A fine estate of affairs
Published 13/11/2010 | 05:00
Well there you are... I'm hardly a week back and I'm slipping. Already I've been tailgated several times, honked at to speed up and had headlights flashing at junctions.
It has been a rude awakening given the peaceful, quiet ways I had become accustomed to over a few days in quiet semi-rural America.
If only those people who harassed me knew what I -- sorry, my car -- could do they might not have been as big at the bullying.
Thankfully I didn't need to. I was behind the wheel of one of those cars that shuts out a fair bit of that rotten, rough, tough, raw world. So long as you have €45,000 or so, of course. Which means you probably have to engage with that worldly dimension in a big way to earn that sort of money, or you couldn't afford this.
For all that, the new BMW 520d Touring made my return to reality a lot easier than it might have been.
Now here's a big estate that would be equally at home on the speed-conscious US highways or, as I found out, on a few of our bog-standard bumpy roads.
More than that, I venture to suggest, this has the composure and coherence to tempt a few of you SUV drivers out of your high seats because it has a hell of a lot of room.
I drifted a fair bit around the east and midlands in this, sauntering more than under pressure to be anywhere. Tiddling around here and there, in and out of narrow entrance gates, tight parking spots, up and over awkward old hump-back bridges, I never adjusted the seat or steering wheel as soon as I got my initial position the way I wanted it. I cannot say that about too many cars.
Estates have two major dimensions -- the cabin and the luggage area. There's a great boot (560 litres) in this, with a clever way of operating. You can increase it to 1,670 litres if you fold down the 40/20/40 rear seats. And you can fold the backrest by using two control levers inside the luggage compartment.
I also liked the way the loading space cover automatically tracked the tailgate to keep the contents hidden when the back door was closed. And, best of all, the rear window opens separately from the tailgate at the push of a button -- handy if you just want to fling in a couple of smaller items.
As well as that, you can tweak the angle of the rear seats by up to 11 degrees. Even more importantly: the rear seats will take three adults in comfort.
This is, as you can gather, a spacious piece of work with a large cabin. But it does not feel like the inside of a van -- as some can who fail to realise that proportions in a cabin are so important.
So as I sauntered around I was conscious of being comfortably ensconced.
It is also a classic BMW to look at, with nothing too dramatic done to the shape other than the frontal focus being on the kidney grille and headlights and the rear on the curve of the rear window and tailgate.
So far so good. You'd expect all this to be leading up to a penalty in the sense that you'd expect to need a fairly large engine to push it around without having it struggling.
Wrong. This had a grand 2-litre diesel which manages to generate 184bhp but, far more importantly, keeps emissions to 135g/km. In hard-headed money language that means your road tax bill each year comes to just €156. A fair old feat, I think you'll agree.
In case you think this is just a sauntering car, the chance to prove otherwise arose at the weekend. Hungry, wet and a little cold I sank into its warmth and pointed that long, deep blue snout in the direction of south Dublin.
In the face of wind and rain the Touring did what I suppose it does best: steadily and at motorway cruising speed, it absolutely soaked up the kilometres.
Ha! I'll tell you there was no one tailgating me for that hour or so; nobody dared honk or flash lights. I was king of the road. It swished through the puddles, was never adversely affected by stiff cross winds and, thanks to a hard-working rear wiper, I had plenty of clean, clear visibility.
Not too many other cars, or competitors, will creep up on this unawares.
It may lack the driving height of an SUV and I suppose if you want real zip and zest you'd go for the 530d which costs a good deal more. My advice to you after a good while behind the wheel of this 520d is not to bother. This is good enough for anything most of us will demand of it.
Estates don't sell big here. We effectively shun them, but cars like this, the Mercedes E-Class and the Volvo V70 -- to name just a few -- have that extra something that transforms them from being estates into big, warm family cars. They may not be as fashionable as the new breed of crossovers and SUVs, but the medium-sized executive estate has something all of its own.
What: BMW 5-series Touring 520d (1,995cc, 184bhp, 0-100kmh in 8.3 secs, top speed 222kmh), 6spd gearbox, rear -wheel drive, CO2 of 135g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax.
Cost: From €44,800.
Target Market: Families, SUV drivers.
Plus: Space, handling, price, equipment, versatility.
Minus: We are not fond of estates here. SUVs have better/higher driving positions.
Standard Equipment: Huge range of passive and active safety equipment, dual-control air con, automatic Stop-Start.
Others to consider: Mercedes E-Class estate, Volvo V70, Honda Accord estate.
Star Rating: 83 / 100