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BMW 520d versus 530d roadtest - 5 or 5?


I took the longer route home that night. The car was painted a dark blue hue, with The Bee Gees' More Than A Woman on the stereo, a consistent yellow-golden glow through the sunroof from street lights that were reversing past at twice the speed limit and a stark empty but homely Bandra-Worli Sealink. Midnight was interrupted by an alert chirrup from the tyres when I took off after an all-directions check at an intersection.

The traffic lights flashing on standby mode missed a beat. I was passed off as a rich Bandra Boy with a swank new toy by the inactive huddle of auto rickshaws waiting indefinitely for someone to get to the airport or maybe one of them after-party briefly-enlightened souls looking to get home.  


I momentarily gave up on the well being of the dinner I'd bought a while ago. Butter naan and well-done meat in creamy sauce wouldn't taste too good when eaten off the passenger footwell, but I consoled myself with ‘The Smokin' Joe's outlet is open till 5am’ and switched the Dynamic Traction Control unit off. 184 bhp on a motorcycle is mad, but in a car, it’s more akin to being led upstairs by that discreetly beautiful woman at a social do for a never-talk-about-it-again time. The 520d feels powerful and the 1995cc four-cylinder mill doesn't feel like a compromise or anything similarly demeaning. Frankly, if I were ever in the market for a 5 Series, which is as unlikely as me being in the market for lingerie or land survey equipment, I'd have the 520d. Later on that night, I played throttle-happy for a while, switched to Pink Floyd, and reached home a bit too sleepy to bother with dinner. Took a long look at the 5 from a cold window pane before I went to bed quite impressed with myself for having joined the motoring scribe clan.

Purists feel the current 5 is absolute injustice to the lean, fit design lineage of the previous 5. Yes, looking at both in tandem, the difference in character is pronounced. The older 5 would carry a quick click-and-shut briefcase, be absolutely bereft of something called facial expressions and play football with other wealthy friends. The new 5 has someone to carry his bags, is great at managing human resources and on Sundays, plays golf on the outskirts. The 5's got biceps, but pulls a shirt over it before you can see it. It's all there, but unlike on the previous 5, you won't cut your finger on it.

It has enough power to squeeze into that tight space that the diagonally parked BEST bus has just created for a half of a millisecond. You have 38.7 kgm of torque from an early 1,750 rpm which makes the 520d very tractable to say the least. The steering is light, but not quite dull and uninvolving. It wags its tail a bit too fondly and that's fun, but only as long as you aren't ferrying non-motorheads along. No, the propeller badge won't cut you any ice when you have passengers being sick all over your beige leather seats.

All of that, however, only applies to a very enthusiastic driving style. Driven soberly, the 5 feels absolutely planted and will get you home sans drama. And it is here that the 530d steps in. If the 520d is the older, mature, married son with two kids, the 530d is the gym regular with a flash watch and a hot girlfriend.

When you say 'straight-six', you can see six straight fists blowing the kidneys out of that grille from under the hood. Acceleration is uncomfortably serious. A light touch of the throttle sends your neck into a backward snap. You make toll attendants cringe in discomfort thanks to the truckloads of wheelspin and the following shrieks. I did. And got a mild warning for it from Pablo, who at that moment happened to be right on my tail. Darn!

The problem is, the 530d takes you from 0 to 100 kph in 6.58 seconds. That, as you would know, is clearly not enough time to be looking at things like rear-view mirrors. 'Irresponsible, irresponsible!' I hear you say. Sorry, but the straight-six is completely bonkers and if you behave yourself, it will take you out through the barn door and break your nose with one solid punch.

There's a 2993cc, inline-six cylinder diesel motor under the hood and it produces 245 bhp and 55 kgm of torque. The 530d also gets a paddle shift gearbox, three driving modes that alter suspension, gearing and throttle input through 'normal', 'sport' and 'super sport' modes, a wider 10.2-inch monitor on the dash (two 8-inch units on the headrests) and a hotline to Monica Bellucci's residence. Okay, ignore the last bit, but the 530d is loaded with enough features to brag about from the airport to home, over dinner, wine, in your sleep and the next morning over breakfast. In terms of sheer performance, the 530d beats the Merc E350 CDI, the Jag XF S and the Audi A6. By a mile.


The 520d is more practical and economical and, in the daily grind, is not that much different from the 530d. It's simply a toss-up between absolute driving authority and sublime existence. You can't go wrong with either. But if you buy a 530d and have a young daughter who needs to get to college, call me on 9920...