When it comes to BMW, there was one mantra I stuck by over the years. If there are less than six cylinders under the hood, it's not a true BMW. Sure, there is one notable exception called the E30 M3, but the idea of a four-cylinder BMW just didn't sit well with me before.
As I stood in front of the new 520i Luxury Line, I couldn't help but wish it had a six cylinder. Having owned two 5 Series sedans in the past, I always felt that these cars should, at the very least, have straight six and not a four-cylinder. Sure, I was impressed by the old 520d's torque and performance, but this is a gas model which mean it has less torque and less power.
After getting to drive it though, I totally don't mind BMW putting a four-cylinder in this big sedan. I'll explain later.
But first, the styling: I maintain my belief that it's a good-looking car. I will admit it looks a little too much like its predecessor, but it's a fine evolution of the theme. While it no longer has the M Sport package, it doesn't really detract from the overall look of the car. Besides, that kit can get perilously close to the ground at times meaning you don't have to worry about scraping with this one.
It now wears the Luxury Line package and it bodes well for the car. Chrome is tastefully applied all over the body and the styling details aren't overdone at all. It's an exercise in minimalism with soft, gentle curves mixing with defined creases. All in all, the current 5 Series is subtle yet handsome, and really well-proportioned.
If I had more free reign over the options list, I'd switch the wheels to a multi-spoke design and perhaps add a sunroof. Oh, and I'd also get rid of the 'Luxury' badge on the fender as well. Even the color, which BMW calls Mediterranean Blue, looks great draped on this body. I'm just glad BMW offers this color and not just hues of black, white, gray, or silver. If I could afford one, I'd get mine with the aforementioned multi-spoke wheels, sunroof, and the car finished in Imperial Blue Metallic which is a touch darker than the one on this tester.
On to the interior and it was a familiar sensation. That's not because I drove the 520d before, but rather elements of past BMWs are still there. That's not a bad thing at all because I do rather like the driver-oriented center stack, and clean simple lines. Nothing looks out of place and I could say the design of the dash puts function way ahead of form. It won't really overwhelm the first time BMW owner because ergonomics are actually good in here. Only the electro-mechanical gear selector might require some getting used to, but it's easy to use once you're accustomed to it.
The interior color, on the other hand, stirred mixed reactions from those who saw the car. BMW calls it Cognac (yes, as in the alcoholic beverage) and it looks like a mix of tan and brown, depending on how you look at it. There are those who say it looks too bright but, personally, I rather like it. It's certainly different from the typical black or tan and it makes the cabin look bigger than it actually seems.
BMW certainly didn't scrimp on interior features and amenities. For starters, it's on the comfort seats which makes sitting in there feel a tad cozier. It also has quad-zone climate control too and I'm glad they put back the rear window shades which was missing from the M-Sport. Ambient lighting is a nice touch and it even comes with soft closing doors and a power-operated trunk lid.
In the past, rear space is where BMWs tend to fall a little short, be it the 3 Series or the 5 Series. The 520i does get rid of that past connotation, but I do have to say that it's still nothing like, say, a Mercedes-Benz E200. That's not to say it's cramped at the back of the 5 Series, it just needs a few more inches to make it feel really spacious. Of course, this is a BMW so you'll prefer to sit in front and be behind the wheel than at the back.
The 520i also comes with Gesture Control which I, to be frank about it, didn't really use much. Perhaps its my short arms but it wasn't always responsive when I wanted it to work or worked too well that I inadvertently jumped to the next audio track with an innocent wave of my hand across the screen. To be honest, the iDrive controls are much easier and less fussy to use. If that's still too complicated for your liking, you can control the screen like a good ol' touchscreen.
Gesture Control aside, let's move on to a feature that might actually be more relevant to more folks. I actually thought that power trunk would be useless but if you're carrying bags of groceries and can't press a button, you start to see the value of this feature. Simply wave your foot under the rear bumper and it opens. While we're at it, trunk space is generous. Sure it's not exactly class leading, but are you really going to carry four sets of golf bags everyday?
