It’s been a weird turnabout in branding. Performance brand BMW now builds cars more attuned to luxury while luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz creates dynamic beasts that more than steal the fun-to-drive crown from BMW.
Over the course of our year with a BMW 530i midsize sedan, we found that it perfectly fulfilled its luxury promise.
Living up to its heritage as an Ultimate Driving Machine? Not as much.
In acquiring a 2.0-liter family sedan, most buyers won’t expect the 530i to be a weekend racer. But shoppers might be a bit dismayed upon discovering their Bimmer is a bit, well, sedate. Sure, its 0–60 sprint in 6.2 seconds is fair for its class, but in crawling beach city traffic, the transmission kickdowns take too long, and you never feel like you’re in the powerband’s sweet spot. Sport mode is essential.
“The four-cylinder turbo is reasonably efficient on a long-distance cruise, perhaps the inevitable legacy of a powertrain developed in a country with a network of high-speed freeways,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said. “But the driveline feels tightly coiled at times; you’re always aware it’s a smallish engine working a biggish car.”
A driving machine needs to handle, too. Its 0.92 g skidpad grip is consistent with that of the Mercedes E300, but its vague feel prompted some snarls from our testers.
“The steering is bizarre,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “I found myself sawing at the wheel all the way around the skidpad. I am not a fan of variable ratio, based solely on vehicle speed. It is still unpredictable and nonlinear.”
Despite the odd steering feedback, the BMW carries “a good amount of grip throughout the corner with good balance on the throttle,” Walton said. And its sharp M Sport brakes (a steal at $650) provide a 103-foot stopping distance from 60 mph—that’s what you get from an Audi R8 V10 Plus or Nissan GT-R.
At speed, the Bimmer makes for a magnificent, 3,886-pound autobahn cruiser. If your commute calls for frequent coverage of lengthy distances, this might be one of the best choices. With its supple suspension, quiet interior, supportive yet plush seats, nifty smart cruise system, and crisp Harman Kardon stereo package, the 530i might be the best car I’ve taken on one of my frequent drives from L.A. to San Francisco.
As a whole, BMW’s smart cruise, lane keeping, crash prevention, and parking-assist package excels. But the attendant iDrive menus are so hierarchical that you neglect features that came with the car. For instance, it took me six weeks of randomly scrolling through the iDrive menus to discover this 530i had massaging front seats—and very good shiatsu ones, at that. How many other features did I miss out on? Yeah, I know, RTFM.
BMW also likes to play up its $190 “gesture controls,” but aside from raising and lowering the audio volume by twirling your index finger, there’s little to rave about here. Most other gestures responded so erratically that they prompted a more universally understood digit.
Let’s talk dollars: We like to outfit our test cars with all the bells and whistles. As a result, our $52,195 base-price 530i rocketed to $72,135—which prompted some catcalls about a turbo-four luxury car costing 70 grand. We do this so we can tell consumers what options are killer and which are filler, so you can spend your dollars smarter.
At loan’s end, which options are keepers? Of course, anything having to do with adaptive cruise control ($1,700) and parking assist ($1,800). And the 20-way perforated seats ($1,600) are opulent, so if you’re buying a midrange BMW, why settle?
Which features would we do without? Active steering ($1,150), the lighting package ($1,050), Nappa leather ($1,000—Dakota leather is fine), the ceramic controls ($650), soft-close doors ($600), the SensaTec dash ($500), and gesture control. That shaves $5,140 off the sticker but still brings it in the driveway at a cool 67 grand.
So how much do all these bells and whistles depreciate? Our colleagues at IntelliChoice calculated that after three years and 42,000 miles,
this particular unit would be worth $43,600—retaining 60 percent of its value. That’s pretty strong for a luxury car.
Over its 20,661 miles, we averaged 24.0 mpg—which is right on par with the Real MPG combined fuel economy estimate calculated when we first took possession of the car. We used 861.2 gallons of fuel that cost $3,056.90.
Another benefit of owning a BMW is its no-cost maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles. (Our 2014 Infiniti Q50S required $651.13 in maintenance costs in its first year.) Some cynics will claim that freebie is baked into the cost of the car, but it still feels great to leave your wallet in your pocket.
As far as quality control, the only niggling gremlins were a false passenger seat-belt alert (two software reflashes, and it triggered yet again as we returned the car) and the oft-repeated complaint of difficulty in pairing smartphones to the car and its Apple CarPlay system (never solved).
With the rise of SUVs, such as BMW’s X3 and X5, driving a 5 Series sedan now feels “slightly exotic,” MacKenzie noted. “Once the aspirational vehicle of the striving middle class, you hardly see a new 5 Series sedan in SoCal these days.”
And that is a shame. The 530i is a fine, elegant luxury sedan that commands respect.
More on our long-term BMW 530i here:
|SERVICE LIFE||13 mo / 20,661 mi|
|OPTIONS||Premium pkg ($2,300: Keyless entry/ignition, 1-yr sub SiriusXM, wireless smartphone charging, WiFi hotspot, Dakota leather), Driving Assistance pkg ($1,800: Auto parking, head-up display, parking sonar, rear-view camera); Driver Asst Plus II ($1,700: Adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, traffic-jam assist, collision-avoidance assist, front/rear cross-traffic alert, daytime pedestrian protection, frontal-collision warning w/low-speed auto braking); Luxury seating pkg ($1,600: Cooled 20-way power fr seats w/memory and massage); Driver Asst Plus pkg ($1,400: 3D surround-view cameras); Active steering ($1,150); Lighting pkg ($1,050: adaptive LED headlights, auto high beams); Ivory white Nappa leather ($1,000); Dynamic Damping ($1,000); Harman/Kardon audio ($875); Cold weather pkg ($800: Heated front seats/steering wheel); Metallic paint ($700); M Sport brakes ($650); Ceramic controls ($650: black-glazed surfaces/switches); 19″ V-spoke wheels ($600: 19 x 8.0-in front/19 x 9.0-in rear alloy wheels w/245/40R19; 275/35R19 run-flat performance tires); Soft-close doors ($600); Power rear sun shade ($575); Power trunk lid ($500); SensaTec dash ($500); Apple CarPlay ($300); Gesture control ($190)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$72,135|
|AVG ECON/CO2||24.0 mpg / 0.81 lb/mi|
|PROBLEM AREAS||Passenger seat-belt warning|
|MAINTENANCE COST||$0 (2-oil change, inspection; 1-in-cabin filter)|
|3-YEAR RESIDUAL VALUE*||$43,600|
|*IntelliChoice data; assumes 42,000 miles at the end of 3-years|
|2017 BMW 530i|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||248 hp @ 5,200 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||258 lb-ft @ 1,450 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||15.7 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.7-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.0 x 19-in; 9.0 x 19-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/40R19 98Y; 275/35R19 100Y Michelin Primacy 3 (ZP)|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.9 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||194.6 x 73.5 x 58.2 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||39.5 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,886 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.8/37.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.4/36.5 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.7/55.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||18.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.3|
|QUARTER MILE||14.8 sec @ 94.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||103 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.9 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18.0 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||19.1/37.0/24.4 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||24/34/27 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||140/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|