BMW unveils another stunner
Luxurious 5-Series boasts one of the finest engines on the road, writes Martin Love
ALLOWING for the vagaries of translation, one man's name appears on the forecourt of almost every petrol station in the world. But Rudolf Diesel didn't invent the fuel that now bears his name -- he developed the engine that burns it.
He was born in 1858 in Paris and at the age of 12 emigrated to London, before being sent on to Germany to live with relatives. Already a maths whizz, Diesel's lifelong passion for engineering culminated in his greatest invention: a robust, reliable and potent powerplant which would eventually replace the dirty steam engines of the day.
It's deeply apposite that Diesel, plagued by paranoia for much of his life, finally committed suicide by throwing himself into the sea from the deck of a steamship.
If he were alive today, Diesel would take much comfort from the fact that his invention is still evolving and still producing solutions to our increasingly complex transport dilemmas. And the version that nestles like a giant black egg in BMW's reborn 5-Series may be the most sublime iteration yet.
It's a super-smooth, slow-revving, clean-burning, all-aluminium, three-litre straight six which blasts the imperious Beemer from 0-100kmh in a shade over five seconds. It produces a bone-shuddering 442lb of torque and 295 brake horsepower while sipping fuel with all the abandon of ladies at a Temperance Society wine tasting. It's not a combustion engine, it's a conjuring trick.
Diesel's updated masterpiece, linked to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, is powering both the new 5-Series saloon and its Touring model (a snootier way of saying estate). It's almost 40 years since the saloon first rolled out, and 20 years since the estate -- sorry, Touring -- arrived on our streets. In those two decades 670,000 have been sold around the world.
Other than Diesel's engine, the most remarkable thing about the Touring is its self-levelling air suspension. This means that if you head over to France to bootleg back 1,670 litres of Beaujolais (the back seats fold flat to create a huge storage space), you won't find the exhaust pipes grinding on the tarmac as you drive on to the ferry. You can see the road rather than the sky, and you can drive unhindered.
I was beginning to appreciate some of the BMW's prodigious road talents -- the effortless way the speed piles on (it can do 248kmh), the insouciant moan of that engine, the immaculate handling, the sense of a car that's been selectively bred over four generations to create this best-in-show stunner -- when my wife suggested a trip to Ikea.
With low spirits we hit the road on a Friday evening. After 3km or so the smarter-than-thee control panel told us to pull over, as the rear tyre had punctured. After pausing for a moment, the car informed us it was fitted with run-flat tyres, so we could proceed with caution. But I saw the puncture for what it was -- a lifeline. The BMW had answered my prayers. I turned to my wife and said: "Sorry, dear, but the car says we have to abandon the trip and head home. What a shame."
The 535d's on-the-road price is €70,340, but the test car I drove had more than 20 extras which added some €25,000 to the price.
These included 19-inch double-spoke alloy wheels, sun-protection glass, a panoramic roof and surround-view parking cameras. But the mind-reading was free.