Car ReviewsFirst Drive

BMW 520d Review

Tony Bosworth’s BMW 520d review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

In a Nutshell BMW’s 5-series is a truly beautiful car and with the efficient twin-turbo diesel engine it is impressively economical too.

Practical Motoring Says Beauty and brains, that’s the BMW 520d, a car that successfully combines luxury with unbeatable build quality, a fuel sipping thirst and competitive $82,400 price tag.

SOMEONE ONCE SAID YOU CAN’T have it all, well, you know what, I don’t think they could possibly have been behind the wheel of BMW’s 520d because if they had they probably would have kept their mouth shut.

Last time I drove a Five it was a much smaller car. This latest 2014 model feels more like you’re behind the wheel of the company’s 7-Series, though of course that bigger brother has also gone through a growth spurt over the past few years.

There’s no doubt the 520 is a big car and in the sedan form tested here it is truly a grand tourer family machine. It’s a great looking car too, with trademark BMW styling cues in the shape of the shark-nose bonnet and kidney-grille and it sits on stylish standard 18-inch wheels. A sharp crease-line runs down the flank and while it’s a simple enough styling point it gives the BMW some serious added presence.

The twin turbocharged diesel is a four cylinder 2.0-litre affair pushing through a super-smooth and responsive eight-speed auto to the rear wheels. There’s 135kW of power – incidentally that’s the same power output as the petrol BMW320i and it’s also the same diesel engine you’ll find in the 320d too – but it’s the 380Nm of torque that really makes the bigger BMW 520d fly.

The BMW 520d is nice and smooth to drive

You can hear the diesel clatter on idle, though it’s well suppressed in the cabin. I caught a couple of blokes talking about the car as I pulled out of a car park. “Nice,” one said. “Yeah, but hear that diesel,” said his mate.

But once the 520d is moving you cannot hear the diesel and it’s very hard indeed for most folks to even be aware it’s an oil burner, the refinement is so good and power pick-up is wonderfully smooth and train-like.

The only negative is that at 100km/h and pulling up a motorway incline – so not that steep –there’s an annoying thrumming noise from the engine. Crest 100km/h and it stops, and if you’re cruising on the flat the thrum is never there. Frankly it’s a price I’d be prepared to pay for the overall wonderful silky performance and low fuel consumption.

The BMW 520d rides and handles beautifully

Handling and ride is simply amongst the best there is. Heavyish diesel engines can make some cars nose heavy and stodgy but that’s never something you’ll experience in this very poised car. Despite its size and weight it is nimble.

Push the BMW 520d through bends and it somehow feels smaller than it is; you can feel the family resemblance echoing across the BMW range – poised, grippy, taut, yet comfy. The ride/handling conundrum is a hard one but BMW has pretty much sorted it. Yes, the 5-Series in general is a bit softer than its smaller 3-Series sibling, but it’s not floaty or soft like some other cars of the same size. The Five diesel’s springs swallows bumps well, and though the biggish tyres rumble and thump over really bad surfaces, you hear it muffled, almost as if it’s happening to another car. On poor quality country roads the 520d’s springs are certainly firm and some may feel they’d like a bit more softness there, but it’s not something I’d complain about, given the overall poise and grip.

Steering is well weighted and though the steering wheel is a bit more old-man size than you’d find in an Audi, and in the straightahead position it does feel a bit wooly, it still gives quick and precise turn-in, and when you’re hustling this car along, ultimately the feel you need is there.

The BMW 520d features a beautiful interior

The driving position is infinitely variable thanks to minute electrically adjustable movements (the steering column is electrically adjustable too) and the front seats are big like armchairs and superbly made. Personally I could have done with a bit more lumbar support though.

This is one range of cars where you do not wonder if the seat material is leather or not – there’s no doubt it is and it’s beautifully finished though the light beige in the test car is very impractical, especially if you have children. The rear bench is also a beautiful piece of work and it’s incredibly roomy and comfortable too. Legroom is among the best in its class. Many rear passengers in some other cars have a perfect right to complain, but it’s unlikely you’ll ever hear a peep out of BMW 520d passengers.

The boot is very large and at 520litres capacity it has plenty of useable space. Although there’s a lip it’s low so it’s easy to get heavy loads in and out and it will swallow a family’s luggage, no problem.

The 520d’s extra cost options list is lengthy in a way only BMW seem capable of but as standard you do get a decent package of cruise control with braking function, bi-xenon headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel, electric seats with memory, but there are no heated seats unless you pay extra, which seems stingey at this price. There’s a 12-speaker sound system (which is very good), illuminated door handles and door sill finishers. There’s a fair bit more but if you really want to feel like you’ve arrived, as it were, you will find yourself dipping into the extra cost list which includes a whopping $3200 for an electric sunroof. I had that option on the test car and once I’d opened and closed it once, I never used it again.

And yes it’s a very safe car, with both five-star Euro and ANCAP safety ratings, and there’s ABS anti-lock brakes as part of the Dynamic Stability Control system which also includes cornering brake control, stability control and brake assist.

As standard there’s Active Protection which means if a crash is imminent the windows and any sunroof automatically closes, and the seat belt pre-tensions and tightens. Brake lights automatically flash on and off quickly if emergency braking is called for. There are six airbags.

BMW quote fuel consumption of 4.7L/100km but I recorded 6.0, which frankly is much more realistic in normal driving conditions, and my drive included a good stint on the motorway at 100km/h when this 520d is pretty much at its most efficient.

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BMW 520d

PRICE $82,400 (+ORC) WARRANTY three-years, unlimited kilometres SAFETY five-star eNCAP ENGINE 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel POWER/TORQUE 135kW/380Nm TRANSMISSION eight-speed automatic DRIVE RWD BODY 4.90M (L); 1.86M (W); 1.46M (H) WEIGHT 1625kg FUEL TANK 70 litres THIRST 4.7L/100km


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober