Fleet News

5-Series Touring

BMW

Review

For those well-paid executives wanting all the sporting appeal of a saloon with the added practicality of an estate, BMW's new 5-series Touring is undoubtedly going to be on everyone's shortlist.

Even if you don't need the additional loadspace, you might be tempted to pay the premium of about £2,000 over the saloon. It's arguably better-looking, with the longer roofline and estate tailgate well suited to the relatively long rear overhang.

With BMW anticipating a growth in the executive estate market of around 20%-25% in the next 10 years, the 5-series Touring's importance in the BMW line-up is clear, despite its recent high-profile launches of new 4x4s and coupes.

Unsurprisingly, the engine sales mix for the estate differs to that experienced by the saloon, the more practical nature of the car appealing to a slightly different type of buyer.

Typically, diesels dominate. BMW's experience with the previous 5-series Touring shows that the 525d and 530d captured 38% and 30% of the market respectively. The remaining petrol engines only just broke into double-digit percentage sales figures.

BMW expects a split of 60/40 in favour of diesel engines, with a similar 60/40 split between business and private customers. What's certain is that corporate buyers will favour the diesel units, particularly as the launch of the Touring coincides with the introduction a new particulate filter.

This gives full Euro IV compliance, and thus bypasses the 3% BIK surcharge for non-compliant diesels. More importantly, there has been no change to either the engine output or the fuel economy figures. The 5-series saloon gets these changes at the same time.

With the new filter the powerful 2.5 and 3.0-litre six-cylinder diesels compare more favourably with their rivals. The most obvious, the Mercedes-Benz E-class, doesn't offer direct competition in capacity, but output for the E270 CDI matches BMW's 2.5-litre at 177bhp with the Mercedes-Benz CO2 emissions of 188g/km only slightly bettered by BMW with 187g/km.

BMW's 3.0-litre offers a 14bhp advantage over Mercedes-Benz's E320 CDI with 218bhp, and the 192g/km CO2 figure just betters the Merc's. 194g/km. But that's not quite a fair comparison, for the Mercedes-Benz has an auto gearbox.

Compare like with like and its 194g/km to 213g/km in favour of the E320 CDI. Audi's new A6 3.0-litre quattro has more power still – 225bhp – but this goes hand-in-hand with the highest CO2 output of 223g/km for the saloon, a figure likely to be slightly higher in the yet-to-be-launched Avant.

Consumption from the 5-series is right up there with its competitors. BMW's own figures of 40.4mpg for the smaller 525d and 39.2mpg for the 530d are comparable with rivals. Both fall to 35.3 mpg when specified with the six-speed auto in place of the standard six-speed manual.

Despite the clear-cut financial benefits of the diesels, for some only the range-topping engine will do.

The 4.4-litre V8 petrol is an impressive performer with 333bhp, a 0-62mph time of just 5.9 seconds and a sonorous exhaust note in accompaniment, but you'll pay for its performance with CO2 emissions of 274g/km and 25.0 mpg combined consumption. At £43,945 it's strictly for senior management and directors, though higher equipment levels are obviously included.

Initially offered in the UK in 525i SE, 525d SE, 530d SE and 545i SE variants, prices range from £29,415 to £43,945. Taking the 530d SE as the pivotal model, it's £33,930 list price compares favourably to the £36,115 of the Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI Elegance, though you have to add another £1,350 for auto on the BMW.

The range will be joined later this year by the 535d SE. This new engine will deliver 268bhp at 4,400rpm and a hefty 413lb-ft of torque at 2,000rpm, with 369lb-ft being available at just 1,500rpm.

Expect this unit to be incorporated throughout the rest of the BMW range as the flagship diesel. Spring 2005 will see the introduction of 520i SE and 530i SE models to complete the line-up unless, of course, rumours of an M5 Touring are to be believed.

Behind the wheel

The experience from the driver's seat is little different to that of the saloon, apart from the view through the rear mirror. The iDrive still has the power to infuriate and the comfortable, ergonomically sound cabin is let down slightly by a smattering of low-rent plastics.

BMW's impressive head-up display featured on our test cars, this useful feature allowing you to keep your eyes firmly on the road as speed and other relevant information is unobtrusively projected on the screen.

The spacious estate boot offers some useful touches, with underfloor luggage separators, lashing points for securing bulky loads and the usual split/fold and ski-hatch functions. Like the old 5-series Touring the rear window can be opened without the full tailgate, and the rear luggage cover automatically lifts to ease access when either opening is used. Overall, it's a useful, well thought-out estate with 500-1,650 litres capacity, some 90-125 litres up on its predecessor.

The changes to the rear suspension to compensate for possible additional loads were imperceptible on the streaming wet day we tested both the 3.0-litre diesel and 4.4-litre V8 petrol models. It seems doubtful, however, that even on dry roads any real difference in the 5's driving characteristics are likely to be noticed.

Smooth German country roads, made slippery by a combination of agricultural traffic and the weather, presented a real test for the numerous electronic traction, braking and stability systems that come as standard on any 5-series.

We have come to expect these systems to work effectively, but it still impresses how well a large car like this can be kept under control by all the electronic wizardry in such evil driving conditions. They do take the edge off the driving experience, however, and the 5-series lacks the finesse and fine feedback of its predecessors.

It's a sign of the times, too, when the optional six-speed automatic shifts so smoothly and quickly that any attempt at manual gear changing seems superfluous.

Easy, punchy performance from the 3.0-litre diesel allows 90mph autobahn cruising at barely 2,000rpm. It means it is as quiet as the 545i petrol car and although the V8 has an obvious performance edge and a far more pleasing engine note, the negatives weigh heavily in terms of economy and BIK taxation.

Impressive as the 545i Touring is, in real world driving the 3.0-litre diesel is the clear winner, especially with its new Euro IV status.

Driving verdict

BMW's 5-series Touring betters rivals for driver pleasure but the gap is no longer as wide as it was. Pile on the electronic systems and you temper the experience; optional advances like the active steering fail to completely convince us, particularly in the Touring model, where it seems incongruous.

It's as good to drive as the saloon and more useful too, but it fails to give a knockout blow to the Mercedes E-class estate.

Fact file
Model 525d SE 530d SE 545i SE
Engine (cc): 2,497 2,993 4,398
Max power (bhp/rpm): 177/4,000 218/4,000 333/6,100
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 295/2,000 369/2,000 332/3,600
Max speed (mph): 140 150 155
0-62mph (secs): 8.3 7.2 5.9
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 40.4 39.2 25.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 187 192 274
Transmission: 6 speed (6 speed Steptronic option)
On sale: May 20, 2004

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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