Diesel technology has moved on a great deal in the last 22 years, although BMW has seemed rather bashful about its own diesel products.
Perhaps it’s to do with claiming to build the ‘ultimate driving machine’ had having products that are historically associated with being slow and noisy. About 10 years ago, diesel BMWs sold in the UK amounted to 8% of the firm’s total registrations. Now, however, diesels account to about one-third of new BMW sales and BMW has just launched perhaps the spiritual successor to the original 524td.
The 535d is the fastest diesel on sale. Although at 272bhp its engine is less powerful than some of the monster diesels fitted to larger cars – the 279bhp 4.0-litre V8 in the Audi A8 and the 313bhp 5.0-litre V10 in the Volkswagen Phaeton and Touareg – the 5-series is smaller and lighter than these and was designed as a high-performance saloon.
Thanks to two turbos, 95% of its maximum torque of 413lb-ft is available at 1,500rpm, and at least that amount remains available until well over 3,000rpm.
BMW says that unlike a bi-turbo of a V-configuration engine – for example like Jaguar’s twin-turbo V6 2.7D – where there is effectively a turbo for each bank of cylinders, the 535d has a smoother flow of power, which lasts longer.
The BMW’s in-line six-cylinder uses two different sized turbochargers, the smaller one operating at the low end of the rev range, while the second turbo takes charge in the mid to high-range.
The result is less turbo lag low down and this engine will keep going strong when other turbodiesels will have run out of puff. Unlike the single-turbo version of this engine in the 530d and other models, the red line on the rev counter is set at 5,000rpm – 500rpm higher.
BMW claims that as well as offering a better cure for turbo lag, fuel consumption is also better than with a bi-turbo V-engine with the turbos running in parallel. The 535d is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission, and is offered either as a saloon or in Touring guises, with a choice of SE and Sport specification.
Diesel is playing an increasingly important part in the 5-series model range in the UK, accounting for more than half of those registered last year.
The 535d is expected to boost the 5-series diesel share this year with about 600 saloons and 400 Touring variants finding homes in the UK.
Standard equipment includes automatic air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, trip computer, metallic paint, parking sensors (front and rear), puncture warning system, six airbags, dynamic stability control (DSC) and the iDrive controller and display screen.
Sport models are fitted with run-flat tyres as standard and the latest option to arrive on the BMW 5-series – head-up display – is available for those equipped with optional satellite navigation. The display can project vehicle speed, turn-by-turn navigation directions and numerous systems warnings directly into the driver’s eyeline on the windscreen.
Behind the wheel
THE plan was to pick up a 535d in Jerez, in southern Spain, and drive it back to the Fleet News office within 36 hours. The route would total 1,700 miles and include an overnight stop in France.
Including fuel and food stops and the inevitable pause at the Channel Tunnel, it meant an average speed of about 70mph, brisk but safe, and well within the legal limit in mainland Europe.
An early Saturday start meant taking to the roads in darkness, although visibility was aided by an optional lighting pack that includes adaptive bi-xenon headlights and headlamp washers.
BMW’s engineers tried to enhance the 535d’s sporty credentials by making it sound a little more raucous than the 530d – a confident move when manufacturers have spent years and invested millions in trying to make diesels quieter.
Sitting on the motorway in southern Spain, the 535d was an ideal companion. Comfortable and showing barely 2,000rpm, the car is able to cover vast distances in a relaxed manner.
There is always straight-line performance on demand and, when driving on twistier roads than motorways, the precise and informative steering and composed handling inspire confidence.
The true high performance of the 5-series has been diluted by the decision to offer Active Steering and Dynamic Drive as options (£675 saloon/£810 Touring and £1,550 respectively), items that make the 5-series experience rather more enhanced for the driver. Perhaps this is a way of broadening the appeal of the 5-series and making it less intimidating to drivers who are less fond of the challenge of a B-road blast.
The electronic nannies in the car seem to intervene promptly when the huge torque on offer threatens to overwhelm the rear tyres. With all the gadgets switched on, the only way of provoking the rear end to step out in the dry is to lift off suddenly mid-corner and, even then, the unruly tail is brought swiftly back into line. In the wet, it’s a different story. The electronics are in constant attendance as the torque will cause the tyres to lose grip regularly.
After two tanks of fuel and a drive in warm sunshine, it was time to bed down in an inexpensive hotel in southern France before the second leg of the trip.
On Sunday, France was shrouded in freezing fog but the car still made good time despite the layer of ice that encrusted the door mirrors.
It was still daylight at Calais and the 535d was on the tank of diesel that would get us back to Cambridge-shire, the fourth since setting off the day before, which meant nearly 30mpg despite our pace.
NO other car in its sector provides the same combination of performance and fuel consumption as the 535d.
True driving enthusiasts might be well advised to go for the Sport variant and specify Dynamic Drive and Active Steering, but the 535d raises the performance bar for others to follow.
Engine (cc): 2,993 twin-turbo
Max power (bhp/rpm): 272/4,000 (272/4,100)
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 413 (2,000)
Max speed (mph): 155
0-62mph (sec): 6.5 (6.6)
Fuel consumption (mpg): 35.3 (34.4)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 211 (216)
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 70/15.4
Transmission: 6-sp auto
Service interval (miles): Variable
On sale: Now
Price (OTR): £36,575 (£41,225)
Run-flat tyres prove their worth in test
Run-flat tyres have been criticised in recent times for harming the ride quality of cars they are fitted to, and you can tell the difference. However, the benefits can be seen to outweigh the disadvantages.
BMW demonstrated the ability of run-flat tyres on a short test circuit with a 535d Sport available to drive with four completely flat tyres. BMW recommends that run-flats may be used at up to 50mph and for up to 90 miles with a car full of people and their luggage, so the technology is safe along these parameters.
Of course, four flat tyres is perhaps taking it to the extreme and there was much more road noise transmitted into the cabin.
However, the car’s ABS, DSC, and various other stability programmes all functioned perfectly, ensuring the car never strayed too far off-line even when provoked.