BMW E60
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The E60 BMW 5-Series has come a long way since it was first unveiled to the world. You could say it gave a rude shock to those who loved the low slung elegance that the E39 portrayed. It was a no holds barred styling affair for Chris Bangle after warming himself up with the E65 7-Series launched earlier.

A few years and a facelift later, we’ve all pretty much gotten used to what the new 5-Series looks like. I still prefer the E39’s looks but in two years or so that will already be two generations old and the new F10 5-Series will be out, which will probably look like a downsized version of the F01 7-Series. That means GIANT nostrils.

I was recently acquainted with the three mainstream models of the 5-Series range here in Malaysia over the period of 2 days. Continue reading to find out more.

BMW E60
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The E60 BMW 5-Series here is offered in 523i, 523i SE, 525i Sports, 530i and 540i Individual guises. There is also the V10-powered BMW M5 but to this date I’ve yet to experience the car’s high revving 500 horsepower madness. I did get to try the 523i SE, the 525i Sports and the 530i though.

The BMW 523i SE costs RM376,800 compared to the Mercedes-Benz E200K’s RM353,888 price tag. Thus the E200K is really more similar in terms of price to the 523i which goes for RM349,800.

BMW E60
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Now the 523i insignia does not mean it is powered by a 2.3 litre engine. This is where BMW is starting to get confusing. The 523i is powered by the N52B25 magnesium-alloy engine, which is a 2.5 litre unit. This engine is also found in the 525i but in different state of tune. For the 523i state of tune it produces 190 horsepower at 5,900rpm and 230Nm of torque at 3,250rpm. This is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.

Now the difference between the 523i and the 523i SE (other than the exterior wheel design) is the gadgets that comes with the car. Both the 523i and the 523i SE have your standard 8 airbags, DSC, ABS, Start-off brake assist, Active Steering, and the iDrive system which also displays a nice visual parking assistant. You also get creature comforts such as automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and a Bluetooth handsfree system.

BMW E60
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But while the 523i has a standard BMW Business radio CD player with 6 speakers, the 523i SE has that upgraded to a BMW Professional radio CD player with 10 speakers and MP3 capability. Because of the GPS navigation system, the iDrive on the 523i SE has a larger screen at 8.8 inches compared to the 523i’s 6.5 inch display.

An additional creature comfort with the 523i SE is the automatic high-beam control. This feature is useful especially on roads like the Karak Highway. Once this is activated, the high beam remains on to help you light up the road better but turns off automatically when it detects an oncoming car. Another upgrade with the headlamps are Adaptive Headlamps, which turn according to your steering angle to help light up the ground around a corner. A nice touch is the Lights package, which features downwards-pointing LEDs that illuminate the ground on the car’s entry points from the door handles and the wing mirrors.

BMW E60
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I think the best thing about the 523i SE is that the baseline BMW 5-Series now no longer feels like the baseline model. You could probably settle for this and be completely happy with it without ever envying the 525i Sports or 530i owner. The 190 horses and 230Nm of torque is enough to give you a decent feel of progress when you floor it (though a little more low end grunt is appreciated), and most importantly it has that wonderful metallic inline-6 sound. No, this baby is quite far from the 520i you find in Singapore with an inline-4 engine from the 320i.

The 523i SE tackles the bends wonderfully though there is quite a noticeable amount of bodyroll thanks to the car’s more comfort oriented suspension. If you take a corner too sharply the rear suspension tends to bounce around a little, but all of this happens while you still feel quite confident and in control of the car thanks to the decent steering and the weight balance which makes you feel like the car is turning around you as an axis of rotation rather than you being pulled along for the ride by the engine in the nose up front.

BMW E60
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Those who are in for the driving will prefer the 525i Sports. The M Sport suspension can be a little jittery when you go over those annoying thick yellow markers on the road but most of the time you won’t believe you’re driving a car with an M Sport suspension, unlike the M Sport suspension on short wheelbase cars like the 130i M Sport which threaten rattle you to pieces.

The 525i Sports features a tuned up version of the N52B25, producing 218 horsepower at 6,500rpm and 250Nm of torque at an impressively low (for a normally aspirated engine) 2,750rpm. 0 to 100km/h takes 7.9 seconds and it is also mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission. Being a Sports model, you would expect it to have paddle shifts but sadly it doesn’t, with those being reserved for the 530i.

Other than the obvious M Aerodynamics package and shadowline trim on the window frames, you also get alloys that are up by one inch – 18 inchers with the Double Spoke 135M design, wrapped with 245/40R18 tyres. In the interior you get a lovely aluminium trim, and M sports seats for the front. The rest of the equipment is similiar to the 523i SE.

BMW E60
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The BMW 530i carries over the equipment from the 523i SE but adds as sunroof and keyless entry and go. It gets sports seats as well and its own gear shifter and steering wheel design, complete with paddle shifts. This car gets the Heads-Up Display function which usually just shows a digital speedometer but is extremely useful whenever you are using your GPS navigation as it can display the directions in front of you rather than have you glance at the iDrive display in the middle.

