BMW 535d M-Sport 2011 Review

Pound for pound BMW 535d is certainly a tough act to beat. For its many highlights one factor stands above the rest, its balance between huge amounts of torque while maintaining frugal fuel economy. A sleek, purposeful design and a lush, luxurious cabin are the cream on the top. But the ability to offer stimulating sports performance while sipping away on just 6.1 litres of diesel for every 100km travelled, that’s what makes the 535d the most progressive model in BMW’s 5-Series range. Car and SUV has been a fan of BMW’s diesel offerings since driving the impressive 335d and was interested to see how the same powerhouse motor worked in the larger 5-Series body.

Like its little brother, the 535d is built with some serious performance DNA. Under the long bonnet lays BMW’s latest 3.0-litre diesel engine, it’s an ultra-modern mill in a traditional in-line 6-cylinder configuration. While its power output of 220kW sounds only mildly exciting it’s the all alloy engine’s 600Nm torque figure that tells the true tale of the tape. Acceleration is effortless and with maximum torque available from 1750rpm, instant and absolute grunt is always waiting beneath the driver’s right foot.

The 535d’s broad powerband of diesel power is the result of a linear twin turbocharging system. At low engine speeds the smaller turbocharger force-feeds the motor making 95% of the total torque figure accessible at just 1,500rpm. By 2,000rpm the smaller turbo is working hard-out and the larger turbocharger seamlessly takes over and boosts the 535d all the way to its redline. The result is an executive cruiser that surges ahead at any speed and sheds its 1790kg kerb weight to feel lithe and nimble. The 0-100kph dash is crossed out in just 5.7 seconds and the 535d won’t quit till it reaches a 250km/h electronically limited top speed.

With 600Nm of torque on tap the 535d would quickly turn BMW’s standard manual transmission into custard so an 8-speed automatic box is the only option. It doesn’t make use of a twin-clutch system so the shifts remain more clearly defined, but that’s not necessarily a vice. There’s an automatic sport mode that makes best use of the tight ratios. If you want to self-shift, the gearstick has a sequential function or alternatively steering wheel paddles work diligently.

On the road the 535d is whatever you want it to be, an effortless floating cruiser or a high-performance euro bahnstormer with an appetite for eating up long journeys. Our tested 535d could offer multiple personalities through BMW’s Adaptive Drive system. This high-tech set up allows the suspension damping to be adjusted on the fly, with settings for comfort, normal, sport and sport plus. In its sports-focused settings, stability control is also reduced to allow for more adventurous driving. The changes can seem subtle, but even in normal setting the 535d keeps flat during cornering and has to be pushed to its very high limits before it feels anything other than crisp and balanced.

Levels of refinement are set high and extensive sound-deadening means very little noise from the engine, road or elements enter the cabin. It’s a tranquil place with thick carpets, soft leather and high-quality plastics featuring throughout. While it may be missing some of the flair of European competitors, the 5-Series cabin is nicely understated with highly functional switchgear. The selection of buttons and turners appears basic on the surface but BMW’s ever improving I-Drive system commands a deep range of entertainment, navigation and vehicle settings. With the optional ‘Navigation Professional’ system installed our test vehicle’s sat navigation looked great with multiple viewing angles and a large widescreen. Instrumentation is traditional BMW fare with large black and white dials but lying underneath is a more modern full colour secondary screen that displays various vehicle info.

Cabin space is fair for a car of the 5-Series size with good head and shoulder room front and back. There’s room for three adults in the rear pew but the bulky front sports seats steal away some of the back seats legroom, while it’s still comfortable a little more space wouldn’t hurt. Front occupants are treated to some of the most luxurious leather sports seats around as part of the M-Sport package. They are wide yet supportive and comfortable with multiple electric adjustments for getting it just right, and memory settings for when you do.

Interior small storage is handled largely by the glovebox and a split centre storage bin, BMW are careful here not to diminish the high-class feel in the 535d cabin with large bottle-holding door bins and multiple cubbies. The boot is long with a 520-litre capacity and handy sectioned off areas for loose items.

The equipment level inside the 535d is too extensive to list here but includes highlights like a rear view camera, parking sensors, heads up display, adaptive headlights, four-zone auto climate control, adaptive cruise control and ambient interior lighting. Our tested vehicle had also been upgraded with the optional surround view system, which uses a series of small cameras to display an overall exterior image of the car and its surroundings. This allows the driver the ability to see all sides of the vehicle and move confidently even in confined spaces.

When it comes to exterior styling the 535d M-sport has the look of an Olympic sprinter wearing a business suit. Muscular lines bulge through executive wrapping and while it may appear conservative from distance, closer inspection reveals a multitude of subtle curves and creases. The M-Sport package brings more aggressive front and rear bumpers and deeper side skirting. 18-inch alloys are also included in the package but our test specimen was optioned up to guard-filling19-inch M light alloys at a $390 premium. Sleek and athletic the 535d also has distinctive touches of style, like the scalloped bonnet lines, three-bar LED taillights and that shark fin aerial. Some buyers may want more razzle-dazzle for the money but there is little to turn people off in the 535d’s core design.

So what’s the verdict on the 535d M-Sport? It’s an extremely impressive machine that’s confident and entirely competent in everything it does. The diesel engine is a powerful and progressively engineered powerplant, when mated to the slick auto transmission it’s easy to see why two thirds of all BMW sales in NZ are now diesel models. They’re just that good. But all this tech, equipment and comfort come with a heavyweight price – $148,500. Once you add on the M-Sport package at $8350 and other goodies like the large screened navigation system ($2050) and surround view cameras ($1800) it becomes a $160k car. But even for that much money buyers won’t be disappointed – the 535d’s mix of raw power, economy and uncompromising luxury is something genuinely special.

Price: $148,500 as tested $164,470

What we like:

  • Advanced, powerful and economical drivetrain
  • Luxurious and understated interior
  • M-Sport kit brings the exterior styling to life
  • Relaxed and refined cruiser

What we don’t like:

  • Could have worked in a bit more interior space for a saloon of this size
  • High price will dissuade many
  • Some of the most impressive equipment is additional options

Who will buy this car? Executives who can’t fit their lives and egos into a 3-Series, and those who have plenty of cash, refined tastes and know how strong the diesel models are in the current BMW range.

Cool rating: High, the F10 5-Series looks the business, without really having to try. The 535d is the dark horse in BMW’s 5-Series stable and owners will inherit its street cred.

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

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