It could be a dangerous strategy in a sector where the vast majority of cars have elegant but ultra-conservative styling, and when the newest E-class, launched last year, is highly competent.
The new 5-series seems to follow a similar styling approach to the radical 7-series and Z4 as BMW tries to create individual designs for each of its cars rather than a range that looks like different sized versions of the same car.
And with the corporate appetite for diesel growing at an exponential rate, BMW believes its new 530d will take the lion's share of sales before other diesels join the range.
The new 5-series goes on sale in the UK on September 18 with the first cars powered by the big 3.0-litre diesel, a 2.2-litre straight six in the 520i and the petrol-powered 530i.
However, to keep company car tax bills to a minimum selecting a diesel in this sector is essential.
The new diesel in the 5-series is lifted straight from the 730d with a power upgrade from the previous model, and means it has the highest power output in its class at 215bhp, compared with 201bhp for the Mercedes-Benz E320 CDI, although it equals the Merc on maximum torque (369lb-ft).
The 5-series is a departure from the norm with swept back headlamps almost giving a horn-rimmed spectacles effect, while the rear light clusters also extend down the rear wings of the car. However, the rest of the exterior is more conventional.
Inside, the car contains a simplified version of iDrive (the central knob which accesses various secondary functions of the vehicle, including in-car entertainment, climate, navigation and communication, as well as the on-board computer) which made a controversial debut on the 7-series last year.
Here the number of options available from the start is four instead of eight and the whole process is less daunting than on its larger sibling. Thanks to iDrive the dashboard is relatively clutter- free, and although the materials used are up to BMW's usual high standard, it doesn't quite feel special enough. In a purely personal point of view it's because iDrive takes away dozens of buttons and switches.
The previous 530d was a strong performer, and the new car moves things up a notch. The improved engine gives the 530d faster acceleration and a higher top speed. It sprints from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, just 0.2 seconds slower than the 530i, and nearly matches it for top speed at 151mph. Maximum torque comes in at 2,000rpm and stays until 2,750rpm, but things get lively from 1,500rpm and it continues to pull like a train until nearly 4,000rpm.
It does all this remarkably quietly, with the six-cylinder engine audible in the background and none of the usual diesel clatter reaching through to the cabin.
The 530d feels lithe and agile, with excellent steering response (although this can be enhanced further by specifying active steering) and limited body roll. There is plenty of grip on offer from the tyres on our car's upgraded 18-inch wheels, although bumps in the road surface are transmitted into the cabin more than with the standard 17-inch wheels.
Overall, it feels like a BMW, it drives like a BMW, it still has the blue propeller badge and that will go a long way to ensuring its desirability.
BMW 530d SE auto fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £32,120
CO2 emissions (g/km): 208
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £165
Insurance group: 18
Combined mpg: 36.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £14,025/44%
Depreciation (30.15 pence per mile x 60,000): £18,090
Maintenance (4.54 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,724
Fuel (10.69 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,414
Wholelife cost (45.38 pence per mile x 60,000): £27,228
Typical contract hire rate: £639 per month
Three rivals to consider
THE new 5-series is priced a little lower in P11d terms than the equivalent Mercedes-Benz. It is possible to choose an E-class closer to the price of the 530d (the E270 CDI) but you lose a cylinder from the engine, about 30bhp and 75lb-ft of torque. The Audi looks good value with standard leather trim on the A6 now and the reassurance of four-wheel drive, while the Vel Satis could be a dark horse in this company, loaded with kit yet still offering the lowest front-end price.
THE 530d will incur an extra £300 of costs for servicing maintenance and repair over three years/60,000 miles compared with the Mercedes. However, selecting the Service Inclusive pack for a one-off payment of £750 could give the 530d an advantage in the total SMR bill, fixing servicing costs for 60,000 miles. The BMW, Mercedes and Audi offer variable service intervals, while the Vel Satis is fixed at 12,000 miles.
WHILE a combined fuel consumption figure of about 36mpg is commendable for any 215bhp diesel fitted with an automatic transmission, with just a little less power (and roughly the same torque output) the E-class outdoes the 530d, achieving 40.9mpg. Mercedes seems to have a knack of getting the most from an auto and it scores its biggest single advantage in this comparison. Although the Audi and Renault are less powerful they cannot compete with the BMW, let alone the E320 CDI.
THE 530d beats the E-class for depreciation, thanks to its P11d price advantage, despite CAP Monitor predicting a residual value one percentage point lower over three years/60,000 miles. However, the Mercedes-Benz is still much stronger than the other two rivals – a full two pence per mile cheaper than the Audi. No one expected the Renault to do well in this part of the comparison, but it is not that far away from the ageing Audi, with the cash lost over three years/60,000 miles an extra £894 on the Vel Satis over the A6.
ADD up all the figures and the E-class just edges out the 5-series on wholelife costs. It does not necessarily mean the 530d is a poor investment – we are certain it will be in huge demand as a used car – but the potential fuel cost saving of running the Mercedes means its advantage over the BMW equates to £192 over three years/60,000 miles. It is perhaps surprising that the Vel Satis works out at £540 more than the Audi A6 over the same period – no one here expected it to be that close.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE E320 CDI carries its fuel consumption advantage through to its BIK bill with by far the lowest emissions of the group, and negating the P11d price advantage of the 5-series. The 530d auto is respectable on 28% with a monthly bill of just under £300 for a higher rate taxpayer in 2002/03. It's just that the Mercedes-Benz is exceptional with a BIK rate of 23% and monthly bill of £261. The Audi proves most expensive, landing in the 35% band at £355 a month.
IN this comparison the E320 CDI just beats the BMW 530d on wholelife costs, but the Mercedes's advantage is all in its fuel bill and that depends how you drive – real-world driving will throw up more variances. However, the E-class is also a consummate performer and we think it will be a little more desirable for most drivers as well as being the fleet managers' favourite.