The better drive

The BMW 530i's steering is effortlessly responsive and its chassis reacts to changes in terrain and dynamic forces with finesse.
The BMW 530i's steering is effortlessly responsive and its chassis reacts to changes in terrain and dynamic forces with finesse.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Driving enthusiasts will find plenty to like in BMW's 530i despite its less accomplished engine

Is it possible for a smaller-engined car to feel sportier than a biggerengined sibling?

Yes, if the car in question is a BMW 530i, a 252bhp 2-litre four- cylinder variant of the newly launched 5-series.

On paper, it is no match for the 540i, a 340bhp 3-litre six-cylinder which propels the car to 100kmh in 5.1 seconds - 1.1 seconds quicker than the 530i.

So, in a drag race, the 530i would be several car lengths behind the 540i.

But in day-to-day commutes, the 530i feels breezier and sharper in its throttle response. It is hard to explain this anomaly, except to attribute the test car's uncommon verve to how the previous driver or drivers had been driving it.

If they had been especially enthusiastic, the car would have "learnt" that as the preferred pattern and respond accordingly.

  • SPECS / BMW 530i (M SPORT)

  • Price: $301,800 with COE

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

    Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual select

    Power: 252bhp at 5,200rpm

    Torque: 350Nm at 1,450-4,800rpm

    0-100kmh: 6.2 seconds

    Top speed: 250kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.2 litres/ 100km

    Agent: Performance Motors

Other than that, the only other possible reason is that the 530i weighs a little less than the 540i. This will not show up in a century sprint, where the full potential of the engine is brought to bear.

But when a car starts off from the lights or accelerates to fill a gap in traffic, the ease in which it overcomes inertia can be correlated to its weight.

The way the 530i moves is quite a surprise - a pleasant one. It is light-footed and ever ready to pick up the pace.

In absolute terms, its peak torque value of 350Nm is more than generous. And its 6.2-second century sprint timing is nothing to sniff at. (It is, in fact, quicker than the Volkswagen Golf GTI.)

It is also endowed with the 5-series' impeccable road manners. The car is immensely tractable, with a steering that is effortlessly responsive and a chassis that reacts to changes in terrain and dynamic forces with finesse.

Its steel spring suspension has a sporty edge and yet affords a pliant response to speed humps and tarmac blemishes.

Its demeanour encourages you to drive like you were 10 years younger.

And, more often than not, you are richly rewarded. Even a mundane task such as turning into a side lane is executed with flourish.

The car comes with sports seats, which provide slightly more hip support - better for hard cornering manoeuvres. In contrast, the 540i's sofa-like seats upholstered in nappa leather put you in an utterly relaxed state.

The 530i is not without pampering features, though. Standard issue equipment include doors with auto soft-closing function, an instrument panel with gesture control, a motorised tailgate and BMW's phone-size display key (which does not come with a remote parking function).

But it gets a two-zone climate control instead of the 540i's four-zone system. Its steering is not leather- clad like its sibling's, and the head-up display, glass roof and Harman Kardon hi-fi are not standard.

There are some differences in interior and exterior trim as well.

But these exclusions matter less when a car drives as well as the 530i.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'The better drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe