THE sixth-generation 5 Series Touring comes with six BMW firsts and includes features not even found in the 7 Series. For the first time since 1997 a 5 Series Touring arrives costing less than $100,000. Other BMW firsts are a diesel variant, 20/40/20 rear seat split, an optional digital radio, split tailgate and standard inclusion of an auto-parking feature, which is not even available in the 7 Series as the flagship has hydraulic, not electric steering.
The Touring completes the upgraded 5 Series range which also includes the GT.
The diesel-powered 520d Touring arrives at $92,800, saving about $5000 on the luxury tax because its fuel economy of 5.3L/100km is well under the 7L/100km threshold. It comes standard with head-up display, adaptive headlights and most of the features available in the 7 Series.
The petrol-powered 535i Touring starts at $138,900 and adds 18-inch wheels, gearshift paddles, auto tailgate, keyless access, rear sun blinds, fully adjustable electric seats, ambient lighting, Bi-Xenon headlights, a better hi-fi and high beam assist.
An obvious highlight of the Touring is its wagon area. It comes with a split tailgate where the top glass half opens remotely with the keyfob and the cargo cover folds back electronically or the whole tailgate can open as one unit. In the 535i, the tailgate also opens remotely.
The 560 litres of cargo space increases to 590L with the rear seats tilted forward or 1670L with the rear seats folded almost flat. The rear seats can also be folded down in three variations thanks to the 20/40/20 split, allowing four occupants with a set of skis stored down the middle.
In the front, it is similar to the sedan with a driver-oriented dashboard.
Outside, the diesel and petrol models can be distinguished by the larger front air dam on the 535i and by the twin tailpipes on either side of the 535i and together on the left on the 520d.
The 520d diesel engine produces 135kW of power and 380Nm of torque, but most importantly sips fuel at just 5.3L/100km and emits 139g of CO2 per kilometre.
The omnipresent twinscroll turbo engine in the 535i Touring has the same power (225kW) and torque (400Nm) as in the sedan and is faster than the 540i wagon it replaces. Economy is 8.5L/100km with 197g/km of CO2.
Fuel savings are achieved through a variety of means including use of lightweight aluminium in panels and chassis; electric power steering that uses energy from the engine only when steering rather than hydraulic which uses energy from the engine all the time; eight-speed transmission; air flaps behind the kidney grille that close to quickly heat the engine on start-up and open for better aerodynamics on the highway; low rolling resistance tyres; and battery charging only when decelerating.
Technology abounds in the wagons including the standard addition of parking assistance for automatic parallel parking, iPhone and iPod Integration, optional Bluetooth internet on the wide-screen navigation system, and digital radio which can be ordered now.
In May, BMW will also offer an "Office" infotainment package that will integrate email, calendar, notes and text message functions from a mobile phone. It will even read aloud the text of emails and text messages when stationary.
Euro NCAP has awarded a maximum five-star safety rating, thanks to a pedestrian-friendly bonnet and a raft of safety features. The wagons have not yet been tested for an ANCAP safety rating. There is also the usual swag of passive safety gear and active driver aids.
Optional safety features include adaptive cruise control with a semi-automatic emergency braking function to avoid rear-end collisions, cameras that monitor road speed signs and show them on a head-up display on the windscreen in front of the driver, lane departure warning and night vision.
BMW launched the wagons with a drive through rural Victoria over narrow, bumpy roads that the vehicles took in their stride. Key to their sure-footing is the aluminium double wishbone front axle and integral rear axle air suspension with self-levelling that adjusts for loads. It is so good, you can easily forget you are driving a wagon, rather than a sedan. For better stability, the 6.5cm longer wagon now has an 8cm longer wheelbase measuring 2.97m, the same as the sedan.
Diesel buyers can also option stiffer and lower M sport suspension or Dynamic Damper Control suspension in which each wheel adjusts to road conditions 400 times a second. The 535i also comes with an M Sport option and DDC with adaptive drive to reduce body roll. The dynamic suspension easily accounted for rough shoulders when we had to get two wheels off the road on narrow roads to allow oncoming vehicles to pass.
The standard speed-variable electric steering feels a little artificial, while the optional Integral Active Steering will take time to get used to. It allows the rear wheels to steer in the opposite direction by 2.5 degrees under 60km/h and in the same direction over 60km/h. This reduces the turning circle by 50cm at slow speeds and creates stable lane-changing at highway speeds.
As expected, the three-litre straight-six engine is a high-revving delight, but the diesel is the surprise package. Despite being just a two-litre four-cylinder, it gallops along quietly and efficiently with no-fuss acceleration. The eight-speed transmission is so smooth the changes are almost imperceptible.
A diesel variant in this sleek and stylish wagon package will reel in buyers who prefer a car-like experience without sacrificing the load-carrying practicality of an SUV.
BMW 5 SERIES TOURING
Price: $92,800 (520d), $138,900 (535i)
Engine: 2.0L, 4-cylinder diesel; 3.0-litre straight-six petrol
Power: 135kW (520d), 225kW (535i)
Torque: 380Nm (520d), 400Nm (535i)
Economy (L/100km): 5.3 (520d), 8.5 (535i)
CO2 (g/km): 139 (520d), 197 (535i)