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First drive: BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW 520d M Sport
BMW's tax-busting, big-selling executive car favourite, the 520d, tested as an M Sport.


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BMW 520d M Sport

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Through the past two generations of 5 Series, BMW's phenomenal sales success has always been the 520d, a luxury saloon with an efficient four-pot engine. The company hopes the all-new seventh-generation model will continue the showroom performance of its predecessors and, judging by this drive of this crucial BMW, it's bound to be another runaway success because this 2.0-litre diesel model feels every bit as special as the bigger-hearted cars further up the range. The only slight flies in the ointment are its real-world fuel economy and the price - be careful not to specify it up too close to 50 grand...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW 520d M Sport
Pricing: 5 Series from 36,025; 520d M Sport from 39,025; car as tested 48,495
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 108g/km (160 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter - 450 for years two-to-six of ownership if purchase price exceeds 40,000)
Combined economy: 68.8mpg
Top speed: 146mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Power: 190hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 400Nm at 1,750- to 2,500rpm

What's this?

The BMW 520d, which - like the rest of the initial wave of the all-new 5 Series range - comes in two trims, those being SE and M Sport. We're driving the M Sport here, commanding a 3,000 premium over the SE, which brings some additional extras like exterior styling (including a subtly stronger lower body kit, big 19-inch alloys on improbably slim-looking 30-profile rear tyres and quadrilateral exhausts), different interior treatment and also M Sport suspension with stiffer springs that makes the car 10mm lower by dint of having shorter springs.

BMW has worked hard on the aerodynamics of the 5 Series to ensure it cuts through the air in the most efficient fashion and, as a result, the 520d's low CO2 emissions equate to competitive VED and Benefit-in-Kind rates (as little as 21 per cent as a rear-wheel-drive SE), meaning that it's a highly tempting model in the range - as it has been for many years now. BMW thinks finance offers and a smaller price walk up to the 530d might encourage more buyers to go for six-pots instead of four this time around, but that doesn't alter the fact the majority of Fives you'll see on the roads in the near future will be 520d models. Finally, all variants get eight-speed automatics as standard, as take-up of the manual transmission for the old 5 Series was roughly in the order of 10 per cent. Other than that, it's as we found on the international first drive: really handsome looks and a stunning interior that takes a huge amount of inspiration from BMW's dream car for technophiles, the 7 Series.

How does it drive?

Beautifully well. Back in the old days (by which, we mean somewhere around 2002), it was a given that the BMW would be the sporty car, the Mercedes would be the comfy one and the Audi would occupy a middle ground with the promise of masses of quattro traction if needed. But what has obviously happened since then is all three German marques have started closing the gaps to their rivals all over the place - Mercs are more fun to drive, BMWs are a bit comfier, both of them now offer four-wheel drive (either 4Matic or xDrive) to minimise Audi's quattro power, and Audi is just generally making better cars all round... Hence, the differentiation between these three giant marques, and thus the USP for a customer, is getting harder to spot; and so it's no longer the case that you automatically mark the BMW down as the best-driving car in its class.

But, if you want the best steer in the Teutonic executive wars right now, then you've got to have the 5 Series. It has all that wonderful tautness of body control, that fantastic depth of steering feel, that effortless and elegant pace courtesy of a torquey and smooth drivetrain, to ensure it's a dynamic delight overall - it's a stunning sports saloon on the right road, even with the least potent engine BMW offers. The 520d counters its lack of straight-line grunt by having slightly less weight over the wheels than most of its brethren (four-cylinder 530i petrol excepted), thus equating to sharper turn-in and cornering, and in 'basic' rear-wheel-drive format as driven here you really could not ask for much more poise from it in the corners. Opt for the xDrive package for an extra 2,000 if you really must, but we can't honestly say its additional traction is unnecessary unless you often drive in snow and ice. This latest Five is precisely the sort of car that invites that old 'shrinks itself around you' adage; it's a corking steer on a twisting road.

Brilliantly, it's also extremely comfortable and refined for journeys where the driving is less spirited, the turbodiesel four-banger refusing to get coarse even when it's revved out, while it remains as good as utterly silent up to about 3,500rpm; you'll also not hear anything as uncouth as the tyres rumbling over the road surface nor wind buffeting at the cabin's exterior while luxuriating within. The eight-speed transmission is an absolute gem in either full 'D' self-shifting, or knocked over into sport mode for sharper automatic responses, or even using the manual control via either the (correctly oriented, naturally) sequential gate lever or the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Braking feels progressive and powerful, while we really can't praise the steering enough - it's weighted to near-perfection and has slop-free reactions to even the most minimal of inputs. Yup, given most 520ds will be pounding the M4 in the sloughing rain of a British winter, rather than ripping up a Spanish mountain pass, the generally supple dynamics should make it a fine day-to-day companion.

If there are a few concerns, though, they are these: comfortable as it is on the optional Variable Damper Control (985), the Five can never quite delicately glide over the poorest surfaces in the ethereal way a Mercedes-Benz E 220 d on its cost-upgrade air suspension would; we didn't drive the 520d massively hard on the test route, and yet it didn't return anything in excess of 40mpg - a modest figure made all the more worrying when, later in the day, a 530d xDrive M Sport, driven a fair bit more ferociously, returned about 35mpg on a similar trek; and one look at the after-options cost of this car must surely have your eyes widening in surprise. Yes, you can specify a 2.0-litre Jaguar XF or Mercedes E-Class diesel to nearly 50k as well, so the BMW is not alone on this score, but we still can't help but feel a 48,500 520d is pricey in the extreme.

Other than these minor gripes, though, it's business as usual for the lightweight (at 1,560kg as tested, it's the slimmest four-pot diesel sport-trim model of its kind), aerodynamic 5 Series: it's up there at the top of the class, showing others the way. Including the magnificent E-Class. BMW has definitely got this one right.


So, the BMW 520d provides some critical egg for our smug faces. Last time we drove a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it was an E 220 d AMG Line costing more than our test Five, and yet we confidently predicted that BMW could not possibly make the 'G30' much better than the Merc. And yet, here we are, pretty much calling the 520d (and, by extension, the rest of the range) the class leader. The Mercedes does have the softer ride on air springs, it does have an ever-so-marginally nicer interior if the twin 12.3-inch TFT displays are specified and it seems like it might return better fuel economy in reality than the BMW.

Yet the 5 Series counters with a smoother, quieter engine, a notably sharper chassis and plenty of equipment as standard that the Mercedes doesn't have. And while it looks a lot like its 7 Series brother, it's just a little more distinctive and handsome a car in its own range than the E-Class, which is visually almost identical to the C- and S-Class cars. No doubt about it, the BMW has never had a harder fight on its hands than right now in the executive class - the Jaguar XF is also a belting car and the next Audi A6 is sure to be a stunner, too - but, on the overall showing of this 520d M Sport, we're prepared to call the Five a class-leading machine once more.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 15 Feb 2017    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- 5 Series images

2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.

2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.2017 BMW 520d M Sport. Image by BMW.


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