Car reviews - BMW - 5 Series - 530i Sport sedan
Driving experience, comfort and quality
Room for improvement
Rear accommodation, boot space
11 Apr 2001
By TERRY MARTIN
IT might well be more than five years since the current E39 5-Series BMW was launched in Australia. But it doesn't feel like it.
Important technical amendments such as the recent introduction of the new-generation M54 straight-six engines and drive-by-wire throttle go a lot further than the typical facelift fodder such as revised bumpers and grilles.
Yet it's the blend of appearance and mechanical tweaks that makes the 530i Sport so appealing.
The conservative 5-Series exterior - still unmistakable and desirable after all these years - gets an enormous boost in Sport variation, thanks in no small part to the striking set of 17-inch alloy wheels, eye-catching chrome exhaust outlet and full bodykit comprising an aggressive front airdam, side skirts and a boot-mounted spoiler.
The body enhancements by no means overstep the boundaries of good taste. Rather, they succeed in bridging the gap (at least part of the way) between the stock-standard "Euro taxi" and the superlative M5 sports sedan, satisfying the needs and wants of the mild-mannered businessman after a bit of spice without too much sacrifice.
There is much satisfaction to be gained from the standard 3.0-litre engine and basic mechanical setup, although the Sport - as the name suggests - goes a step further in providing the enthusiastic driver with more of a bias toward handling as opposed to ride comfort.
That ride remains absorbent and comfortable across most surfaces, however it?s certainly sharper edged than the (already firm) non-Sport 5-Series.
The trade-off is a more accomplished and involving experience in terms of handling, traction and roadholding.
It is a difficult package to fault. The 530 Sport sits flat on the road, showing no trace of body movement through corners and adhering to all surfaces with the aid of the electronic ASC+T (automatic skid control and traction) system.
The steering is well-weighted, direct and communicative at speed, although the 11.3m turning circle (more than a Commodore or Falcon) can make around-town manoeuvres more difficult than they might otherwise be.
Keeping in mind this is a long way from supercar territory, engine performance from the new-generation 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder is outstanding.
The 530i has absolutely no problem dispensing with the 1620kg kerb weight and the combined kilos of a small family on-board, pulling strongly from low engine revs and delivering powerful, aural and smooth performance as the tacho needle winds its way around the arc.
The highlight of the mechanical package, though, is the team the engine makes with the five-speed automatic transmission.
This really is one of the best combinations around. Rather than sapping power, the self-shifter tends to bring out the best from the engine with its smooth, well-spaced ratios and clever programming.
While the auto offers the simple-to-use Steptronic manual gear selection (that frustratingly at times shows a mind of its own and ignores a request for low gears at higher engine speeds) and a sport mode, the standard Drive mode is both responsive to driver inputs and smart enough to hold onto a gear while the car makes its way through winding, undulating terrain.
Excellent braking performance and high levels of refinement are also features of the usual 5-Series package that remain prevalent on the 530 Sport.
Inside, driver and front passenger comfort are enhanced by a superb set of armchairs that are snug, supportive and fully adjustable.
There are M-Sport reminders throughout the dark, industrial cabin - on the chrome kickplates and nicely shaped three-spoke steering wheel, for example - plus an abundance of woodgrain and leather.
As ever, the number of controls presented to the driver is intimidating and time-consuming until familiarity sets in - and that can take quite a bit of time.
That said, there are some refreshingly simple functions accessible from the word go. In particular, the steering wheel, electrically adjustable for reach and height, has buttons for the stereo and cruise control, while the instrument binnacle houses trip computer readings that can be easily adjusted from the tip of the left-hand indicator stalk.
Resisting the temptation to slap on titanium/carbon fibre/aluminium/(insert other motorsport-themed metal here), the interior designers have kept the instrument panel a simple, uncluttered collection of gauges - although the instant fuel economy gauge is a bit superfluous thesedays.
Map pockets in all doors, a large glovebox and a couple of small cubbies ensure most storage requirements can be met, however the installation of an integrated telephone renders the centre console box useless and the small tray in front of the gearshifter likewise is out of bounds if either of the two dash-mounted, press-button cupholders come into play.
Rear seat accommodation is as comfortable and luxurious as might be expected, however the sheer physical dimensions of the current 5-Series restrict comfort to small families. Legroom and shoulder room are the biggest restrictions here seat comfort and support is very good and all seating positions have three-point seatbelts and an acceptable amount of headroom.
There are no rear cupholders and little in the way of seating versatility. The local dealer can cut a hole behind the centre rear armrest open, however he will NOT be licensed to carve out a split-fold rear seat.
The boot itself is an acceptable 1100mm deep from tailgate to seatback but the maximum usable width of 900mm restricts its ability to hold a large amount of luggage.
Gas struts on the bootlid, a full-size alloy spare, luggage tie-down hooks and a couple of straps across the cargo floor are welcome sights, though BMW?s persistence with boot-mounted CD stackers is starting to wear a bit thin.
The level of equipment is always going to be generous at this level and includes the full gamut of electric conveniences, a plethora of passive safety equipment (all 5-Series sedans are now equipped with rear head airbags, bringing the SRS count to 10) and a high quality stereo.
However, in true BMW style, a sunroof, alarm, xenon headlights, metallic paint, television monitor, satellite navigation, advanced trip computer and a host of other items are optional depending on the model specified.
In all, the 5-Series remains an excellent package for its age and in 530i Sport form offers the spirited luxury driver a more visually appealing, involving - and potentially more invigorating - experience than the run-of-the-mill 530.
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