Having covered upwards of 8,000 miles in my new 525i, Neil has quite rightly ordered me to pen my thoughts over these 9 months of ownership. Those 8,000 miles have been quite varied with a long European road trip putting on the most in any month, but more detail on that later.
My new E61 5 was bought with practicality high on the list, but with luxury, reliability and presence also main factors. The 2.5 engine was an obvious choice, for me at least. Having the previous 2.5 I6 incarnation in my old E46 showed no real lack of power and oozing refinement when the revs were pressed into action. So, when BMW managed to push the M54 engine out to 218bhp for the new 5 (up from 192bhp in the E46 and early E60s) it still seemed the most obvious choice. Although the 3.0 petrol was also pushed up to 258bhp, which would clearly give much greater urge, the 2.5 was adequate enough for me.
However, for the first time ever - I took into account the diesel option. Not seriously considered, though, but I did actually think whether a diesel would be a better option. This either shows how much diesel technology has come on, or how much taxation, government lobbying or general middle-class peer pressure has pushed diesel into the “sensible/more-environmentally-friendly/economical/you know you should” choice. But, it still seems the most illogical choice for a luxury car like the 5 Series. Although there are in fact performance reasons for now choosing a diesel, take a look at the 535d as an example of this, the ownership prospect is still tarnished by the diesel refinement. No doubt, pure driveability can out-sway this for some, but it still doesn’t add up for me.
Why so, then? Well consider What Car’s take on ‘Best Executive Car – 2006’ and it quite simply sums it all up. The 525i is What Car’s choice and “..we've chosen the recently improved 525i petrol model over last year's winner, the 525d turbodiesel, due to its superior refinement…”. So, if the 5 is the best executive car, you put the best executive engine in that car – a petrol engine. To me executive means; grown-up, luxurious, fine-living, refined, informed, valued, laid back. It doesn’t mean; economy, thrift, workhorse, compromised. I agree that everyone has compromises to make and that there is not a single level of luxury that applies to all – but for me and my situation I couldn’t bring myself to take the diesel compromise. Maybe I’m starting to understand better people who do or have-to, though.
Which is where I should start talking about the car itself, because it exudes everything that the ‘executive’ tag describes to me. This is a grown-up car. I don’t mean it is mature or built for old-people, but I do mean it is an excellent car and it knows it, and doesn’t have to scream about it. It has inherent confidence and massive depth of ability that inspires the feel good factor. Sounds like a life enhancing experience, doesn’t it? Well, it has to be good to better the driveability of my old E46, and it does so but taking a more grown-up approach. I thought the 2.5 engine in my old E46 was smooth, but in the E61 it takes it to a new level; quiet and refined, smooth as the best Belgium chocolate you can imagine, and never short of an answer when kicked into life.
The driving style of the car, any car I would imagine, is always going to be factored by the transmission choice. This time, for the first time, I have a Steptronic automatic. Steptronic means it has regular auto, sport oriented auto and a manual override of Sport mode for full choice. Do I miss a manual? I can faithfully say, no. The Steptronic manual override is not the same as a manual, but even so in 95% of all the driving I’ve not thought I’d prefer a manual. That doesn’t mean the auto is perfect – in regular auto-mode it can be lethargic response; caught out by slow roundabouts and a desire for quick exits. In sport-mode, more revs are maintained when needed but the speed-up in the shifting is more noticeable and not as smooth. However, the auto just absolutely suits this car and the way it likes to be driven – but can still mix it if you want to enjoy yourself. I’ve read on forums that the shift patterns of the auto don’t necessarily favour the diesel – kickdown can leave you outside the peak torque rev range just when you need to be dropped into the action. For the petrol, however, spirited kickdown leaves you nicely in the sweet power spot to be able to service the need to dash into outside lanes, for example.
My best experiences of the car came from a summer road-trip, taking in Paris, Burgundy, Chamonix, Tuscany and back via Geneva. With the smooth French roads not being a factor for the standard run-flats the beauty of how well the car flowed effortlessly but also with a bit of gusto when asked, made each leg of the trip a delight for all four family members. The load-lugging abilities came into their own, swallowing everything thrown at it, and averaging over 30mpg for the entire trip. The grey leather interior has coped well, requiring only one Autoglym leather treatment to keep it looking new.
As far as options go, I’m generally pleased that I’ve got the right spec. I maybe could’ve got the media pack, giving Sat-Nav and Bluetooth, but the navigation I don’t miss because I have a perfectly good Tom Tom for the few times a year I need it. I have also heard that the professional navigation causes the on-board 400Mhz computer to respond slower – it simply can’t cope, which isn’t impressive. But, I’m sure come trade-in this will be excuse for the dealers to scoff at my car. The advanced air-con probably works just as well as the standard, but it doesn’t look like an 80’s Corolla, which the standard does, so I think increases the quality of the interior.
I originally plumped for the Logic7 enhanced sound-package which gives a few extra speakers, up to 13, including a couple of tub-thumping sub-woofers under the front seats. I’m sure still not up to quality as a good after-market system or even a Mark Levinson Lexus installation, but I think still quite good. Although my car just got the now-standard introduction of an accessible Aux-In port, I didn’t spec’ the CD-Changer in the hope that there would be some better iDrive integrated iPod option. This has since been introduced as a dealer installed option, but is still a little on the pricey side (I heard £500 from one – and it has to go where the CD-Changer would have gone, so if you already have that, you have to lose it). So until this comes down in price, my money stays in my wallet on that one.
A few only minor gripes about the controls and iDrive. The fact that the indicator stalks don’t stick in place (they act more like a toggle) is annoying, but more annoying is the placement of the indicator lights in the dashboard display – they are mounted to each far side which means I can’t see when they are on without craning and looking around my hands on the steering wheel. Their placement, combined with the ‘strange’ manner of the stalk operation means there have been several times I’ve not know what they are doing – probably signalling to go left, when I go right. My only gripe on the iDrive, and generally I’m a fan, is that the temperature control for the air heading to face, which was a straightforward dash-mounted dial on my E46, is a few levels deep down in the Climate section, which makes accessing it frequently difficult. Now that winter has kicked in changing it from cold to warm and then back again when warmed is annoying.
My only extraneous cost has been to refit the front bumper that got pulled off one side when the lip got caught reversing off and over a kerb. Even with minimal interfacing with BMW Service shows them still to be complete idiots. I booked my car in for a suspension recall weeks in advance so that it would get done before the driving holiday. The car went in for the work, then came back to me at the end of the day with the indication that no work was done because they needed to order the part, and it would be weeks before it could be seen again! What the…..so what had they done to my car to cause it to be off road for the whole day? – “Oh, we have washed it for you” was the reply. Incredible.
Current average mpg is running at 26, which is similar to my last 325, which I think is pretty good considering the extra weight and the automatic. I’ve seen around 33mpg on some motorway runs and just 18mpg on town runs. But, hell, if I was manic about the economy, I would’ve bought a diesel, right?