A Modern Take on the ‘Business Athlete’: Test Driving the New BMW 520d

The new G60 5 Series blends sleek design, agile performance, and advanced technology. We spend a week behind the wheel to see if it lives up to its storied legacy and how it compares to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class

By Edward Moleke Makwana

The mere mention of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class often evokes cherished memories of an uncle, friend, or family member who has owned one of these iconic luxury sedans. For me, these memories include an uncle’s W123 MercedesBenz and my eldest brother’s E39 BMW 5 Series, both of which symbolised elegance and performance. In the realm of luxury sedans, the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class stand as timeless icons.

Recently, I had the privilege of experiencing the new generation G60 BMW 5 Series in the 520d variant, courtesy of BMW South Africa (BMW SA). Locally, the 5 Series is available in the 520d or the full-electric BMW i5, which I look forward to testing soon. After a week with the 520d, it became evident that the BMW 5 Series has evolved into a sleeker, more agile athlete, emphasising driving dynamics and precision with each iteration.

In contrast, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class continues to refine its timeless elegance, akin to a Miss World contestant who grows more captivating and sophisticated with every passing year. Both vehicles embody their respective brands’ philosophies, offering distinct experiences for discerning drivers and luxury enthusiasts. The 520d is powered by a two-litre four-cylinder engine, producing 145 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque. This smooth engine often makes you forget you’re driving a diesel. The 20-inch wheels contribute to a balanced ride, which might have been compromised with larger wheels. With a claimed fuel consumption of 5.6 litres per 100 km, I achieved 6.9 litres per 100 km. A full tank offers a range of over 1 030 kilometres, allowing a journey from Johannesburg to eThekwini or Mbombela and back with just one stop for refuelling.

When comparing it to the Mercedes-Benz E220d, it’s clear that both brands have refined their diesel engines, but driving dynamics set them apart. Design-wise, the 520d has taken a bold new direction. BMW’s press release emphasises this: “A clear and reduced design language emphasises the new 5 Series Sedan’s sporty elegance and presence.” The new model has grown in length by 97 millimetres (mm) to 5 060 mm, in width by 32 mm to 1 900 mm, and in height by 36 mm to 1 515 mm. Its wheelbase has been extended by 20 mm to 2 995 mm. The front view of the new 5 Series is characterised by a modern interpretation of the twin headlights and BMW kidney grille. Vertically arranged LED elements serve as turn indicators and daytime running lights, while the iconic grille features a wide surround and BMW Iconic Glow contour lighting.

The resemblance to the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe suggests that the next generation 3 Series might borrow design cues from the 5 Series, but we have to wait and see. From the side, the high shoulder line, sculpted surfaces, and precisely traced character lines shape the vehicle’s body. Black side skirts, flush-mounted door openers, and an embossed number 5 at the base of the C-pillar add to its distinctive look. The rear features flat lights divided by a chrome strip, innovatively expressing the hallmark L-shape. The 520d test unit was adorned in Alpine White Solid paint, 20-inch M aerodynamic wheels in M Bicolour Black Grey, and an M Sport Package, giving it a dynamic character. Inside, the Veganza perforated and quilted seats in Espresso Brown were refreshing. The BMW Curved Display reinterprets the brand’s hallmark driver orientation, featuring a fully digital display system with a 12.3-inch Information Display and a 14.9-inch Control Display.

Personally, I found the E-Class display screen more attractive, but the 5 Series’ steering wheel with its flattened lower section and haptic feedback on the control panels is unique. As expected, the 5 Series comes equipped with numerous driver assistance systems for automated driving and parking. Highlights include the optional Driving Assistant Professional, featuring Steering and Lane Control Assist and Distance Control with Stop and Go function. The Active Lane Change Assistant with eye activation achieves a new level of interaction between the driver and the vehicle, allowing lane changes by simply looking at the exterior mirror.

The new 5 Series also includes a Parking Assistant with Reversing Assist as standard, and the optional Parking Assistant Professional allows automated parking and manoeuvring up to 200 metres, controlled from within the vehicle or via a smartphone. In conclusion, while the E-Class shares many similarities with the S-Class, the 5 Series stands apart from the 7 Series, showcasing a personality of its own. Choosing between these two luxurious sedans ultimately depends on your priorities. If you seek driving dynamics and a sportier experience, the 5 Series is your ideal companion.

However, if luxury and comfort are your top priorities, followed by driving dynamics, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the better choice. Additionally, for the driver currently in a 3 Series seeking an upgrade, or for those who find the 7 Series too large and lavish, the 5 Series is the perfect choice. Similarly, for individuals who desire the refinement of the S-Class in a more compact form, the E-Class stands as the ideal option. This is why I believe BMW should have retained the previous generation’s tagline: the BMW 5 Series truly is “The Business Athlete.” Pricing for the BMW 520d starts from R1,240,000. This includes the price of a 5-year/100 000 km Motorplan. BMW SA says that a buyer may elect to opt out of a 5-year/100 000 km Motorplan at the point of purchase of a new vehicle. You can also consider the MercedesBenz E220d — which starts from R1 430 550 — or the Audi A6 40 TDI starting from R1 141 800.

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