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BMWs have long been highly regarded, not only as a top quality product with excellent safety and luxury features, but also for the driving satisfaction they provide.
Now the new 5-series has arrived and those boundaries have been extended even further. Under the 5-series' handsome new bodies there are the latest in high-technology light alloy engines, new Steptronic auto shift control in the 528i, new light-alloy suspension and even better brakes than before.
Of course you expect quite a lot from a car costing $96,000, but the 528i does deliver the goods. The new body feels even more solid and secure than before, the car is more efficient in terms of performance, economy and the way it drives, and there's a host of new safety and luxury features.
For those who find the 528i a little out of reach financially, the 523i (contrary to its nomenclature) is powered by 2.5 litre engine of the same configuration as the 528i, and has a little less standard equipment.
Later this year, the 535i and 540i models will be released, with anticipated prices of $118,800 and $147,000 respectively.
Standard safety-related items on both the 523i and 528i models include a driver's airbag, front passenger airbag with occupant detector, side impact airbags for front occupants, pyrotechnic front seat belt control plus traction (ASC+T), three-channel four-sensor anti-lock brakes, head retraints and three-point belts in all five seating positions.
Other equipment includes remote central locking with immobiliser, leather upholstery with burr walnut interior panelling, automatic climate control air conditioning, electric operation of windows and mirrors, auto dipping on the interio mirror, front fog lights, a six-speaker sound system and green insulated glass all round.
In addition, the 528i has alloy wheels, a Steptronic function on the automatic transmission, electric boot opening from the interior, "multi-function" steering wheel with cruise control, radio and ventilation switches, and an on-board trip computer.
Though the standard equipment list is commendably extensive (particularly in the important area of safety) there is still quite a long list of options, some of which are standard on cheaper competitors. If you ordered extensively from the options list, it would be possible to add another $20,000 or so to the price.
Included amongst the options are metallic paint, anti-theft alarm system, electric sunroof, electric seat and steering wheel adjustments, boot mounted CD player, self levelling air suspension, seat heating and lumbar support for the driver and front passenger, a HiFi speaker system, park distance control, headlight washers and special alloy wheels.
Though the dimensions show the new 5-series to be longer, wider and taller than the outgoing model, it doesn't look it. The new body is rounder and more wedge-shaped, which probably helps to make it look more compact. From and angle, the new 5-series is a very handsome sedan with styling that should age well.
Top quality finish is expected in this market segment and the 528i doesn't disappoint. The test car looked immaculate throughout, with even panel fit, superb paintwork and quality trimming. The combination of aromatic full leather trim and highly polished burr walnut panelling provides a suitably luxurious ambience for the interior.
Overall cabin room for occupants hasn't changed, according to my measurements, however four adults of average size can be very comfortably accommodated. Even with my long legs, I needed to slide the driver's seat forward a couple of notches and that then leaves reasonable leg space for those in the rear. However, interior space in the 528i is not nearly as good as it is in the new Mercedes-Benz E-class.
As in the previous model, I found the front seat cushions to be too short to provide good thigh support, but otherwise the seats were comfortable and supportive. The two rear outer seating positions are very comfortable, but the centre occupant has to contend with a high-perched position and a rather large floor hump.
In keeping with BMW's reputation in making driving satisfaction a slightly higher priority than comfort, the 528i's suspension has an unmistakable firmness. However, the suspension is supple enough to ensure that the ride never becomes unduly harsh, even over rough surfaces.
Passenger comfort is always enhanced in a car that's free of excessive noise and harshness, and the 528i scores highly on both these aspects. It's almost as if BMW has engaged in some selective noise insulation, keeping out road and general mechanical noise very effectively, but allowing a delightful guttural sound to be heard from the engine under firm acceleration that's sure to represent music to an enthusiast's ears.
Though the boot is not especially wide or deep, it's quite long and very well designed. There are luggage straps, tie-down rings and an open storage container on the side. The floor is flat and solid, with a full size spare residing underneath. Loading the boot is easy, thanks to the deep rear panel cutout and BMW's attention to detail shows in the boot hinge arrangement, whereby the hinges and support struts are outside of the load area. The tool kit and a safety triangle are neatly stored in the boot lid.
Cabin storage includes door pockets, elasticised pockets in the rear of the front seats, compartments in the centre console and a reasonable size glovebox.
