It's getting pretty boring writing about electric cars and hybrids.
Yes, these electrified cars are fun and promising, but sometimes I miss the good old days. It was enjoyable to just write about how responsive an engine is, how solid a gearbox felt, how composed the chassis was around the corners chassis, or how the brakes gave you confidence.
That's why I think cars like the 5-Series are important. Yes, it sounds strange to say that in a market where only about 1% of the cars sold are from badges considered “premium”, but it's true. Cars like the 5-Series take you back to a time when cars were more than just being about the range digits, or being 'gram-worthy or being good for the bottom line.
That's especially true for the 530i M Sport.
Yes, I meant M Sport and not the M5. Don't get me wrong, the M5 is a fantastic car, but the 5er M Sport is just as fun. No, it doesn't have the outright performance of its true blue M bro, but it has a lot of the sweet characteristics that make BMW special without having to break the bank or cash in all your crypto.
Unlike other variants we've tried before like the 520i Luxury, this is not a car where you'll be grabbing the rear door handle to get in or have someone open it for you. No, the M Sport is for the owner who prefers sitting behind the wheel. Most of the time, the rear door will only be opened to hang a coat. This is a 5-Series, not an E Class.
The 5 Series itself is not the youngest belle at the ball. This generation has been around for 5 years, but they did give it an update about 2 years ago. The changes aren't major; they sharpened a few lines here and there, tweaked the lights, swapped out the grille for the newer one, selected different wheels, and so on and so forth. This freshening up of the details is something that BMW calls LCI: life cycle impulse.
It's a midsize premium car that is indeed very business-like; one that would look naturally at home in the car park of a CBD corporate tower. But the more you look at it the more you'll realize it doesn't look like a big lumbering hulk like your grandpa's car from back in the day. You know, the kind that had all kinds of wood inside and probably had a well-used 12-volt cigarette lighter. The obvious cue is the M Sport badge. That is why it has the sportier wheels, sportier front aero bumper, the chrome minimum diet, and so on and so forth. Sporty is everywhere, but essentially the 5 Series is the same.
That's not a complaint because BMW always nails the proportions of their core models. Observe the 5 Series whilst it's sitting still. No, don't look at the paint finish or how the light strikes it; this is a Bimmer, not a Lexus. Instead, look at how the car sits and how it seems to be hugging the road. Look at the width of the tires, the way the vehicle has a silhouette that seems more like a fastback, and then that long hood. It's ready to go.
Then pop the hood, and you'll spot an engine neatly cradled in the compartment. I mean really, it looks like the engine bay grew around the engine judging by how surrounded it looks with those braces for enhanced rigidity. And it's not a big engine even though in the past a 530i would generally mean a naturally aspirated 3.0L straight-six that loved to sing at high revs. Today the 530i is a 2.0L four-banger.
Sounds meh, doesn't it? This 530i may come with two fewer cylinders but it has a secret weapon: a turbo system. That's why even though it's smaller, it's producing comparable power: the older generation 530i had upwards of 268 horses, but this one has 252. Where it does have the advantage is torque, as this new model surpasses the previous generation with 350 Newton meters.
Of course, this isn't a front-wheel drive Bimmer. Those cylinders are not laid out from left to right; they're lined astern. That means rear-wheel drive (generally), and that's achieved via an 8-speed automatic gearbox made by ZF. I know, I know; an engine like this deserves a proper manual gearbox, but BMW hasn't offered a manual in the Philippines for quite a while now.
But don't discount the car just yet; BMW doesn't put any gearbox -manual or automatic- in their cars if it can't deliver a great drive. You can feel that when you drive it around. In the city, the 530i can be a sprinter from one stoplight to another. The torque is just there, and the behavior of the 8-speed automatic in Sport mode gives you the response your right foot demands.
In the other modes (e.g. Eco) it does become a bit anemic, but that's to be expected. What you need in everyday driving are smoothness and efficiency; the latter definitely comes in handy now. If you drive it right, you can enjoy the luxury of a BMW 5 Series whilst doing somewhere around 8.5 kilometers per liter in the city (somewhat steady traffic, 23 km/h average) and 14.1 km/l on the highway if you're being sensible.
Once the roads open up then you can push the throttle a little more and the M Sport will oblige. There's a real sensation of thrust when you do so as the nose pitches up just a little bit because of the stiffer suspension. In standard models, it's softer, so you get a bit more nose-up action. Once you approach a corner, dive on the brakes to get to a more reasonable cornering speed, and then start dialing in steering whilst gradually releasing the brake. This is a car that will reward you if you know how to trail brake into a turn.
Mind you, the steering isn't as fantastic as the old models. These new electric power steering units may have improved significantly since the early days, but they still can't hold a candle to the analog feedback you get from a good hydraulic power steering system. Be that as it may, it's really how well the rear-wheel drive 5 Series can be balanced around a bend that just brings out the focus in you as a driver and elicits a sly grin on that face. This is a fun car to toss around if you know what you're doing.
That's really the magic with the 5 Series in general, and the 530i M Sport in particular. It may have the capability to be a rewarding weekend drive, but on the weekdays it will just tone down to something so comfortable and luxurious. There's an extra firmness in the suspension, but it's not a night and day kind of thing. The interior has had some refinements, but unless you're very familiar with the pre-LCI model, then those changes aren't so obvious.
The build quality is spot on. The way everything fits and feels is befitting the reputation of the 5. The space is great. The technology is all there including all the wireless connectivity options you want in a car. You can easily drive this every day or you can comfortably be driven every day if you so wish; it is pretty spacious in the backseat. Yet despite the BMW badge and the extra premium you'd pay for the M Sport goodies (and badge), BMW Philippines was able to price this at under PHP 5 million.
The reason for the PHP 4.89 million price tag for the M Sport is another M: Malaysia. Being assembled by our Southeast Asian neighbor to our southwest means they can price it attractively despite the level of features, the quality, and the enjoyable drive and ride. The only thing I would really change is the steering wheel; I'm just not a fan of the size and the design.
Nevertheless, cars like these are endangered species as many automakers are diverting their development budgets towards electrified vehicles, SUVs, and even more advanced smart safety features and autonomous tech. You don't have to look far: if you log onto the official page of BMW Philippines and tap the “Models” menu, the first 4 that pop up are the SUVs: X1, X3, X4, and X5.
Cars that are designed around the formula for the BMW 530i M Sport are an endangered species. By formula, I mean these sweet handling front engine, rear-wheel drive cars. In the end, everything will be an SUV with an electric drivetrain and the ability to navigate by itself.
The future of motoring -er, mobility- is being pitched as exciting, but in many ways, it sounds boring and soulless. That's why it's nice to drive something that just brings you back to what driving is supposed to be.