Tuesday 12 December 2017

Unmoved by smooth operator

BMW's updated 5 Series are excellent in their dynamics but don't have the personality of those classic cars such as the reliable Riley, says Campbell Spray

SUPREMELY CONFIDENT: But the BMW 5 Series will never be a truly classic car
SUPREMELY CONFIDENT: But the BMW 5 Series will never be a truly classic car

JUST what is style? Can it be measured and set apart from price, power and avarice?

As I was returning the BMW530D last Monday, I chatted to a colleague, who was far more knowledgeable and passionate about cars than I could ever be.

He was wailing about the belief that the Bavarian company never puts a foot wrong these days, as he wanted, "like you, Campbell", something to moan about.

Oh, please. Besides the fact that being a curmudgeonly role model was never part of life's plan, can I just point out the hideous monster that lurks under the X6 badge. If you want an example of how a manufacturer can start believing its own hype, this is it. The 6 Series was one of the smoothest and most refined cars that you could aspire to. By putting it on steroids it became a bloated pastiche which only reflected corpulent horror and all that can be bad about an SUV.

Thankfully, although I occasionally see an X6 around, there aren't too many to blight the landscape and they are an awful long way from the 5 Series. Yet, in its own way, the new generation of 5s are absolutely enormous and really make the 7 Series quite redundant.

The 530D is a wonderful saloon. Fast, imposing and supremely confident, there couldn't have been a much better car to go exploring Wicklow last Sunday with four of us, plus dog, on board.

It made for very comfortable driving and when we returned after our excursion, there were three bodies fast asleep across the back.

The 530D is a big powerful car which will fly to 100kmh in around six seconds courtesy of a very well-honed 245bhp, three-litre engine. For such a large machine, it manages good economics and just 160g/km in emissions. The 5 Series is still the darling of the corporate car park but prices have tumbled. While just three years ago the range would have started at €53,750, the 520D RRP is €41,750. The 530D at €59,000 is nearly €11,000 less than it was in 2007. The car is big but I wonder if it will still seem the same in 10 years. Perceptions of size can change with age.

I remember my father buying a Riley 11/2 litre RME saloon in 1954, just one of fewer than 3,500 built. To me it was absolutely enormous and it travelled with us out to Australia and back again on a brace of ocean liners over the next few years. Until he totalled it in 1960, the car was the family's pride and joy. It was metallic blue, and had a black vinyl roof, rear wheel spats and an interior reeking of beautiful wood and leather. The flying swan on its bonnet set the style..

The Riley's toughness probably saved his life when he went off a bridge, crashed through a barrier and landed upside down in a river. In the 50 years since then, I have always been drawn to Rileys of that vintage when exhibited in shows here and abroad.

So it was brilliant to find a Riley, a couple of years older than Dad's but in most respects identical, in an exhibition on Bray's seafront last Sunday. Yet as I stood next to it for a photograph with my daughter, I thought it may have slightly shrunk in stature but definitely not in style over the years. It sent me reeling back to my childhood in waves of nostalgia.

The 530D will never be that classic a car or have such a long life. No doubt in 50 years all the toys on board -- including the most detailed satnav I have seen which even mapped out our garden sheds -- will have long gone to some electronic junkyard in the sky.

It is an impressive car but despite the dynamic excellence of BMWs, it has no personality. All the problems of space which bedevilled the last generation 3s and 5s have now been sorted out and you can see in the picture just how smart-looking the car is. In some people, the 5 Series can evoke lust and envy. But if you had been in Bray last Sunday, you might feel differently

It wasn't just me who wanted to be near that Riley on the promenade. People of all ages were drawn to it and the other veteran, vintage and classic cars on display. This was because they all had a style that set hearts soaring. It is something to be cherished.

When someone parks such a car in the corporate car park rather than a new Beemer or Merc, it will be a fine day indeed.

Sunday Independent

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