“Clean diesel” is not marketing spin akin to the utterly offensive “clean coal” nonsense, and that’s just one of a handful of diesel truths scribbled into road test notes for the 2014 BMW 535d xDrive.
Most important among them: BMW, the Volkswagen Group and its Audi luxury brand, Chrysler Group, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and others have invested billions to tidy up tailpipe emissions with all sorts of particulate filters and after-treatments. A decade ago diesels were pretty filthy, but they’re 99 per cent cleaner now. You can drive a diesel with a clear conscience. But there is absolutely no such thing as “clean” coal.
With that in mind, the 5-Series you want is the one with the excellent 3.0-litre turbodiesel. Of course, the 535i with the inline turbo six is a smooth, delightful machine, but it not only asks for premium fuel to get the best performance, it lacks the torque of the oil burner 5 (413 lb-ft for the 535d, 300 lb-ft for the gas). BMW’s 5-diesel has astonishing get-up-and-go with no obvious downside.
The choice here is obvious. Go diesel. Here, the 5-car is quiet and silky – and the real-world definition of BMW’s over-used and not always clear “efficient dynamics” tagline. The 5 diesel is certainly efficient and it’s wonderfully dynamic. Comfortable and handsome, too.
Ah, the looks. BMW now has fully embraced the idea of making the same sausage cut into different sizes. The 5 is a slightly smaller 7 and the 3 is a shrunken 5. Get it? The thing is, the overall BMW design language has the right proportions no matter which model line and there is a tad of genius in being able to keep a “look” right across the range that works.
With the 5, the traditional kidney grille is surrounded by almost perfect contour lines, below which are structured air intakes. From the rear, the car looks solid and planted. Up front, you get projector-beam headlights that level and point themselves as needed. And from the side, the 5’s profile is… Well, it’s not particularly novel or special, but pleasant enough. Aerodynamic, too: 0.25 coefficient of drag and that’s one key to fuel efficiency.
Inside, the 5 is not over-the-top luxurious and that’s consistent with what BMW has been doing for decades. For instance, while the seats are leather-faced, the backs are made of plastic. The door trim is “leatherette,” not real leather, and the gearshift knob is made of leather/metal-look material. You will find some real wood in the door panel, instrument panel and console, but the accents are metal-look stuff.
BMW argues that the latest version of its iDrive controller is more user-friendly than ever. That’s true. But it’s still not the most user-friendly controller in this segment of very good cars. In a nod to 21st century needs, the centre console has storage space and cup holders of quite decent capacity. For long-distance drives, the seats are well-padded and supportive. First rate, in other words.
Others notes in the pad:
-- If you buy BMW’s excellent mid-size diesel luxury sedan – the one aimed precisely at nicely compensated accountants, lawyers, investment types and anesthesiologists – the diesel price premium is a pretty modest $1,500 over the gas-powered 535i xDrive. So you’ll recover the extra cost of the diesel 5-Series in three years, based on Natural Resources Canada numbers.
-- Diesel fuel prices in Canada are all over the map. A litre of diesel in Edmonton was selling for $1.36.4 at the end of February, with a litre of regular gas at $1.15.9. Vancouver: gas, $1.35.0, and diesel, $1.51.9; Toronto: gas, $1.34.2, and diesel, $1.43.2. Taxes account for the bulk of the differences.
-- Mercedes-Benz’s E250 BlueTEC is $2,370 cheaper than the 5-Series diesel in Canada, but the 5 has an inline six-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed autobox, while the Merc has a 2.1-litre turbo four with a seven-speed. BTW, the Audi A6 TDI quattro has a $1,540 pricing advantage AND a 3.0-litre diesel with an eight-speed. The power and equipment stories here are comparable, though the A6 is an older design than the 5 which was reinvented for 2013 – and the Audi has a softer ride.
The best 5-Series you can buy in Canada? The 535d, hands down and a more appealing choice than the Audi and Merc. That’s the last thing I scribbled into my road test notes.
2014 BMW 535d xDrive
Type: mid-size luxury sedan
Base price: $68,150 ($985 freight).
Gas engine: 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder, turbocharged
Output (horsepower/torque): 255/413 lb-ft
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.9 city/5.3 highway using diesel fuel.
Alternatives (diesel): Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
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