Wednesday 21 February 2018

Achieving the estate of bliss

The BMW 5 Series 520d is the company car of choice this year. The estate version, with its country feel and oodles of space, appealed hugely to Campbell Spray

AN ESTATE TO SETTLE INTO: The BMW 5 Series 520d Tourer is fast, desirable and clean.
AN ESTATE TO SETTLE INTO: The BMW 5 Series 520d Tourer is fast, desirable and clean.

THERE is a tendency in my life to get excited over estate cars.

Probably, to a lot of people, that verges on the sad. However, I love the potential in such cars. The carrying capacity when you suddenly see an antique chaise longue abandoned by the side of the road; the chance to put a pack of wolfhounds safely behind the rear seats; and the possibility of carrying the surfboards and wetsuits for a glamorous quartet of blonde beach babes are just some of the dreams I entertain when, more realistically, I'm carrying fencing from Woodies or mirrors from Ikea. However, especially among the more premium brands, there is something very countryish about such cars. Green wellies, moors and the smell of wet dog more than breakfast rolls and forecourt coffee.

The more sporty the name the better, I find. Something like 'Sportswagon' or 'Tourer' sums up the potential nicely.

The BMW 520d for many good reasons -- including economy, style and build quality -- is the premium company car of choice this year. The only issue is probably with the relative popularity of the car. They are almost littering corporate Ireland again. However, the estate version adds something really different and sets you apart from your peers. It is a supremely good example of all that is desirable about the better estates.

Oodles of space with good hidden compartments, strong road presence and ease of loading all mated to a powerful, but economical, motor.

My car was also blessed with a brilliant surround-view camera and parking assistance system for side, rear and forward work that ensures the ship is safely steered in and out of the tightest spaces.

The auto box is a massive extra €2,214, but I found it especially good in this model. After remarking to a friend how good I found the 5 Series Touring, he said that I wasn't alone and that Neil Lyndon -- who occasionally occupies this space for me -- in the Sunday Telegraph had actually raved about the vehicle during a test drive in Germany.

Neil wrote: ". . . through wide Bavarian hop fields, these empty but twisty roads with long sightlines invite the car to be exercised a little harder.

"Soon, we are travelling at speeds that very few high-performance cars could safely exceed. And we are doing it, moreover, in complete comfort and stability, with not a hint of that rising nausea that the rock-hard ride of a supercar would induce.

". . . We could also have been carrying many bags of cement in the rear-load space.

"And, amazingly, that burden might not have made much discernible difference to the car's handling because its variable damper control system and self-levelling air suspension would automatically adjust itself to compensate for the weight."

Since its first introduction in 1991, BMW's 5 Series Touring has always been the car that proves that you can, indeed, have it all -- family bus, exhilarating high-performance car and load-lugger all under the same elegant, curving, tapering roof.

Neil concludes that the "new version carries this implausible confection to an even more elevated peak. If this isn't, at present, the most nearly perfect car in the world, then I scratch my head to know which one might deserve that title."

The on-the-road price for the 520d starts at €45,730 with leather seats and two-zone automatic air conditioning as standard. The test car with the auto box had another €10,000 of extras, but the sky is really the limit. The 530d is nearly €20,000 more and the petrol models come in at €56,170 (523i) and €69,460 (535i).

The new models have greater carrying capacity, but the curving roofline does its best to hide this and give the impression of an extended coupe. It is fast, desirable and clean -- what more can you ask? Well, I suppose you could find me that chaise longue.

Sunday Independent

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