While a part of me is sad that it no longer has a six-cylinder under the hood, the stats did perk me up. Its 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo mill puts out 184 PS and 290 Nm of torque. Like most BMWs, it sends power to the rear wheels and shifts via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Curiously, there were no paddle shifters, but this is the Luxury Line after all.
Those figures in the new 520i are numbers my old 2.5-liter inline-six could only dream of. For comparison basis, my old 1997 523i mustered 170 PS and 250 Nm from an engine half a liter bigger and had two more cylinders. Granted, it's aided by a turbo, but it does show you how far technology has gone. Here's the thing about that engine though: It didn't feel like it had 184 horsepower and 290 Nm of torque. It felt much more than that. Allow me to explain.
The 520i easily carries its weight off the line or when you're passing on the highway. What amuses me more is that it doesn't sound strained under acceleration either. I know I might get flack from die-hard BMW fanatics out there but it almost feels like it does, indeed, have an inline-six under the hood. It may not sound like a six but it sure pulls like one.
Just as impressive is it's fuel economy. Okay, so it won't match the 520d in terms of efficiency but the 520i's on-board computer displayed results you'd associate with a smaller engine. City driving yielded 8.4 kilometers per liter at an average of 17.8 km/h. In lighter traffic, that number went up to 10.3 kilometers per liter at an average pace of 22.1 km/h. On the highway, it was a diesel-like 16.2 kilometers per liter while cruising at about 91 km/h. That eight-speed automatic definitely did wonders for its fuel consumption. By the way, those figures were achieved without ever having to use the stop-start function.
Having driven the M Sport version of this car in the past, I do have to say that the 520i Luxury Line doesn't feel as buttoned down as its sportier counterpart. Still, that's not discrediting the car's ability around the bends because it is a joy to drive. Sure it pitches and rolls more than the M Sport, but it clings to the road with bags of grip. That's no small feat either, given the fact that it's riding on less sporting tires and the car itself tips the scale at nearly 1,700 kilograms. As far as luxo-barges go, the 520i defies its specs.
I do wish the car offered more steering feel to make it a truly involving experience but there is a way around that. The car has three driving models, primarily Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport. Aside from that, you can set the car in Eco Pro Individual and Sport Individual. That means you can adjust the steering, engine response, and transmission individually to your liking. I set the car in Sport Individual mode and put the steering on Sport, with transmission and engine response on Comfort. You get a bit more feel and feedback on that mode but I will admit that it still isn't like BMWs of yore. But while it's no E39, this new 5 Series just needs a little bit more tweaks to bring back those days.
Luxury cars typically don't score high when it comes to value. After all, cars like these are emotional purchases and not rational buys. The thing is, the BMW 520i does serve up surprising value. At Php 3,990,000, you get a lot of car for the money. It's not bare in there at all and there's a host of advanced safety features to go along with it. Cover the 520i badge and you'd think that it'll be priced in the region of Php 5 million and not a hair under Php 4 million.
The reason why it's priced like that is because of where it's manufactured. Yes, it's made in Malaysia now but that's actually not a bad thing at all. See, the Malaysia-sourced BMWs are the Hot Climate Version. Simply put, it has upgrades that make the car more resilient to our conditions; “tropicalized” in other words.
This particular example is also somewhat special because it's a SEA Games special unit, meaning it's priced a little bit less at PhP 3,790,000. Much in the same way that APEC units were used, this vehicle was used to move senior representatives from other countries around the different sports venues. Some 520i units used in the SEA Games that have exceeded the 2,000 kilometer mark on the odometer are priced at PhP 3,590,000.
The BMW 520i then is a rarity in the realm of luxury cars: It's good value and comprehensively equipped. It's also comfortable, surprisingly brisk, (relatively) fun to drive, and easy on the fuel bills. Of course, no car is perfect but the fact that I've had to nitpick means there aren't any glaring faults to begin with.
To those fortunate enough to be in the market for a mid-sized luxury sedan, you really won't go wrong with this one. It's that good.