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meninblack

Hire Car Report: The BMW 520d

77 posts in this topic

I was travelling in Germany this week, and it fell to me to provide transport for myself and three colleagues. I asked the car hire company for an estate, which would usually be an A4 Avant. On this occasion, the car hire lottery threw up something a bit different: a 520d Touring from the Bavarian Motor Works.

The 520d SE is the very bottom of the 5-series range, with a 2.0 litre 4-pot turbodiesel instead of BMW's signature straight-six. In basic spec it costs around £32,600, but my example was optioned-up with gangster wheels, a huge twin sunroof, climate control, HID lights, sat nav and an automatic gearbox: all of which pushes the price up within sniffing distance of £40,000. High expectations then! :D The last 5-series I drove was an E12 520 back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, so I didn't really know what to expect...

First impressions: it's pretty big! The styling is marmite: I don't care for the looks of any of the Bangle BMWs, but the Touring is at least less offensive than the saloon.

Space and practicality: Getting in is a bit of a struggle - the door opening is quite small and the A-pillar is raked a long way back, making for a bit of a squeeze into the drivers seat. I thought it was just me, but the front passenger reported the same. The very wide centre console pushes you right to the side of the car, and it feels cramped in the front. It seats four, but not five - the transmission tunnel is too wide for the centre seat in the rear to be useful. Despite this, a huge central rear headrest is fitted which obscures most of the already-limited view out of the back window. Maybe it folds down: my rear passengers couldn't find a way to do it. Visibility out of the side windows is also poor due to small windows and huge pillars. The old E12 was miles better! The boot is also rather small. One of my Dutch colleagues fitted 5 people and their bags into his hire car - a Focus estate. You couldn't do this in the beemer. :nup:

Interior: the seats are wide, firm and fairly comfortable. Standard upholstery is thick, elephant-arse leather, which is a bit too slippery. Better quality hide is available for £££; I would have preferred a no-cost cloth option. The dash is plain and easy to use, although the trip computer was impenetrable to me.

The middle of the dash is dominated by a huge, 10" sat nav. This looks like it should be a touch screen, but isn't. :roll: After some futile prodding at it, I discovered it was operated by a not-very-intuitive turn-and-push "joystick" device, inconveniently sited on the far side of the enormous centre console. The sat nav worked well, even if it did sometimes pipe up with, stay on the road, for no obvious reason. What did it think I was about to do? :?

Trim on the base model is a mix of elephant-arse black plastic (same as the Passat) and piano-black something-or-other which felt very like the piano black something-or-other in the MX-5 (ie plasticky and cheap.) A nicer, biege interior is available - but the Germans seem to prefer black. All the switchgear felt high-quality and worked well - just like a VW, in fact.

Performance: on paper, the 2.0 litre diesel looks capable. There are 185 bhp, 0-60 comes up in 8.3 seconds and it will run on to 135 mph. On the road, it's a different story. The car is very heavy, and feels sluggish and feeble. The 8-speed (:shock:) auto constantly hunts up and down the box to keep it on the boil,often dropping 2 or 3 gears when faced with a slight incline.

Comfort: the seats are comfy, but the ride is jiggly. Rear passengers were not impressed, and even felt a bit car-sick. On the Autobahn. The 18" wanker-wheels and run-flat tyres don't help here.

Handling: the steering is neutral and well weighted, but so slow. There is no feedback or feel, so you get little sense of what the car is doing on the road. Most sporting cars will let you adjust the line mid-bend on the throttle - the BMW responds to every tiny throttle movement by changing gear, so this isn't an option. Nothing here for the keen driver. :nup:

These is a £££ optional adaptive suspension which lets you choose between comfort and handling. The standard system offers neither. :(

Refinement: I expected this to be a real strong point - but there was just too much engine noise and wind noise round the mirrors. The Passat is miles better in this respect.

Economy: over 550 km of mixed roads, it got 39 mpg. OK, but not outstanding - over 10,000 miles my 2.0 litre diesel Passat is averaging 60 mpg. CO2 numbers and company car tax are good by class standards.

Summary: for £40k you expect something a bit special. Strong performance and sporty handling, maybe. Or cosseting luxury and a comfortable ride. Pick the right Jaguar and you can have both. The BMW gives you neither. Compared to my Passat (£18k cheaper) the 5-series is equally slow, equally uncomfortable and with equally dull handling. Both are well made from high-quality materials. The VW is roomier, with more luggage space, and miles more economical. Hmm.

For: the badge will impress the neighbours...

Against: ...unless they've driven one.

Summary: bottom of the range barge offers poor value and nothing for the keen driver.

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Interesting write up MIB. Did the car come with a Pink Floyd CD already in the player just to make your driving experience even more pleasurable!

As a counter to the above review, I have driven my Dads 2007 177bhp 5 series (basic spec apart from leather and upgraded 17" alloys) on a long weekend to France and Belgium and found it a very willing drive. OK it has a 6 speed box so seamless gear changes and no hunting are the order of the day but it used fuel sparingly and seated 5, but I did feel sorry for the guy sitting on the hump between the 2 rear seats! My biggest complaint would be the uncomfortable drivers seat. In a nutshell it handled everything my driving skill could throw at it with ease as we hustled between viewing points on the Paris Roubaix "Queen of the Classics", "Hell of the North" bike race.

