Does an M-Sport kit make a 5 Series track worthy? We head to the BIC to find out.
5 Series at the track is a little like someone showing up at the gym in a business suit. But this particular 5 has bulging biceps bursting through that perfectly tailored dinner jacket. You see, the M-Sport front air-dam and redesigned hood conceal a 3.0 litre, turbocharged, six-cylinder diesel motor that produces a healthy 258bhp and a thumping 540Nm of torque. The numbers add up nicely, but does that mean this boardroom bruiser can really dance at the racetrack? Well, there’s only one way to find out!
But first, a little background. You see, the 5 Series is the mainstay of the BMW line-up – and has been since 1972. And that makes it the longest running model in the BMW family. The current 5 (in its sixth generation) debuted in 2011, and was due for a bit of a refresh – especially since its arch rival, the Mercedes-Benz E Class, is young again following a recent nip-and-tuck. Well, the face-lifted 5, which is assembled in Chennai, looks much the same as before – which is to say very good indeed. In the dark hue of our test car, and especially with the M-Sport front air dam, the 530d looked properly intimidating. The eyes are a little sharper and the lines are a little more angular – all of which gives it a new lease on life. Of course, it has new LED headlamps and squared off angel eyes.
On the inside, it gets a beautifully old-school M-Sport steering wheel. It’s great to see these airbag wheels getting smaller and more delicately styled. The interior also features a new iDrive controller that has a touch sensitive surface for character recognition. As expected, every inch of the interior is impeccable quality – accentuated by an intricate wood inlay on the dashboard. The traditional analogue gauges make way for a 10.25-inch TFT screen that now serves as an instrument cluster. And while I’m generally a traditionalist, I must say that the digitally created analogue readout works very well indeed. The 530d also has BMW’s brilliant head-up display, which uses fighter jet technology to project vital information directly in your line-of-sight. But, unlike the M5, the 530d’s head-up display doesn’t show you a tachometer in Sport-Plus – now that would have been quite useful at the track.
So, how did it perform – on the track that is? Well, lets start with the lap time – 2:35.8. Now that’s over 10 seconds slower than an M5, but bear in mind that the full fat M5 has more than twice the horsepower. The 530d is, however, quicker than the brilliant 328i – which did a 2:36.2 when we last tested it. And while that’s quite surprising, it’s worth noting that Sebastian Vettel and some of his mates recently laid down a fair bit of rubber at the BIC. Moreover, at an ambient temperature of 20-degrees, we had perfect track conditions for this test. Needless to say, both these factors swayed the advantage in favour of the 530d.
There was one problem though, which emerged as I engaged Sport-Plus to heighten the response from the drivetrain, as well as relax the stability control. You see, Sport-Plus doesn’t turn off the electronics completely. To disengage DSC, TC, and ESP you have to press, and hold, another button with a squiggly icon and the letters ‘OFF’ on it for a couple of seconds so that the ECU (the 530d’s brain) can be sure of your intentions. In this instance, though, every time I did that the car would automatically revert to Comfort mode – as if to say, “You think I trust you with the electronic safety net turned off?” So, I grudgingly set off from the pit lane in Sport Plus, with the electronics eager to kick in to keep me in line.
Nevertheless, the first thing you notice on track is that this 5 Series has incredible levels of grip. The 275/40 R18 rubber on each end at the rear means that you can get on the power early without any fear whatsoever of the tyres coming unstuck. The immense torque kicks in immediately and propels you to over 200km/h at the end of the back straight before you brake for C4. Initially, the brake pedal feels spongy and long, but keep your foot in it until you can feel the ABS pulsating underneath and you’re met with the most decisive deceleration that you can imagine. And it does this time-and-time again – giving you the confidence to brake late into each of the 16 corners at the BIC.
Through the Micky Mouse chicanes that follow the back straight, the 530 conceals its weight brilliantly, and – to use a cliché – changes direction on a dime. The suspension, which feels quite firm on the road, does feel a little soft on the track but the sport seats hold you firmly in place while the grippy rubber at the four corners virtually burn a groove into the track surface. A luxury car should not be so capable on the track. It just shouldn’t!
On second thought, every luxury car really should be this capable on track. The only disconcerting element in this case was the electronic power steering, which weighs up unnaturally on occasion and just feels synthetic. The car goes where you point it mind you. Another thing worth mentioning is the ZF 8-speed box. Now, I’ve gotten sick of extoling the virtues of this gearbox – but it really is that good. And when you have the ability to interact with it via proper paddles on a beautiful steering wheel, it just heightens the experience that much more.
I must admit that I didn’t expect the 530d to be this good around the track. Now if only I could reflash the ECU to turn off the traction control fully, I could use some of that diesel torque to enjoy some proper power slides…
- BMW 530D M-SPORT
Engine: 2,9993cc / 6 cylinders / 24 valves / TwinPower Turbo
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic / Rear-wheel Drive
Power: 258bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 540Nm @ 1500-3000rpm
Acceleration: 0-100km/h – 5.8 sec
Price: Rs. 57.9 lakhs(ex-showroom, Delhi)