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BMW 520d Review

The BMW 520d gets 57.6 mpg, which is class-leading for a large executive saloon

BMW 520d

Road test of the BMW 520d

Model/Engine size: 520d SE Saloon
Fuel: Diesel
Fuel economy combined: 57.6 mpg

Green Car Guide rating:

The new BMW 5 Series was launched in March, but the 520d has only just arrived; its emissions of 129 g/km CO2, together with 57.6 mpg, are class-leading for a large executive saloon.

Think back a few years and no-one would have thought that a car of this size would be able to achieve almost 60 mpg. The new 520d shows how successful BMW has been in revolutionising the efficiency of its cars – without any sacrifices in the driving experience.

This is in large part due to BMW rolling out its EfficientDynamics technology on all of its models. The BMW 520d, which shares a new engine with the 320d EfficientDynamics , is the first 5 Series to come with Auto Start-Stop, which reduces the engine idle period when coming to a short stop. Brake Energy Regeneration, which recharges the vehicle’s battery during engine over-run, is part of the standard specification for all 5 Series saloons.

A BMW 520d SE Saloon on its Green Car Guide road test

The new BMW 5 Series Saloon is also the first car in its segment to feature Electric Power Steering (EPS), which, unlike other steering systems, doesn’t use any energy when the wheel is in the straight-ahead position. All manual gearboxes come with an Optimum gearshift indicator to help drivers know when to change gear to optimise the car’s efficiency.

As well as being efficient, the new 5 Series also looks great. The design of the last 5 Series split opinion with its muscular, aggressive look. We actually think it looked excellent, and we thought it would be hard to improve upon, but the styling of the new model is a definite success. The new 5 Series looks more sleek, sophisticated and elegant than the outgoing model.

The interior, both in the front and the rear, is high quality, comfortable, and spacious, and it’s easy to get the right driving position by adjustment of the semi-electric seat. Leather is now standard on all the new 5 Series cars, together with Bluetooth, and this means that the new car comes with £2,280 of standard equipment that previously would have been on the options list.

Our BMW 520d on its Green Car Guide road test

Our test car came with a whole host of optional extras, including sports leather steering wheel, front sports seats, and Variable Damper Control (VDC). All these options combine to give the car a more sporty feel than you would expect in a 2.0-litre diesel 5 Series.

If you have VDC, then through Drive Dynamic Control (DDC) you get the ability to have four settings for the chassis: Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. There seems to be a fashion in the media for criticising the ride of BMWs, but the 520d rides perfectly well in all settings on most roads. Sport+ will transfer bumps in the road to the occupants more than the Comfort setting will do, but that’s the whole point of having four different settings.

The 520d comes with ‘Dynamic Stability Control’ but there’s the option to partially or fully disengage this, either directly, or through the DDC settings. And of course the 5 Series is rear-wheel drive, with 50:50 weight distribution, short front and rear overhangs, and an excellent chassis. This makes it the most rewarding car to drive when compared to its Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class rivals, and rear-wheel drive is so much more suited to this class of car than the front-wheel drive in the A6. It means that the rear wheels do the driving, and the front wheels do the steering, so avoiding torque steer. And it means that you can actually have some fun in the 520d, even though it’s a big car with a relatively low-powered engine compared to the rest of the 5 Series range.

However this is not to say that the BMW 520d has any compromises in normal driving. It has 380 Nm torque and 184 bhp, which helps it to reach 62 mph in 8.1 seconds, and it can go on to a top speed of 141 mph. It’s smooth and quiet, even when cold, and it’s refined at all times. It’s very capable at eating up the miles on motorways in a relaxed fashion.

If you want to push on, then the 2.0-litre diesel engine becomes a little more uncomfortable. The 535i certainly feels lighter on its feet with its excellent smooth and powerful petrol engine, but you won’t get the 50 mpg-plus economy. And with the 520d likely to account for 60% of 5 Series saloon sales, buyers are voting with their cash for this model.

Did we achieve the 57.6 mpg in real life? On flat A-roads at a constant speed, yes. Over mixed driving, no. However 50 mpg was achievable in everyday driving, which is the sort of differential you’d expect from the official figures, and 50 mpg from this class of car is probably as good as you’d hope for. And it comes with an excellent range from its 70-litre fuel tank.