The tilt and telescopic steering column, plus the ample range of seat adjustments, gives plenty of scope for drivers of all physiques to find a comfortable and suitable driving position.
The instrument layout is clear and legible, but some of the controls, such as for ventilation and cruise control, are a little hard to fathom.
Parking the 528i isn't an especially arduous task, but there are some restrictions to vision, depending on conditions, and in which direction you need to look.
Both the A and B pillars are fairly thick (which may be great for extra roll-over protection) and cause blind spots when you're looking to the front corners or sides. Similarly, having three head restraints across the rear seat is great for occupant safety but they do obstruct your view to the rear. In wet weather you'll notice the wipers leave the top right corner of the windscreen unwiped - that's because they are articulated for left hand drive vehicles.
Unlike many other manufacturers who have switched to V6 engines, BMW has stuck with the traditional straight six layout and what a glorious engine it is in the 528i.
Beautifully responsive and capable of performance way beyond what you would normally expect from 2.8 litres capacity, the DOHC 24 valve engine features all the latest in technology and design.
Constructed from lightweight aluminium alloy, the engine includes variable valve timing, six individual ignition coils, dual knock sensors, Digital Motor Electronics, individual fuel injection per cylinder and special catalytic convertors that operate at lower temperatures to maximise emission control.
The only downside to the engine is that it's designed for 95 octane fuel (PULP). BMW says that on normal grade ULP (91 octane) "engine power decreases and fuel consumption is higher".
As automatic transmissions go, the 528i's five speed unit is one of the best. Not only does it perform very well in full automatic mode, it also offers a Steptronic function whereby up and down changes can be made manually just by a finger touch on the gear change button.
In the tradition of BMW's, the 528i rides a little more firmly than say, a Mercedes Benz,but drivers are rewarded with handling that's very good, considering this is a relatively large and heavy saloon, not a sports car.
The steering is also a revelation, showing that it is possible to provide a light effort for easy manoeuvring at low speeds and still retain pin-point accuracy and plenty of "feel" at higher speeds. Japanese manufacturers could learn a few lessons here.
The brakes respond so powerfully to even a light push on the pedal that you have to become used to the action so as not to brake jerkily in traffic. However their emergency stopping capabilities are as good as you find on just about any car.
The test 528i pulled up shorter than any other current luxury car tested in emergency braking tests from 80 to 0 km/h and similarly, demonstrated excellent resistance to fade under heavy usage. as on other BMWs tested, brake dust unfortunately quickly soils the good looking alloy wheel rims. It's just about a daily job to keep the wheel rims clean and shining.
The latest 5-series BMW has achieved what was always going to be a tough assignment - to surpass the high standards of the widely acclaimed previous model.
It's difficult to think of any one single aspect that hasn't been improved in the new model and the 528i tested not only exudes quality and strength, but also provides levels of driving satisfaction that label it an enthusiast's delight.
The range of safety equipment is impressive, as is the performance, handling, steering and braking. Though there is a fairly extensive list of options, the 528i does come with a comprehensive array of luxury equipment as standard.
Up against its arch rival, the spectacular new Mercedes Benz E-class, it's the familiar story of BMW appealing more as the enthusiast's choice, compared to the E-class concentrating more on pampering drivers and occupants in a total luxury package.
So, though the 528i doesn't offer the interior space, or quite match the absolute comfort and commanding presence of the Mercedes Benz E-class, it's still one highly desirable luxury car.
Test vehicle supplied by BMW Australia.
|Price of vehicle tested||96,000|
Performance relative to engine capacity and vehicle mass
Brake dust quickly soils wheel rims
|Country of manufacture||Germany|
|Warranty||2 years/Unlimited kilometres|
|Number of cylinders||6|
|Engine size||2.793 L|
|Induction||Multi point fuel injection|
|Claimed max power (kW)||142 kW @ 5300 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||280 Nm @ 3950 rpm|
|Wheel size||7J x 15 inch "|
|Dimensions||225/60 WR 15|
|Width (including mirrors)||1800 mm|
|Fuel capacity||70 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||1555 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||87|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||5.1 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||6.5 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||6.3 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||8.9 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||10.4 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||14.8 L/100km|
|Average on test||11.9 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||26.6 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||64 dB(A)|