2023 BMW 520i review: 5 for fighting, Lifestyle News

2023 BMW 520i review: 5 for fighting, Lifestyle News

The BMW 520i has long been a mainstay of the executive sedan scene in Singapore, but does the new eighth-generation model have what it takes to keep fighting in an increasingly-diverse market?

In years gone by, if you were an aspiring mid-level corporate executive looking to climb up the corporate ladder, chances are your car of choice would probably be a BMW 5 Series. In Singapore’s context, the model would often more likely than not be the 520i.

Why the 520i specifically? Well, because it marked the entry point into the so-called mid-tier executive segment. In a small country like Singapore, you don’t need large power under the hood, and status is usually more than enough to get you by. Hence there is often the preference for Singaporeans to opt for the smallest engine in a big car, thereby ‘maximising’ their dollar in that sense.

But the world today has shifted markedly from the past of simple linear hierarchy, and in the automotive sense there are much more choices available now for whichever stage in life you are. People can now choose from multitudes of SUVs and electric cars nowadays that not only serve a functional purpose, but also reflect your individuality and status. It’s not that a 520i is fast becoming irrelevant, just that it now has its work cut out if it wants to maintain its reputation as the executive car of choice in Singapore.

Styling

It has to be said that, compared to a number of recently-released BMWs, the new eighth-generation 5 Series looks remarkably restrained. As it should be, since it has traditionally been one of BMW’s best-sellers and boasts a loyal following. Although having said that, the Chris Bangle-designed E60 generation 5 Series from the early 2000s took a major design risk and sold well anyway, so perhaps styling may not as big a factor for consumers as we imagine it to be.

Nevertheless, the newest model retains the classic proportions and traditional look that we’ve mostly come to expect from a 5 Series, and if anything feels like a mild evolution from the previous G30 generation. The front is distinctly BMW, with the double kidney grille being large but not overpowering like that of the 7 Series. It also comes with the Iconic Glow illuminated feature, which encircles the grille with lights at night. There’s no real functional purpose to it other than looking really cool, but sometimes that’s just all the reason you need.

It’s quite a big car now too, with this latest generation model now stretching over five metres long, which is effectively the size of a 7 Series not too long ago. Of course there are all sorts of driving and parking aids these days to help you avoid pranging the car, but you will definitely notice the size when you try to make your way through a tight and narrow old carpark.

The test car was a special Launch Edition model, of which just 10 units of the 520i variant are available in Singapore. The Launch Edition adds Titanium Bronze finishes to the exterior and interior trims, notably around the grille, C-pillar surround, and lower rear bumper edge, as well as on the 20-inch alloy wheels. Whether that is enough to justify the additional S$8,000 over the regular 520i is really a matter of personal preference.

Interior and features

The cabin of the new 5 Series aims to mimic that of its larger 7 Series sibling, and the first thing you notice is the brightly-illuminated Interaction Bar that runs across the length of the dashboard, and bleed into the doors. Like the Iconic Glow grille, it’s mostly just a fancy show, although The Bar is also where BMW chose to house some touch-sensitive controls for the lights and ventilation functions.

Other than that, the rest of the interior should be pretty familiar to anyone who’s been acquainted with the newer BMW models of late, with the large double-screen setup present here as well. The car runs on the updated BMW Operating System 8.5, which has been revamped with a new layout, and while it takes a while to get used to, it is supposedly quicker to select functions without having to dive deep into sub-menus.

That said, it feels as though BMW has cut a few corners here and there with this latest generation 5 Series. For instance, the car comes with what BMW calls the Driving Assistant, which is a suite of driving assistance features that includes lane change warning, rear crossing traffic warning with brake intervention, and rear collision prevention.

However, notably absent is adaptive cruise control, which comes under Driving Assistant Plus, and can apparently be added on as an over-the-air update for a fee. In a world where even a Toyota Yaris Cross comes with such a feature as standard, its omission in a near-S$400,000 BMW does seem somewhat disappointing.

The cabin materials are a bit of a mixed bag too. The interior is supposedly fully vegan, from the seat upholstery to the various surfaces on the dashboard. And while some of it, like the subtle dark wood trim, does look quite classy, other details, like the hard plastic on the back of the front seats, feels a bit of a letdown in terms of ambience and sense of quality.

Driving experience

We’ll just start with the facts: the 520i, in this iteration, features a 2.0-litre turbo four that produces 190hp and 310Nm of torque, enabling it to go from 0 to 100km/h in 8.1 seconds. It doesn’t sound like much, but truthfully it is more than adequate for day-to-day motoring in Singapore, although you’re unlikely to wring much excitement out of the powertrain. The unit generally goes about its business smoothly and efficiently, without much drama or fuss.

It’s a theme that seems to be endemic in the 520i’s driving manners though. The ultra-light steering is rather devoid of feel and feedback, and the suspension feels quite soft through the corners, with noticeable pitch and roll. It does sharpen up a bit when you stick it in Sport drive mode, but a BMW shouldn’t have to resort to these to offer an engaging drive that should be built-in by default. Perhaps the optional M Sport suspension might improve things, but in our experience that tends to come at the expense of ride quality.

And so you feel like you have to end up choosing between ride comfort and handling prowess, because in the 520i, in this form at least, the setup feels more geared towards the former. It is undoubtedly a very comfortable and refined car to drive on the highway, and for the average 5 Series customer who just wants to ride around all day undisturbed, maybe that’s just exactly what they want. But for the keen driving enthusiast, it does raise questions as to whether one should eke out that little bit more for an M Sport, or even go for the electric i5 variant which boasts more power and greater efficiency.

Conclusion

It’s a bit hard not to view the new 520i with a slightly cynical lens. It does have its strengths, like its relatively restrained yet classy design, some neat interior touches, and an excellent ride quality. If you’re okay with that in what is otherwise a decent car, then that should be more than enough. But in truth, we probably expected more from a brand like BMW, especially when it comes to its reputation for delivering driving excellence.

Fundamentally, we know that there is a good car under the skin. It just needs the right sort of drivetrain and setup, and we reckon with more power and a sportier suspension, the new 5 Series will go a long way towards redeeming itself.

BMW 520i Launch Edition

Drivetrain Type

Petrol engine

Engine

1,998cc, in-line four, turbocharged

Power

190hp at 4400-6500rpm

Torque

310Nm at 1500-4000rpm

Gearbox

8-speed automatic

0-100km/h

8.1 seconds

Top Speed

230km/h

VES Banding

B / +S$0

Fuel Efficiency

7.0L/100km

Agent

Performance Motors Limited and Eurokars Auto

Price

S$385,888 with COE

Availability

Now

Verdict:

Base model 5 Series looks nice and is comfortable, but falls short in driving engagement

This article was first published in CarBuyer.

ALSO READ: COE prices down across the board except for Category A

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