It’s been a really long time since I had the time or quite frankly the initiative to update this space and when the slightest urge to do so arises, something pops up and I’m back to my procrastinating ways.
The lifestyle of someone who reports on automotive news can be quite an illusion to another. We’re understood as people of privilege; seen as “living the life” most could only dream of from behind their depressing little cubicles and for the most part, it’s rather accurate.
We get to try out brand spanking new cars all the time, sent overseas to pass judgment on new cars, put up at fancy hotels where standard rooms costs as much as we earn in a month and the pseudo-royal treatment just goes on.
What most don’t see behind this curtain of glitter is the controlled chaos. The hours can be long and uncertain, there’s a constant and desperate need to be creative, albeit mostly unsuccessful, with rewards limited to career fulfillment most of the time.
As dynamic as the job scope is, every once in a while it all becomes a cycle – opinions on different cars somehow appear the same and as a result, it all just lacks the verbal impact we seek.
But every now and then, something new comes along, hits all the right notes and jolts us out of our rut. I recently found my spark; in the form of the very unassuming, severely underrated BMW 520i Luxury Line.
When BMW first introduced the new G30 BMW 5 series in the form of the 530i M Sport more than two years ago, I remember vividly probing BMW Malaysia’s executives on the subsequent arrival of a lower, bread and butter variant such as the 520i; instead of asking when I could get test drive the 530i.
Aesthetically pleasing as it may be, the 530i with its ultra low profile tyres and M Sport suspension just doesn’t indicate supreme comfort. And true enough, it didn’t – something I realised after a quick spin in the rear seat.
Throughout the 5-minute drive back from lunch, I couldn’t help but think to myself repeatedly what the overall ride experience would be like in a “less sportier” version with fatter tyres and true enough, when the 520i arrived, it met and exceeded all the expectations I had of it.
If BMW produced cream (any sort for that matter), it should be called the 520i and for good reason. Living up, above and beyond, to its Luxury Line designation, it’s so unbelievably refined that you couldn’t have possibly felt a ride more plush, an operation so smooth even if you were sliding on oil-soaked, silk sheets.
The bumps and humps were heavily diluted before it reaches your bum and with immaculate sound-proofing, the sheer silence within the cabin is just deafening. I swear, it’s like sitting inside an air-tight tupperware.
And this being the supposed entry-level 5 series, it isn’t sparse on equipment. In fact this tupperware is filled to the brim; or at least more than what is usually expected of a 520i.
Electric rear sunblinds, rear air con vents by the B-pillar and centre console with control, active cornering lights and even Apple CarPlay. It’s got more than sufficient head and leg room for five and is as well put together as you’d expect a 5 series to be. The cabin was a real pleasant place to be.
The only glaring omission for a car of this segment and price point, is the lack of any form of Autonomous Emergency Braking and paddle shifters. Personally the lack of AEB wasn’t that big a deal for me although the merits of it is unquestionable at a time when driving means juggling two things at a time – operating a vehicle while texting.
The lack of paddle shifters mattered more to me. The ability to downshift manually in the event of heavy braking is crucial not just for safety reasons but is also a crucial part of the “sheer driving pleasure” experience because not only was the 520i essentially a cushion on wheels, it was also quite capable when the need for speed is streaming down your veins.
With only 184 hp and 290 Nm of torque, it’s got even less power than a Golf GTI (220 hp & 350 Nm) but here’s the thing, being a 520i, it’s not burdened by the need to be powerful – BMW’s got the 530i and 530e M Sport for that.
But was it underpowered? Not by any means. Would you consider 0 to 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds slow? I wouldn’t. On paper it may seem inferior, but in reality, for everyday situations and driving conditions, it was plenty enough.
It was smooth and linear in urban environments and even upon hitting the wider interstate highways, it performed with a flourish – truly bewildering on one hand as to why anyone would need anymore power than this but yet, hardly surprising.
Have you, in recent history, driven an underpowered BMW? Is there even such a thing?
High speeds were so easily attainable, it makes you forget that you’re merely in a 520i and the sheer calmness from within the cabin, even when the car was “cruising” at unspeakable speeds was second to none.
Not being a 530e, it’s also not bogged down by additional weight from the batteries and not having these batteries at the back also meant a larger boot.
It also doesn’t look as sinister as the 530e that’s dressed in M Sport attire. If you think about it, why the environmentally-friendly 5 series is made to look so aggressive with large 19-inch wheels (which isn’t known to offer good fuel economy) is beyond me.
Would having the 520i’s visual appeal be heightened with an M Sport body kit? Most probably so. But is the 520i desperately in need of “louder exterior”? The answer is a resounding no.
Fortunately it’s tastefully dressed in moderate amounts of chrome and those 18-inch wheels, which looked fantastic in my eyes, made all the difference between a firm ride and one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced in a RM300k car.
If you ask me, the “real 520i customer” wouldn’t be bothered either. Those who buy the 520i do so not for the power, not for the aggression but the absolute all-roundedness of a 5 series.
It’s discreet and understated yet is everything you’d expect (and more) in a 5-series. Can you imagine a 40, 50 or even 60 year old man in a blacked out 530e on low profile tyres? Probably not.
Would a 30-odd year old look old in the 520i? You’d be crazy to think so. If you disagree though, the 520i is not for you to begin with because it’s far from inappropriate for the image of a young over-achiever.
If you’re moving up from a 3-series, this is definitely a big upgrade – there’s no need for the heavier 530e where the effectiveness of its PHEV system (like all else in the market) is heavily reliant on the frequency the car is charged.
For these very reasons, if you’re looking to elevate your lifestyle with something more expensive (and German) but the 520i isn’t under radar, you’re doing it wrong because it’s everything you’d ever want and need in a luxury sedan and is, in my books, one of the most (if not the most) impressive set of wheels introduced in Malaysia this year.