I had quite a decision to make leading up to this year’s Joburg Pride. Last year my man and I took the gorgeous Nissan 370Z Roadster along, which not only turned heads but also melted my heart. This year was different though. Should I take another sports car? A drop-top boulevard cruiser or a luxury saloon? Maybe even a nice butch off-roader? In the end the saloon won and I chose the latest BMW 5 Series as my parade car. More specifically, the entry-level 523i…

Not only was this a great opportunity to test out the current Car of the Year (the 530d specifically holds the crown for 2011) but with sexy lines and the connotations of “Joy” that BMW keeps telling us about, the new 5 seemed to work well with the event. That said though, the car you see in these photos is not one I would actually buy, and I will reveal why as I go on.

First-up though is the most important thing – looks. And I think I’ll award BMW top marks for this one. It’s decadent and forceful all at the same time, and while the previous 5 Series was love-or-hate, this one is definitely love-or-love. The pioneering “flame surfacing” has been stepped up a notch and while every panel has something interesting to offer, nothing is overdone. The 17-inch alloy wheels you see here though are too small for the big body and I would definitely go up an inch or two right from the off. Other than that though it’s perfect, and for once I don’t recommend the optional M-Sport package, which I think is too aggressive if it doesn’t come with an M5 badge on the boot.

The inside is similarly elegant and quite simply, I love it. Surfaces are clean and simple, materials are top-quality and feel solid, and with the wood, leather and metals in harmony, it’s a lovely place to be. I much prefer it to the Mercedes-Benz E-Class (a car I love) as it feels more solid, almost as if the BMW wants to hook you in, where the Merc simply lets you have a seat.

Controls are easy to fathom although sometimes I had to spend a few extra seconds locating the essentials. Most functions, in true modern BMW fashion, are controlled by the i-Drive system and while the one in this and other new Beemers has evolved from the idiotic original, it’s still too much of a fuss. Functionality is substantial though and once you are used to the way the controller and interface works, you’ll forgive it for being a little too German.

I’ve never been the world’s biggest BMW fan, I have to admit. I had a soft spot for the propeller badge in my younger years but would never have died for the brand. However, having recently spent substantial time with its newest products, including the maniac 1M Coupe and the new 650i Convertible, I can really see why die-hard fans will argue you under the table with sentiments as to why BMW is the best brand in the world. It isn’t, because no one brand can be, but the Bavarians sure know how to build a driving machine. And I call it that because the 5 really is a driver’s car. Sure, the other four people you can fit into it will love it too, but when you’re behind the wheel, it’s brilliant in many respects.

The steering is meaty and responsive, and the comfy seats are exactly that, but sporty at the same time. Ride comfort is supple and the car is majestic on the road. But this one, the 523i, is flawed. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated straight six (150kW/250Nm), and therein lies the problem. In a world where everyone is building smaller motors with turbo- or supercharged assistance in a bid to save the planet with greater efficiency, the 523i has an engine which, while it is a great motor, is not powerful enough for the weighty body.

A smaller, turbocharged engine would be much better and probably more efficient as well (like the 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder in the Mercedes E200 CGI for example, which is about as powerful as the 523i’s motor but more efficient and nicer to drive). The 523i’s power is near the top of the rev range, so if you want to shunt it, you have to floor it. And if you floor it, your wallet will feel it.

BMW claims the 523i uses 8-litres of unleaded per 100km but I beg to differ. After my test I returned a more realistic 11.9, and before the thirsty dawdle in the Pride parade that figure was in the high-tens. Could be worse I suppose but it could be much better, too. Let’s not put the 523i down as a gas-guzzling sedan which isn’t keeping up with the Jones’ though – the rest of the car is designed to be as efficient as possible. As such, BMW’s EfficientDynamics come to play to ensure that no matter how you drive the 5 Series, it’s always being as kind to the environment as it can. Carbon emissions are claimed to be 187g/km and that’s not too bad for a car like this.

I don’t want to slate this car much more but at some point I have to mention specification levels and that is a sore point when writing about most German cars. BMW sure isn’t shy on optional extras, and while the car I tested had a few nice extras fitted, some were still missing and after looking at the price list, my goodness but things get nasty once your mind gets excited. Of course, standard spec is not bad and you would no doubt be satisfied with it, but when you find that items like xenon headlamps, satellite navigation and a sunroof are optional, you realise that to have a “very nice” 5 Series you will have to shell out quite a bit more. And don’t think it’s only BMW that does that, because a “nice” E-Class or Audi A6 is also a customised options purchase.

So, it’s good-looking and great to drive but the engine lets it down and it’s not going to be cheap if you want extras. But would I buy an Audi A6 or Merc E-Class instead of the 5? I’m not sure. I love the Merc, but after tasting the 5 it seems too watery and less involving for a driving enthusiast like myself. I haven’t yet tried the new Audi A6, but at face value I would probably have a really tough time trying to choose between the two, so appealing is the Audi. If I had to take the Beemer, I would definitely change the 523i for the 520d. With turbocharged diesel performance (135kW/380Nm) and efficiency (5.2-litres per 100km claimed) it would fix my biggest problems in a jiffy, and it’s only R1725 more than the 523i, which starts at R494 229 including a 5-year/100 000km maintenance plan and BMW On Call roadside assistance.


Car: BMW 523i

Price: R494 229

Power: 150kW

Torque: 250Nm

0-100: 8.5s

Top Speed: 234km/h

Airbags: 6

Fuel Cons: 8/100km (claimed)


Rating (out of 5)

But then, if you wanted a 520d

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