Thursday 8 December 2016

why i'm only beeming

Published 17/04/2010 | 05:00

I had little enough tangible reason for it, but I felt cheered for the few sunny days that I drove this new 5-series across the country. There is something about a warm spring evening, good company and the impetuous decision to drive to -- of all places -- Salthill, Galway.

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As it happened, we were in the midlands and thanks to the new motorway we found ourselves, in an hour or so, taking in the sea air against one of the world's great backdrops. If ever a car was made for a road and an evening like that, the 530d must be it.

We just swept over the Shannon, swished through a landscape still partially doused in the cold water of winter and sprinkled with the emerging colour of bud and bloom.

The first truly sunny spring day gave us hope -- and God knows we need that in abundance.

We have had a tough winter as a people. I just hope we ourselves, and those we pay to 'run' this country, have learned some lessons. If we haven't, then beautiful spring days won't sustain us for long.

Car makers are like countries in microcosm -- and they are learning lessons faster than anyone else.

Take this new 5-series. I mean, how do you convince people to spend money they don't have any more?

It is a question with parallels for us, about how we stimulate growth and enterprise. But mostly, it is about how better we tune in -- and respond -- to the demands of the real world.

Essentially, BMW has called on a wellspring of inherent excellence at its disposal, especially the remarkable agility of the 7-series, on which the '5' draws so heavily.

Yes, it is a much better car but nearly every new car is better than its predecessor. They key thing, for me, is that you can buy one for a fair bit less than the 'old' one when it was new.

There is a feel-good factor in owning a car that costs a good deal less while you're getting a fair bit more.

That's not to say there are areas where I'd have disagreed with what they've done. But it looks better than the old one. The wheels, especially, 'fit' the look of the car much better than the old one.

The cabin is big, roomy, and simply laid and decked out. Mind you, with two big frames stretching back in luxury in the driver's and front passenger's seats, there was not as much rear room for the others as I'd have expected from a motor that has an 80mm longer wheelbase designed to benefit those behind.

There's always a surprise, isn't there? And in this case, it is in the boot. It is huge. Never mind golf bags, you could throw the 18th green in there.

But that was far from my mind as I settled into this for a series of drives. Take the one to the west. I just sat in, pushed the lever to D and let this stretch its legs.

Now the 3-litre is not going to be the big seller. It's just the 2-litre (520d) doesn't get here till June. The 3-litre is a powerhouse. With six cylinders keeping it as smooth as that 18th green and 245bhp giving punch and pace, it just overpowered the kilometres. And we all noticed that there was hardly a sound of engine or road noise in the cabin.

This car was made for gobbling up distance.

I was disappointed, initially, with a a vague and indirect feel to the steering. But gradually the chassis came through (much tauter) and that new suspension (7-series derived) stood up to a few gruelling back-road spurts that made this feel like a small energetic car.

It owes a lot of that to the 7-series technology. Great verve and vim to the whole thing. Makes you want to drive.

They have made it better because they have let the best of exceptional technology percolate into this. It is more dynamic than the Mercedes E-Class, though the Merc is much improved in handling and looks, and that three-pointed star will sway many a buyer. It is much fresher than the Audi A6 but not as dynamic-looking or cleverly designed as the Jaguar XF.

But they have got it to a price level -- from just under €42,000 (for the 520d) -- that would not have been imaginable a couple of years ago.

Fair dues to Mercedes for putting it up to BMW with their E-Class pricing. Mind you, the options on my test car added around €8,500.

But if you can stretch to it, the extra for the surround-view/rear-camera options are brilliant. I parked in slivers of space I wouldn't go near in ordinary circumstances.

Far less impressive, however, is the quite shocking delivery price of around €800. I see no reason for that amount. Why don't you bargain over that when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the deal?

Yet even that couldn't dispel the sense of well being while I was at the wheel of a car whose 5.5 million predecessors trace back to 1972.

Each series improved; they learnt and adapted. As I say, we as a country have a lot to learn from car makers. And I'd willingly pay the heavy delivery charge for that.

ecunningham@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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