a week of mainly highway driving. Enthusiast/greenies should be leaping for joy.
The styling of this “new” 5 series, created under the direction of BMW design chief Chris Bangle, is a tad contentious. Many still mourn the passing of the previous 5, which was a classic beauty. Hey, you can’t live in the past.
My tester, with the M Aerodynamic Package (aggressive front and rear fascias and nicely integrated sill extensions), looked all business with its leering cats-eye headlights, bulldog stance and taughtly sculpted flanks. While the Audi A6 is languid and the Mercedes E Class somewhat staid, the 5 series sedan looks edgy and purposeful. You couldn’t call it pretty, but nor would you want to. It might take a swipe at you.
The aero kit is part of the $6,500 M Sport Package that also includes M multi-function leather steering wheel, sport seats, aluminum trim, 18-inch double spoke alloys with run-flat performance tires and high-gloss shadow line. My tester was wearing 17-inch wheels with 225/50 Dunlop SnowSport tires.
BMW’s clever xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which uses a computer-controlled limited slip centre differential, adds 95 kilograms and $2,900 to the base 530i. The 530xi starts at $70,700.
The system is transparent in its operation. While the default setting for xDrive is a front/rear torque split of 40/60, additional power will be sent to either end if the myriad sensors detect wheel slippage or excessive understeer or oversteer while cornering. Get into more trouble, and the computers brake individual wheels and reduce engine output.
Pressing the DTC (dynamic traction control) button at the base of the console allows for some wheel slippage, which is necessary to get moving on extremely slippery surfaces.
Unfortunately, I didn’t experience any snowy roads during the time I had it, but on one particularly wet and greasy day, the 530xi was secure and planted. It pulled cleanly through sharp bends and brisk acceleration was drama free.
Structurally, the 530 feels as though it’s carved from an anvil, and every surface, be it wood, plastic, metal or leather is a tactile delight. The M sport seats strike a fine balance between comfort and support and the driving position is spot on. About the only criticism I could level at the all-black interior is that it was a bit cold in its Teutonic perfection. That, and iDrive.
Yeah, I know there has been enough bitching in the press about BMW’s notorious driver/vehicle interface to fill a wing at your local library. So I’ll go on record as saying iDrive is clever, functional, and more user-friendly than ever. My only gripe is the number of distracting moves and scrolling required to change radio bands and stations. They’re called PRESETS, people.
But stay tuned folks. My current iDrive-equipped BMW test vehicle (2007 X5 4.8i) suggests that Hades hath a layer of ice creeping across – at least under Munich anyway. It’s got radio presets!
This silver grey metallic 530xi was equipped with the Premium Package, which, for $3,800, adds universal garage door opener, auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, pass through ski bag, heated rear seats, park distance control, and the aforementioned Harmon/Kardon LOGIC 7 system that had me rifling through my CD collection before every outing. Sat/nav would be an additional $2,900.
If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice the bottom line is swelling somewhat. Eight-one thousand smackers is getting up there, especially when looking at the competition. For about the same money you can get into a V8-powered Quattro Audi A6 4.2 S-Line, and at $65,250, the 303-hp Lexus GS 350 AWD seems like a steal.
But it all comes back to driver involvement. If you’re willing to pay the price, the BMW 530xi offers an unrivalled combination of all-wheel-drive security, luxury and involving sporting dynamics – especially when opting for the six-speed manual.
If you really want to do niche, go for the 530xi Touring ($72,800) with the stick. You won’t see too many of those coming and going.
Pricing: 2007 BMW 530xi
Base price: $70,700
Premium Package $3800 (Universal Garage Door Opener, Int/Ext Auto Dimming Mirrors, Ski Bag, Heated Rear Seats, Park Distance Control, Harmon/Kardon LOGIC 7 Sound System), M Sport Package $6500 (M Multi-function Sport Steering Wheel, Sport Seats, Aluminum Cube Pure Trim, M Aerodynamic Package, 18” M Double Spoke Alloy Wheels, Performance Run-flat Tires, High-Gloss Shadow Line)
Destination: $ 1,895
A/C Tax: $ 100
Price as tested: $82,995
Manufacturer’s web site