BMW 520i Luxury: More for less

The BMW 520i Luxury has high brand appeal and is value for money.
The BMW 520i Luxury has high brand appeal and is value for money.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
The BMW 520i Luxury has high brand appeal and is value for money.
The BMW 520i Luxury has high brand appeal and is value for money.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The entry-level BMW 520i Luxury packs upmarket features such as a surround camera, head-up display and soft-closing doors

When local BMW agent Performance Motors launched the new BMW 5-series in March last year, the car came in two versions.

The top-of-the-line 540i M Sport has a 3-litre engine, while the 530i Luxury has a smaller but capable 2-litre power plant.

A whopping $86,000 separates both cars ($361,888 versus $275,888).

To make the 5-series more appealing, the entry-level bar has been lowered further. The 520i Luxury reviewed here was added to the line-up at the end of last year. It costs $16,000 less than the 530i.

The 520i has 18-inch rims, compared with the 530i's 19-inch and the 540i's 20-inch wheels.

Its engine and gearbox are also a step down. While it has the same 2-litre power plant as the 530i, it is programmed to produce less output (184 versus 252bhp, 290 versus 350Nm).

Left in automatic mode, the 520i's eight-speed gearbox shifts at a more leisurely manner compared with the Sport transmission in the 530i.

  • SPECS / BMW 520i LUXURY

  • Price: $259,888 with COE

    Engine: 1,998cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual select

    Power: 184bhp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 290Nm at 1,350-4,250rpm

    0-100kmh: 7.8 seconds

    Top speed: 235kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.2 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Performance Motors

The gearbox's programming and engine's lower output translate to a slower zero-to-100kmh sprint (7.8 versus 6.2 seconds) and lower top speed (235 versus 250kmh).

But the numbers do not tell the full story. Over a three-day test-drive, the 520i displayed all the positive qualities of the 5-series sedan.

The lower top speed is inconsequential and the car felt faster from standstill than its official 7.8-second century sprint.

The car is as comforting and cosseting as any of the more expensive 5-series models.

There are three drive modes - Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. The differences between them are not major because the modes tweak the engine speeds and gear shifts, but not the suspension of the car.

While the 520i may be an entry-level car, it does not stint on its equipment level.

The inclusion of three features surprises me: a head-up display that projects the speed and navigation instructions on the windscreen; a surround-view camera that gives the driver a bird's-eye view of the car's surroundings and soft-closing doors.

I would have thought these upmarket features would have been omitted to lower the price.

The 520i's fuel consumption is decent too. Over the 237km that I drove, it recorded an acceptable 8 and 9 litres for every 100km.

But if I were to nitpick, I would say the rear visibility of the car is poor because of the steep angle of the rear windscreen. The inner section of the boot is also too deep to reach unless the driver has a strong back to bend or arms as long as those of professional basketball players.

But my biggest issue with the 520i, or the 5-series for the matter, is that it has become a bit too much of a business suit.

The 5-series used to fill the sweet spot between the fun-to-drive 3-series and towkayappealing 7-series. The latest 5ers have moved towards the 7-series.

That may be what most buyers want - more luxury and more tech - but there will be those who are drawn to a 5er because it means not having to give up the fun of driving even as they mature.

In a nutshell, the 520i can be described as having a high brand appeal and good value for money. Rivals in the same price bracket do not have similar upmarket features.

And while it was enjoyable to drive (especially in Sport mode), I hesitate to describe the car as "fun". The fun things I did with the 520i were playing with high-tech gadgets such as gesture control to change the volume of the radio or seeing my oversized fingers on the surround cameras. These have nothing to do with how the car drives.

Maybe that is the price of growing up and putting on a business suit.

Performance Motors has clarified that the head-up display feature costs an extra $5,870.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2018, with the headline 'More for less'. Print Edition | Subscribe