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This thing must have been dreary, the least interesting review you have ever written Mibby, Did the hire company demand your sense of humour as well as your driving licence or was all joy sucked away by the driving experience? :)

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I have one of these! It's the fourth 5 Series I've had, so am obviously happy with the BMW way of doing things. It does everything I want in a car, handles long journeys down to Southern France effortlessly, has decent fuel consumption, although certainly could be better, and has as much performance as I can handle.

I don't have any problem with the joystick controller or the trip computer, both seem intuitive enough to me.

As I don't like FWD, (front wheels should steer, and back wheels should push), the only alternative I considered was the Mercedes E250, However, the deal-killer for me was that the tailgate window doesn't open, and loading long stuff, like 3m lengths of timber, is so much easier through the back window. Dropping the odd bit of shopping into the back is also a lot easier if just the back window opens.

As to looks, I thought the 520 was a lot more discrete, the E250 something of a mug's eyeful, but that's entirely personal.

Considering how different our tastes in HiFi are, I'm not surprised we rate cars differently too! But then I find the Duchess of Cornwall attractive.

S.

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Good car that 5-series, though the four pot 2.0 diesel is not enough for such a big and heavy car.

Most reviews on t'internet are more positive than Mibby's!

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Good car that 5-series, though the four pot 2.0 diesel is not enough for such a big and heavy car.

Most reviews on t'internet are more positive than Mibby's!

It depends what performance one's looking for. 8.2 sec to 60 and 135mph is quite enough for me! It's significantly faster than my last 6-pot petrol 520i and does about 50% better fuel economy.

S.

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Roughly what fuel consumption are you getting Serge? And what do you get on a decent run?

It depends what performance one's looking for. 8.2 sec to 60 and 135mph is quite enough for me! It's significantly faster than my last 6-pot petrol 520i and does about 50% better fuel economy.

S.

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Roughly what fuel consumption are you getting Serge? And what do you get on a decent run?

I get around 38 running around town and country lanes, with around 50 on steady motorway runs. Average around 42 over a three-month period.

This is a lot lower than BMW state, but according to BMW, whom the Dealer contacted about this, the figures are for a fully run-in engine, and they reckon it takes something like 50,000 miles :shock: for these engines to run-in fully. I had the car checked by my dealer, and their engine checks showed completely normal operation. Their Service Manager , who didn't strike me as a bullshitting salesman, also said these cars require long running-in, and I should see a month-on-month improvement.

I'm not convinced about the running-in, but I've only done some 5000 miles so far, so I'll see if it improves as time goes on.

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It will definitely improve until 15k-ish miles. Less time than a Wadia CD player :D

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I'm not convinced about the running-in, but I've only done some 5000 miles so far, so I'll see if it improves as time goes on.

Serge in 'BMW Burn in' shocker :shock:

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This thing must have been dreary, the least interesting review you have ever written Mibby, Did the hire company demand your sense of humour as well as your driving licence or was all joy sucked away by the driving experience? :)

That was it - it was just dreary! Didn't do anything so badly as to be comical, didn't do anything so well that you would praise it. Dull, anonymous, bland, characterless. Very German! An efficient mobility device, albeit at a high price. Since it had no RWD handling traits you may as well save the money and buy a Toyota - but of course these cars are ALL about badge snobbery, so a Toyota might not appeal.... ;-)

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TBH, most of these kraut mobiles are fairly bland and characterless. However, what they do offer is safe, reliable and predictable transportation. Low depreciation too.

When my car recently went for a service, I borrowed a 335d SE for a couple of days. Best diesel I have ever driven but still a little on the dull side. Nice figures: 428 lbs ft torque, 282bhp, 0-60 in 6.1 seconds then on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Effortless cruising, though the 19"(!) runflats leave a lot to be desired around town.

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The hire firm gave you the 2.0 litre 4 pot "economy" BM, economy being relative.

So I can understand the disappointment.

The 5 series to buy & own, with your own money, is the 530d, at least a year old.

That way the hefty 1st year depreciation has been picked up elsewhere.

Having tried all the makes in this class I'm now on my 3rd, 5 series. So I agree with Serge.

I owned a mid 2000's, 530d and loved the car. Rapid, good economy, quiet, effortless on a long journey.

I then got tempted by a 2007, 530d M Sport.

Now we are talking properly quick, the semi auto box made overtaking easy & still good economy of 40- 46mpg.

The latest is a 2009, 530d M Sport (business edition) with paddle gearshift, lots of toys & 5 years "free" servicing.

When I picked this car up I was shocked. The improvement over the 2007 model was massive.

More of the engine is aluminium, which lightens the front end and gives even more torque.

Consequently it corners just like a sports car, is shockingly fast (the paddle gears & semi auto box are a joy to use) & still returns 40-45mpg.

The Sport button firms up the steering & suspension, speeds up the gear shift and we are now talking serious driving mode.

The idrive works just like a mouse & is easy to use. Short term users complain and I can see why, but once you've set the functions to your personal needs, its a doddle.

I've set an alarm to go off at 90mph as the missus says its all too easy to hit a ton.

I've owned this car for 18 months & it still puts a smile on my face every time I drive it.

And with the current economic climate, this car is a long term keeper.:^

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Corners like a sports car? :shock:

Does the 3.0 litre have a completely different steering system? The 2.0 litre had slow and vague steering with absolutely no feel or feedback - it was like driving a video game on a sluggish PC.

Nothing this heavy could possibly corner in any way like a sports car. Even the big Jags don't, and they are a damn sight better than any BMW. I sometimes think all you German car fans may never have driven anything half-decent. :P

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