25 September 2023

BMW 530i – $109,990

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By Karl Peskett.

Large cars have fallen way out of favour with Australian buyers. The Ford Falcon has disappeared from showrooms, the Holden Commodore is now a mid-size import and the Toyota Camry has also suffered from losing an Australian manufacturing base.

Strangely, despite the mainstream leaving large sedans for SUVs, there’s a slice of the market in which sedans of this size remain fairly healthy. Premium sedans are still chalking up sales on the monthly VFACTS charts, which is why BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Jaguar (and to a lesser extent Rolls-Royce) still bring a selection of models to our shores.

On test this week is the BMW 530i, a premium large sedan with a long history in this country. It has been around since the late 1980s, and has always had a six under the bonnet, coupled with both an automatic or manual transmission. It has been synonymous with plenty of power, that beautiful in-line engine note and driver involvement. But something changed a few years ago when emissions became an integral part of product planning. BMW started replacing its engine lineup with a more economical series of motors, ones which could take on certain states of tune.

The “30i” suffix, therefore, no longer refers to the 3.0-litre six-cylinder that we were familiar with, rather it now describes a certain power level. The six-cylinder engines are fitted only to the “35i” models which means that the 530i comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

Sound disappointing? Well, if you’re pining for that glorious Bimmer six chorus, then perhaps. But in every other measurable way, the four-pot is the equal of the old sixes.

It makes 185kW and 350Nm, and when coupled with the truly excellent (and ubiquitous) ZF eight-speed auto, it’s able to get from 0-100kmh in 6.1 seconds. That’s 0.3 seconds quicker than the king of hot hatches, the Volkswagen Golf GTI. So, this sedan is no slouch.

It also returns a fuel economy figure of 6.5L/100km, according to ADR testing, though we found it to be a litre above that. Regardless, for a large sedan to give you that sort of fuel use, that’s quite impressive. Now you can see why a four-cylinder makes sense.

The way it drives isn’t quite as engaging as previous 5 Series models, unfortunately. The steering is a bit number (being electrically assisted), the suspension is a bit softer and it’s now about comfort rather than being involved in driving. That’s a shame for anyone who enjoys feedback from their car, but if you’re after a big, cossetting machine that has all the latest technology, then you’ve come to the right place.

BMW has its Connected Drive system fitted as standard, which allows you to use an app on your phone to look up its precise location, no matter where you are in the world. But the coolest feature is you can actually see a snapshot of its surroundings. So, say you’ve left it in an airport carpark somewhere, you can look up which cars are around it and how close they are to your paintwork. It’s also handy for remembering where you’ve parked your car.

There are also LED headlights, head up display, adaptive dampers, Driving Assistant Plus (which gives you semi-autonomous drive mode), Harmon/Kardon stereo, seat heating for the front seats, and cameras everywhere.

There’s also a real time traffic updater, concierge services for when you need to sort something out at your dealer, and an SOS button which will send emergency services to your location should you need them. There’s a lot of included equipment.

Options, though, do tend to cost a fair bit. Added to our car was an electric glass sunroof ($2,900), Wireless Apple CarPlay ($623), Wireless Charging for smartphone ($200), and four-zone climate control ($900). Add in the Carbon Black metallic paintwork for $2,000 and you end up with a grand total of $116,613.

So, not cheap, but you are getting a lot of car for the money. However, some of the tech, while cool, isn’t quite as good as its competitors.

The iDrive menu, for example, is not as logical as it used to be, and Audi’s MMI infotainment has surpassed BMW’s for both intuitive use and voice control. The self driving function also tends to wander in the lane, pinballing from side to side, whereas Mercedes-Benz’s semi-autonomous mode keeps the car perfectly in the middle. And Jaguar’s XF feels a bit more involved on the road.

At this price level, the 530i needs to be very good indeed to keep the wolves from the door, so to speak. But it’s now just a middle of the road sedan (except for the Driving Assistance part – that’s all over the road) which means you’ll either have to be a fan of the brand, or be wowed by the Connected Drive gimmicks to be swung over.

If it still came with a six under the bonnet, though, there may be a few more reasons to look a bit closer, but as it is, it’s a nice vehicle in need of a bit more personality.

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