This BMW 520d is a hard car to get your head around.
For a start, you might ask why anyone would choose a bog-standard 5 Series with fewer toys than Oliver Twist when you could get a similarly-priced 3 Series replete with powerful engine and all manner of luxurious goodies?
But sales figures show the 520d is a very popular car.
In 2006, it was the range’s most popular model – and one of BMW’s best-selling fleet cars.
Obviously, one of the 5 Series’ attractions is that it is a much bigger car than the cosy 3 Series, and affords the driver a little more stature.
But for all its size, the 520d punches well below its weight – at least in environmental terms. Because effectively, you are driving around in a supermini.
The 520d saloon has claimed combined fuel economy of 55.4mpg with CO2 emissions of 136g/km, putting it in the lowest possible benefit-in-kind tax band.
Just how stunning are these numbers? Well, a Volkswagen Polo 1.9 TDI or a petrol-engined smart fortwo can offer only very slightly better figures.
This is thanks to the EfficientDynamics technology now available across most of the BMW range, although in the 520d you don’t get stop-start for some unexplained reason.
However, it is likely to feature at a later date.
It does come with gearshift indicator, low rolling resistance tyres and active aerodynamics which uses flaps that close in the grille and air vents at speed to make the car more slippery.
So the real cleverness is that you don’t really pay in performance terms for the low emissions and excellent fuel economy.
It might have supermini emission figures but it performs like a grown-up car. This engine produces 177bhp – about the same as Audi manages to extract from its 2.7-litre TDI unit, albeit the BMW has slightly less torque.
It’s still an impressive result, though, and means the 520d manages performance figures of zero to 62mph in 8.3 seconds.
It’s adequately fast and from behind the wheel you wouldn’t feel especially short-changed for picking the range’s smallest engine.
Despite being a four-cylinder in a car more often known for a six, it’s decently refined and quiet too.
It’s hard to fault as a powerplant and plenty of passengers wouldn’t be able to tell they weren’t in something more salubrious.
Where it starts to fall down is in the specification. Our test car had seats that were clothed in the sort of austere beige cloth of a 1970s railway station waiting room seat and they were hard, flat and not especially comfortable either.
The equipment list includes automatic air conditioning, a CD player and little else, but there is at least a quality atmosphere to the cabin as BMW has improved the standard of plastics, which previously looked a little cheap in some areas. So it’s solid, but most definitely unspectacular.
P11D value: £27,025
CO2 emissions (g/km): 136
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £115
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 55.4
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £11,925/44%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £497
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Volvo is considerably cheaper than the BMW or Mercedes-Benz while the A6 looks good value, coming with climate control and satellite navigation as standard, The E-Class Executive model is the version specifically designed for the corporate market while the 520d is less well-specced but comes with that superb 177bhp engine.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
There is only one story here and that is the incredibly low level of emissions that BMW has managed with the 520d.
Tax-wise, the 520d will cost a 40% taxpayer £162 a month, compared with £185 for the A6, £193 for the S80 and £207 for the Mercedes-Benz.
Usually you would expect that the Mercedes-Benz would be the most expensive but the costs of the E220 look to be well-controlled.
Over 60,000 miles they would equate to £2,694. The BMW comes a close second, at £2,796, while the S80 is the most expensive at £3,000
E220: 4.49 (pence per mile)/£2,694 (60,000 miles total)
The 520d is a long way ahead in fuel costs over three years/60,000 miles, where it would rack up a bill of £4,776 – comparable to 55mpg.
In any other comparison, the other cars’ figures would be looking healthy, with the A6 and E220’s £5,712 bill equivalent to 46mpg.
520d: 7.96 (pence per mile)/£4,776 (60,000 miles total)
In terms of cash lost, the A6 does best thanks to its considerably cheaper front end price and 41% RV.
In terms of percentage retention, CAP puts the BMW first at 44% after three years/60,000 miles. The E-Class will retain 42% but it has a much higher front-end price.
A6: 24.82 (pence per mile)/£14,892 (60,000 miles total)
The 520d is the lowest in wholelife costs by a distance and that’s quite a feat against some impressive cars. Only the E-Class’s depreciation counts against it while the S80 struggles – its low front end price isn’t backed up in running costs. The A6 does a good job overall.
520d: 37.78 (pence per mile)/£22,668 (60,000 miles total)
BMW has moved the game so far on in the executive sector with the efficiency and power of its engines that it must have left the competition reeling and wondering how to react.
Yet again an EfficientDynamics-equipped BMW strolls to an easy victory, undercutting its rivals on running costs, driver tax bills and driving appeal.