The manual six-speed box is slick, but in common with most manual BMWs, it always seems a bit of a fight to get it into reverse. And while we’re on the subject of (the very few) areas for improvement, we do find that the tyres on BMWs, with their lack of tread going across the tyre, don’t like road surfaces that feature mud or other slippery deposits that you might find in the countryside; this 520d was no different, and there were occasions when the car didn’t feel particularly stable when braking on some poorly-surfaced roads.

520d Pricing and Options

So what about the price? The base on-the-road price of the BMW 520d SE saloon is £28,045. This includes leather and Bluetooth, and this is very competitive against Audi and Mercedes rivals. It also includes a whole host of technology such as hill-start, front and rear parking sensors, two-zone air conditioning, multi-function steering wheel controls and iDrive. We did experience the SatNav choosing some questionable routes, and as with many SatNav systems, finding a way to stop the guidance seems almost impossible.

However you just need to take a look at the options fitted to our test car to see how easy it would be to climb way above this basic price. Our car had options including advance business media package at £1530, variable damper control at £965, 18” alloy wheels at £665, and front sport seats at £665. In total, the options came to a hefty £5605.

And then there’s the M Sport pack. On four-cylinder cars 55% of buyers will go for the M Sport pack (this increases to over 85% on models with 6 or more cylinders), which offers a more aggressive-looking body kit, upgraded wheels, trim, and suspension. M Sport spec takes the price of the 520d Saloon to £31,270, ie. £3,225 more than the SE, and this option will be available in September.

So although in theory you can buy a 520d for £28,045, in practice very few people will do so. However, as a proposition for company car drivers, this car has to make sense. The basic purchase price is reasonable, 129 g/km CO2 emissions mean Benefit-in-Kind of just 18%, residual values are forecast to be excellent, and whole-life running costs are lower than rivals; it’s calculated that the BMW 520d will cost 56.22p per mile to run, compared to the Audi A6 at 64.45p and the Mercedes E-Class 220 at 61.65p.

The 520d also comes with the option of a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, making it the first four-cylinder car in the world available with an eight-speed transmission. The emissions are slightly higher at 137 g/km CO2, equating to 54.3 mpg. The BMW 520d SE auto costs £29,660.

In total, the new 5 Series range comes with a choice of four petrol and four diesel engines. Diesels are expected to account for a whopping 90% of all sales.

You should be aware that as from September all BMWs will come with ‘Combox’, a new media platform that will allow you to stream music from your MP3 device to the car via Bluetooth.

Green Car Guide’s Review of the BMW 520d

The BMW 520d gets a Green Car Guide rating of 9 out of 10. It is an excellent overall package, with the added bonus of fuel economy and emissions that are class-leading for this category of car.

What is there not to like about the BMW 520d? It looks great, it’s excellent to drive, it’s capable of returning 57.6 mpg with emissions of just 129 g/km CO2, it’s refined, high-quality, and rear-wheel drive. It offers good value for money, and has leading low lifetime running costs. It’s spacious, with a huge boot, and if it isn’t big enough, the Touring version is here in September. As the only sub-130 g/km CO2 premium offering, the 520d is an ideal purchase for company car drivers, but equally private buyers certainly won’t be disappointed.

The view from the Energy Saving Trust

In its previous guise, the BMW 520d was the car that all other cars had to beat in terms of its fuel efficiency and overall appeal. The new car maintains this position with class-leading fuel consumption and CO2 figures. The BMW 520d proves that cars can be aspirational, good to drive, stylish whilst offering low running costs and environmental responsibility. The price of the 520d places the car firmly in the executive segment and will not be affordable for all car buyers. However, many of the technologies adopted in this car such as auto start-stop are now appearing in more mass market models. For company car drivers and private buyers alike, the low tax, depreciation and fuel costs are bound to make this car a winner.

Tim Anderson
Consumer Transport Manager
Energy Saving Trust

Car details and fuel economy data

Fuel economy extra urban: 65.7 mpg
Fuel economy urban: 47.9 mpg
CO2 emissions: 129 g/km
Green rating: VED band D – first year £0
Weight: 1715 Kg
Company car tax liability (2010/11): 18%
Price: £28,045 (From £28,045 to £50,865)
Insurance group: TBC
Power: 184 bhp
Max speed: 141 mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
DPF: Yes

Rear-view of the BMW 520d with boot open