The 5 series in question was a 2006 E60 M Sport body kitted 530i with a 268bhp straight six engine (2006 models had new magnesium/aluminum crankcase but without Electronic throttle like the 2007 models), 18 inch 245/40/18 tires and was just purchased by this pal of mine through a grey importer. It had 40,000km (supposedly) on its clock and was in a dark midnight blue colour. It has to be said that I do not like the over designed style of this current 5 series. At least it is not like the previous generation 7 series which had too many lines going everywhere and made that car look very incoherent in design.
But enough about how the car looks. I drove the 530i through a mix of downtown lunch-hour traffic jam as well as elevated highways and normal three lane expressways for a few hours and we ended up at a tire shop to get a fresh set for tires for the car. This was due to the fact that the car was sitting at some Japanese port as well as a Malaysian port for long periods of time and the tires had flat-spotted. The change to fresh tires as well as getting rid of those standard run flat rubbish made the car a whole lot better. But more on that later.
Hopping into a BMW is like getting into any of the big three German car manufacturers. The usage of leather, wood and plastic is more or less the same but it is in my opinion that among Audi, Mercedes and BMW, the former two make better interiors than the latter. There’s this certain tactility that you get a little more from an Audi and a certain sense of added luxury in a Mercedes. It was hard to fathom until I reached for the secondary switches like the lights and so forth. The signal and push buttons on the steering as well as gear lever (auto with manual sports option) feel fine, but reach for the light switch you can tell that Audi spent a little more time there. Sitting at the rear and with the armrest extended you can feel thin plastic wrapped in dead cowhide covering the armrest. Not that special but if I bought this car I wouldn’t be bothered about the plastics in the back as I’d be driving this car in the first place. But things could be better material wise. The overall ambiance of the black/grey interior is good. Better than an A6 I’ve been in recently as it was all dull grey everywhere. The only drawback is that the I-Drive interface for communication, entertainment, climate control and one other item is not user friendly. I basically left it alone after fiddling with it for about 5 minutes. An Audi MMI is easier to use.
Getting a good driving position is also easy with electric seat adjustments even for the underside of your thighs. I could put myself into a race car like driving position without much effort. The small leather wrapped steering wheel is good to hold. Overall the ergonomics were much better than an A4 I tried recently.
Now we come to the important fact of inner city crawling, or driving. The 530i is a very nice place to be in a jam as the auto gearbox works fine in a crawl and the 3.0liter engine gives you more than enough poke to accelerate forward before someone else changes lane and squeezes into that recently vacated space in front of you. Traffic light ‘go green’ moments should also bring pleasure as you have 320nm of torque in a car that weighs around 1570kg unladen. And when you add a decently responsive autobox it means that the 530i is pretty nimble around town. I did find the air conditioning weak compared to most Japanese/Korean/Malaysian cars. Maybe it was the heat absorbing midnight blue colour as well as the Japan spec air conditioning.
As for highway driving, the 530i performed well. High speed cruising is pretty hushed at speeds in excess of 150km/h. And as it’s a rear wheel drive car, its steering is uncorrupted by any transmission of power, hence pretty accurate and with feel. Although I think the variable assist steering wheel feels a little unnatural at times. This being the only kink in the overall pleasure of the car and in my opinion, the earlier E39 felt more natural and nicer.
When it came to the fast left-right-left corners, the car understeers slightly earlier than what I would have liked. This could be due to the traction control. But on tighter corners, grip levels are high on the 245 sized tires and it did not feel like traction control was interfering. So in the pursuit of science I asked the owner whether I could press the magic ‘off’ button. He let me do so.
After pressing the button located in front of the gear lever, less understeer happened and a more mobile rear end that was so willing to assist during a corner. During a fast sweeping uphill corner it felt marvelous. The tail will try to edge out and follow the nose of the car when you start to add more power mid corner. A text book rear wheel drive way of taking corners; aim for the apex, slow in, back on the power gently on the apex and putting down more and more power and when the car’s pointed in the right direction you can fully boot it for a rocket like exit. Of course, if I were to boot the throttle to the floor too early on, it would become a hooligan and oversteer its way out, or enter into a spin if you overcook it. This car is about progression and balance as well as poise. I have to say that this is one of the most satisfying larger 4 door sedans that I have driven recently.
The reason I got to drive the car in slightly wild abandon was the fact that the owner asked me to help pick some tires for the car. So we did just that. Those stock Goodyear NCTs were run flat tires and made the ride quite harsh. But the thing was the tires did not help much with the handling. It was plain hard without adding to handling. Changing to normal Falken 452s softened up the ride and made the car nicer to drive. Compared to the earlier E39 5 series the ride of the E60 suffered from these tires. I really hope that the new F10 model 5 series gets the ride sorted out on those run flats.
I like the E60 530i. It reminded me of classic rear wheel drive motoring. Big cubic capacity, RWD and a traction control button that you can turn off. It was somewhat like the Nissan 350z I drove, but the 530i is like its sedan counterpart. The 5 series' controversial looks aside, anyone looking for a sports sedan should go buy one now. I think with the new model out anytime soon, dealers would be giving discounts to clear out this one. But it is hardly a loss if you settled for the E60.
But a word of advice, don’t buy the smaller 520i or even the 523i. Buy at least the 525i. The E60 5 series needs the larger engines. I suppose its due to the weight, the slightly longish gearing for economy as well as an autobox which feels like it starts in 2nd gear most of the time. Good for economy, but bad for driving. The 5 series needs a big engine to show its worth. If you bought a 520i, you may as well have bought a Mercedes Benz E200 which has better ride comfort and its supercharger driven engine may even whoop your 520i silly. You should have bought the Audi A6 2.0T as you’ll have better build quality, more power and the efficiency of front wheel drive but dull handling and a slightly unsorted ride. It isn’t like buying smaller BMWs with small engines either, as in the case of the 320i, it is light enough for the smaller engine to pull it off the line.
- Decent looking front brakes with decent braking power
- Bored of waiting, a friend of mine kidnaps the tireshop's pocketbike. Noisy little fella. The bike, not him.