BMW 535i

BMW 535iThe new 5 series from BMW is, and let me not beat about the bush with this one, the best car I’ve ever driven. The amalgamation of technology and comfort is unsurpassed. The simplicity and fluidity of its design reveals a subtle elegance. And the joy derived while in the driving seat is utterly mesmerising.

Technology

I’m not entirely sure where to start here. There’s so much technology infused in the veins of the new 5 even NASA have turned green with envy. The list of gadgets is too long to mention, but the forward facing infra red camera must get mention. At night or in foggy conditions the system greatly improves visibility through a display on the centre console. Furthermore it will attempt to identify people in the vehicles path and highlight them in a big yellow warning triangle.

A fully fledged entertainment system is incorporated in the revised iDrive system, navigated through a sizeable screen on the centre console, which also integrates the satellite navigation and infra red display. These luxuries are no longer restricted to the front though. Rear passengers now enjoy those executive extras previously only found in the 7 – reclining seats, TV entertainment, full climate control and so on.

And to top it all off, the boot is opened and closed at the touch of a button. BMW have thought of literally every eventuality that may inconvenience their customers and come up with a gadget to make life seamless.

Design

It’s no secret that I dislike Chris Bangle (former director of design at BMW). During his reign of terror the German based outfit produced cars that to this day give children nightmares. There’s only one other recorded case in which one person destroyed an organisation to a similar extent; Rafa Benetiz at Liverpool.

Now that Mr Bangle has been reassigned, hopefully on a permanent basis by members of the SS, there’s a new bloke. Adrian van Hooydonk’s the name and despite one or two things slipping through the cracks (excuse the Bangle-but induced pun) while he was settling down in Bavaria, it seems he had a firm grip on the reigns with the new 5.

It’s a very clean and uncluttered design; a breath of fresh air next to the outgoing model. There’s a sense of fluidity in the lines of the 5 that give the appearance of movement, even when the vehicle is stationary.

Driving

This is where the BMW really comes out of its shell. While Mercedes thrive on technology and Audi, well who know what they thrive on, BMW thrive on pleasing the driver.

BMW’s dynamic damper control, anti-roll stability management and active steering aren’t your run of the mill driver aids. Coupled with four suspensions modes from “Comfort” through to “Sport +” the car transforms from a luxurious grand tourer to a dynamic sports saloon at the push of a button.

Despite the mass of technology between yourself and the wheels, you feel an integral part of the chassis when in the driving seat. Even in “Normal” mode the Beemer swoops through corners with an eagerness to change direction. In Sport + mode, with a little breathing space offered by the traction control, there’s a sense that the car swivels around your hips. It’s a magical feeling.

The eight speed automatic gearbox was responsive and alert to drive input. While you may think eight ratio’s sound a lot, it doesn’t ever feel that way and allows the 5 to be more efficient. My only gripe is the slightly complicated system of moving from park to reverse and drive.

This is easily forgotten though as a prod of the throttle induces a meaty roar from the 3.0 litre turbo charged straight six powering the rear wheels of my test car. After complications with the previous generations twin-turbo system, BMW have opted for a more conventional single turbo engine that produces the same 225kW and gives a 0-100km/h in 6.1 seconds.

The Catch

There is one colossal stumbling block in the path of the new 5 which, incidentally, has been named a finalist in the 2010 Car of the Year competition – the small matter of a price tag. The car itself doesn’t seem outlandishly expensive at R 646,000. But you’re lucky if they throw in the doors at that price.

Let me run through a small list of the options on my test car and see what the bill comes to at the end.

Sunroof R 11,800.00
Lane departure warning R 5,700.00
Blind spot indicators R 6,500.00
Active cruise control R 17,200.00
BMW Night Vision with object recognition R 25,800.00
Head up display R 14,100.00
Rear seat entertainment with TV R 35,000.00
Navigation system R 21,300.00

Those aren’t even all the options and they total R 137,400. All in my test model rings the door bell at R 1,000,000. What this means is an extras bill of around R 300,000 and that’s the price of a 1 series. It’s just ridiculous.

I voted for the BMW when selecting finalists for the Car of the Year competition. But they’d have to be a bunch of complete mentalists to let it win. Don’t get me wrong, the new 5 is an astonishing car, but it just cannot justify the price tag. 

Price: R 646,000
Engine: 2979cc turbo charged straight six
Power: 225 kW
Torque: 400 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 6.1
Top speed (km/h): 250
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 8.1 (claimed) 

Miles Downard
Photo Credit: Quickpic

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