From the punchy 2.0-litre diesel up to the storming 5.0 V10 in the M5, BMW has an engine to suit any buyer.
But there has been the odd runt in the pack. Generally they are at the bottom of each range: the 116i and 318i smack of engines for those desperate to drive a BMW but who don’t have the resources to do it properly.
In fact, many of the entry-level four-cylinder petrol BMWs over the years have attracted derisory attention, which might well be why the 5-series Touring range starts with a six-cylinder, in the form of the 523i SE.
It has a good pedigree, being hewn from the same lightweight block as the 258bhp 3.0-litre motor, and featuring high-revving Valvetronic technology.
The 523i isn’t actually a 2.3-litre engine. It’s a 2.5-litre unit, the same as in the 525i but with less power. It has 174bhp, while the full-fat 525i has considerably more with 215bhp. But the new 520d will have 167bhp, and that leads to a question which is not easy to answer in the positive for the petrol. Why would you buy a 523i?
BMW is about to have all the bases covered at this end of the market. The forthcoming diesel will do the job from a running cost point of view, as well as having a lot more grunt than the 523i, which is useful if a driver uses the Touring for heavy loads.
The 525i will offer the sportier power delivery that some drivers want from a petrol-engined car. So what does the 523i offer?
Less performance, for one. With four up and load on board, the lack of power and torque is noticeable.
Although it has a respectable 0-62mph time of just under nine seconds, it is in the mid- range that it lacks punch.
Being a BMW six-cylinder, it makes a brawny noise under acceleration, and is whisper quiet when cruising, but compared with what the bigger petrol offers and what the small diesel will, it doesn’t come up to the mark. Its combined fuel consumption figure of 32.5mpg is also almost identical to the 525i at 31.7mpg, so there is no great advantage there either.
The main one is price: the 523i is £600 cheaper. But it will be £900 more expensive than the 520d.
Everywhere, BMW has a model that has it licked.
Viewed in isolation against other manufacturers’ efforts, the 523i is a decent engine in a good car. But line it up against the other engines in the 5-series range and it looks weedy, with not especially good fuel economy and high-ish emissions.
So it boils down to this: the 523i is a car for drivers who really don’t want a diesel but can’t stretch to the extra money required for a 525i. In this case, the 523i is the Touring for them.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £28,932
CO2 emissions (g/km): 210
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 29%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 17
Combined mpg: 32.5
CAP Monitor residual value: 40%/£11,550
Depreciation 28.97 pence per mile x 60,000: £17,382
Maintenance 3.83 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,298
Fuel 12.79 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,674
Wholelife cost 45.59 pence per mile x 60,000: £27,354
Typical contract hire rate: £554
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance
At a glance
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THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
ALL four of these premium estates have similar pre-discount prices, but only the BMW and Mercedes-Benz are entry-level models. The S-line Audi is secaond-from-bottom (although the lowest SE is considerably cheaper), while the Volvo is a mid-ranger. The Swede is the best equipped, while the A6 has the cool S-line pack and the E-class is typically sparse for an entry Merc. The 523i is better equipped than the Merc and the iDrive is colour, unlike Audi’s MMI system.
AUDI’S A6 S-line runs on 18-inch wheels, which means the corresponding tyres are a little more expensive, pushing up its service, maintenance and repair costs. Unusually, the Mercedes-Benz E-class proves the cheapest for SMR, at 3.54ppm over three years/ 60,000 miles, which equates to a servicing cost of more than £2,100. The 5-series is not far behind, at 3.83ppm and the Volvo slightly further back at 4.08ppm. The A6 would cost £400 more in servicing than the E-class.
THE fact that the V70 range is cheaper at the front end as a whole means a driver can pick a more powerful engine. But the 2.5 T unit delivers 210bhp, which means it doesn’t fare well for fuel economy. Obviously, choose a less powerful model and the figures will improve. The other three are all in similar states of tune, although the Kompressor E-class’s fuel economy figure of 30.1mpg is poor. Audi’s turbocharged 2.0 FSI tops the list – a figure of 34.5mpg and 12.09ppm which means a fuel bill £400 smaller than the BMW.
Volvo 13.54ppm Mercedes-Benz 13.68ppm
PREMIUM estates are very popular second-hand purchases, and the three German cars will all be worth about 40% of their cost new after three years/60,000 miles, according to CAP. The Volvo doesn’t quite come up to the same mark and will be worth 32%. CAP predicts the Audi will be worth more than the Mercedes-Benz and, in ppm terms, loses less than the BMW. This is rare – the A6 saloon doesn’t compare with its rival saloons in RVs, showing the Avant’s strength.
THE A6 Avant and 523i Touring are neck-and-neck on running costs at slightly more than £27,000 each over the typical fleet cycle. Strong residual values and better than class average fuel economy are key to this. The E-class is a tad more expensive, at just over £28,000, mainly due to a higher fuel bill and lower RV. The Volvo struggles in this company and is considerably more expensive at nearly £30,000.
EMISSIONS AND BIK TAX RATES
AUDI’S smaller 2.0-litre turbocharged FSI engine produces the least emissions of the cars here by a fair distance which, allied to the lowest P11D value, means it is easily the most tax-efficient. It would cost a 40% taxpayer £2,956 for the 2005/2006 financial year. The next best, the 523i, is exactly £400 a year more in tax, while the Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are further back still. Even with the 3% surcharge added, the diesel equivalents are going to be much cheaper.
THE two cars that are the most useful estates – the E-class and V70 – are the most costly. The Volvo is way off but well-equipped, while the low-spec Merc is beaten but not disgraced. That leaves the 523i and A6, and while the BMW is a fine car with good handling, the Audi is the best looking, most practical car of the two. It is also decently equipped and is the most efficient for company car tax and wholelife costs. In the end, it wins easily.