It also has BMW Night Vision which uses an infrared camera to point out people in the dark at night. As it is heat sensitive it also picks up stuff like the exhaust pipes of the car in front of you. The audio system is also an upgrade over the 523i SE’s as you get a 13-speaker LOGIC7 Hi-Fi System Professional system.

BMW Night Vision

The 530i has quite a few gadgets compared to its rival the E280 that I get the feeling that BMW is trying hard to push it and get more on the road. You see, BMW Credit & Finance’s Easy Ownership Packages (balloon financing) and low interest Straight Line Financing packages are usually only offered for the baseline cars such as the 118i, the 320i and the 523i/523i SE but this time the entire 5-Series range was available with the special finance plans during the recent Hari Raya promotion, while the only 3-Series you could get the deal for was the 320i and 320i Sports.

It makes sense really, get more of the 530i on the roads by making it easier to own and the owners of these cars will most likely show-off all the nice gadgets that his/her car has to passengers which may most likely have a similiar spending capacity. In the long run this encourages an impression that the 5-Series is not only a comfortable cruiser but a very advanced car with all the latest technologies, etc. It’s not helping BMW by having a flagship 5-Series with all sorts of nice features but it’s not out there making an impression.

BMW E60
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The car’s N52B30 engine produces an exciting 272 horsepower at 6,600rpm and 315Nm of torque at 2,750rpm. That’s not only quite a low peak torque point for a normally aspirated engine, but the torque also exceeds the usual 100Nm per litre of displacement ratio, instead approaching more of a 3.2 litre engine’s torque instead.

Driving it is an interesting but strangely a slightly disappointing experience. The 6-speed automatic that is mated to the N52B30 engine not only has a new shift lever but it has a Sports button that enables you to increase the shift time for faster and more aggressive shifts. You’ll probably want to use this only when you’re all out giving the engine a good workout as it can get quite jerky. But it helps give a more sporty feeling. Now this is where it gets a little disappointing.

BMW E60
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You get the ultra-fast shifts completely with paddle shifters, the sports seats, the very powerful engine, but the 530i handles more like the 523i SE thanks to its standard non-M Sports suspension that gives it noticeable bodyroll and bounce through the corners. It’s just too bad the car doesn’t have one of those magnetic suspension systems that can stiffen up on demand.

The top of the end non-M 5-Series 540i Individual was not available for us to drive and it’s probably not too relevant to the masses as well, being priced over RM600k thanks to the BMW Individual program which allows you to customise the interior with more exotic materials. It’s interesting to note that while the E39 540i had a 4.4 litre V8 engine, the E60 540i has a smaller 4.0 litre V8 engine.

BMW E60
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The interior of the E60 is alot more plush and comfy thanks to the seats compared to the E39, but as far as the actual design of the dash goes… well, for one, the center dash area is no longer driver-focused, which is disappointing. But I must say I am glad that BMW has finally added proper cupholders to the 5-Series. The E39 only had these miserable crappy can-holders at the front that tended to break very often and can cost you over 200 ringgit to replace.

The E60 comes with proper cupholders at the front that pop out of the dash. But don’t expect to be able to use these safely if a very tall passenger is in the front passenger seat as his knees might hit them. What’s with Germans and the lack of cupholders in their cars? Even the W211 E-Class does not come with cupholders, and only the left hand drive version has an optional single cupholder at the front which swaps out the ash tray.

BMW E60
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The facelifted E60 also gets rid off those awkward vertically angled power window controls that the pre-facelift E60 had and replaces them with proper conventional horizontal ones that do not need you to bend your wrist at an awkward angle to work them.

So when it comes to usability, the E60 is quite decent, it’s just that the iDrive system may be a turn-off for older people who are more likely to be able to afford these luxury D-segment cars. iDrive was seriously overkill before BMW rolled out GPS navigation into its Malaysian models. The entire 5-series range has GPS except for the 523i. Perhaps this is why Mercedes-Benz chose to equip the baseline E models with a very easy to work conventional radio. It’s so much more familiar and easier to work with, though it’s not impossible to get used to iDrive and work it with as much ease as a traditional system.

BMW E60
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After so many years, I am still not used to the E60’s looks. The overall shape of the car has grown on me and I like the rear end now but the detailing of the front end is just too weird. The kidney grilles feel like they are fixed at the wrong angle and I have no idea what Chris Bangle was thinking when he did those oddly shaped eyebrowed headlamps that seems quite feminine compared to rest of the car’s masculinity. On the rear, I find that the non-M sport version looks better than the M sport, due to the two red reflectors at the rear helping to frame the bottom end of the car and hide how fat the car really is.

But the car sure drives like a dream. It’s so civilised when you want it to, but it can be fiery too, to a certain extent. They’ve managed to achieve such a good balance with the car that it’s truly a lifesaver for the deep pocketed family man that has to choose between comfort for his family and agility for the weekends.

BMW E60
Click for enlarged image – 2nd gear and 2,000 more RPM to go!

BMW 523i – RM 349,800.00
BMW 523i SE – RM 376,800.00
BMW 525i Sports – RM 409,800.00
BMW 530i – RM 453,800.00
BMW 540i Individual – RM668,800.00

PHOTO GALLERY: E60 BMW 5-Series Facelift
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