Incredible. Some of us have been carping for years that the very notion of "prestige" badges is not only obsolete but actually quite fatuous. But would anyone listen? Then BMW proves it with one of their very own models.
BMW want $82,300 for their entry-level 5 Series sedan, the 520d with its very good four cylinder turbo diesel. Says it all for the obscenely inflated prices Australians pay for prestige cars that this seems almost acceptable. The Touring (that's wagon to us) is $92,800. Uh, sorry?
An almost $10K premium for the slightly more practical yet far heavier and, it must be said, daggier version. Oh, plus almost eight grand "dealer and statutory charges" and you're at $100,000 before so much as opening the encyclopedic options list. Six figures for what is, I'm sorry, a superannuated family jigger.
Hey, if you've got the wherewithal, go for it. If you haven't and you must have it, by all means hock an organ or two. But paid in one dump or spread over a lease, if you're ready to drop 100 big ones on a station wagon with a four pot oiler then you've more cash than cranial filling.
This is where the "prestige" thing whether it's a blue and white badge, a tristar or four rings looks puerile, especially when "lesser" Europeans such as the Skoda Superb, Volkswagen Passat or Citroen C5 come in wagon versions every bit as nice to sit in with diesels as good at up to $50,000 cheaper.
BMW's flacks are telling everyone who'll listen that twin-clutch automatics, such as those used in Audis and Mercedes-Benz, are a self-shifting cul-de-sac. Nein, ever more sophisticated versions of the old style torque converter auto are the go.
It is, of course, merely coincidental that BMW have imbued the latest 5 Series with a new eight-speed auto. As to what this suggests for the excellent twin-clutch units in the M3 and 335i coupe, they have yet to say.
That's not a misprint by the way. It does indeed say "eight" speed. Why? Because Mercedes use a seven speed. Say what they will, this is one upmanship, pure and simple.
I not long ago asked engineering guru Graeme Gambold how many forward gears you really need in an automatic. He reckons five. Six is nice.
In terms of other tech, the heads-up display (a holographic speedo and sat-nav director projected at the driver's eyeline in the window just above the steering wheel), is an oustanding example of form meeting function. It also happens to be standard, as are adaptive headlights, parking assistance, iPhone and iPod Integration, optional Bluetooth internet on the wide-screen navigation system.
Hey, honey I've pimped the wagon. What's the last thing you'd do to a stolid, dignified and above all four cylinder diesel family car? That's right; stick a sports kit on it.
A redeeming feature of the previous generation 520d was its 16-inch conventional tyres. The M-Sports kit of our test car adds 18-inch run flats and lowered suspension; precisely what you wouldn't be looking for in this variant. It also adds several more grand.
Access to the load space, the reason you are paying up from the four door, is a clever split tailgate in which the top glass half can open remotely with the keyfob and the cargo cover folds back electronically. Good room within, the 560 litres cargo storage becoming 1670 with the rear seats folded almost flat.
There are various semi-up-down configurations. Unlike the previous Chris Bangle-designed 5 Series, BMW has acknowledged it is driven by (high) paying customers, as opposed to political prisoners whose possessions have been confiscated and identities erased. Glory be, there are storage spaces for phones and stuff.
What was an austere, borderline unpleasant cabin, is now aptly lush with front pews that are beautifully accommodating though not especially supportive when the steering wheel is turned hard.
It's all there, as it should be. Five star safety with a full outfit of active and passive injury prevention. No spare tyre, though unlike Volvo's S60, there are at least run flats on which you have a hope of making civilisation in the event of a puncture. But if you're distant from the metropolis it's anyone's guess whether the tyre store (a) is open and (b) stocks compatible rubber.
BMW either don't know who the 5 Series is for any more or they want a bet each way. They're after easy riding E-Class patrons, but in order not to alienate those who buy into the "ultimate driving experience", a plethora of settings to alter the ride, throttle response and steering can be had. At least these annoyances were absent in our test car.
While I was among the few participants in Carsguide's 2010 Car of the Year judging who disliked the 535i sedan for more than its hilarious $135K price tag, I was but one of the 10 present who loved Skoda's clever and ample Superb Elegance TDI.
It mattered not a lick that the latter does its steering and driving at the front end and BMW sticks with rear wheel drive purity (at least for the foreseeable future). It matters a sight less in the 520d.
These are repeat diesel family buses and this is Australia, land of the unmarked speed camera and the third rate road surface. The BMW's rear wheel advantage asserts itself mainly in terms of a smaller turning circle.
Interestingly that octo-auto can't mask obvious lag when the 1715kg wagon is prodded off the mark. At CCOTY, no one complained about the Skoda's twin clutch six speed DSG.
Buy two cars instead or one and save 50 grand. 60/100
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo diesel, 135kW/380Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic; RWD
Citroen C5 HDi Exclusive wagon ($60,990)
Skoda Superb Elegance TDI wagon ($49,990)
Volvo V60 (TBA)
Volkswagen Passat 125TDI Highline ($45,990)