I absolutely love to travel, but man, do I hate flying. Not the act of flying itself, but air travel in general - slogging through the airport, dealing with security, fighting with delays, only to finally be crammed like cattle into a too-small airplane seat where you're offered $8 sandwiches that are half-frozen. (Okay, it's not always that bad, but still.)
So when I was tasked with attending the launch for the 2015 Subaru WRX STI in Carmel, CA, I had a choice to make. I could fly into San Francisco and find my own way down to Carmel, or I could grab a turbo-prop out of SFO and fly directly into Monterey. And since you're reading about all of this in a car review, it's pretty obvious which option I chose.
The current BMW 5 Series isn't a new car, despite receiving a couple of updates for the 2014 model year. But what is new is the 3.0-liter turbodiesel inline six-cylinder engine found underhood, borrowed from the larger X5 xDrive35d and also seen in the upcoming 740Ld xDrive. It's a honey of an engine, and here in the 5 Series, it makes for a truly first-class experience.
Obviously, the heart of the 535d is what's most important, that 3.0-liter engine putting out 255 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque in this application, the latter of which comes on in full force at just 1,500 rpm.
For comparison, the 535d's main competitor, the Audi A6 TDI, also uses a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine good for 240 hp and 428 lb-ft. Less horsepower, sure, but more available torque - and with a diesel powerplant, it's all about those foot-pounds. For what it's worth, Audi estimates the A6 TDI with Quattro all-wheel drive will hit 60 miles per hour in 5.5 seconds, while the BMW 535d xDrive does it in 5.7. But really, that's splitting hairs.
Acceleration in the Bimmer comes on with a great rush. You immediately dig into the available torque, and it stays strong through the short rev range of each gear. Speaking of gears, the BMW has eight of 'em, and the shifts are smooth as butter. The ZF eight-speed automatic transmission really is a great match for this 3.0-liter setup - while cruising at 75 miles per hour on the highway in eighth, the engine was only turning over at about 1,600 rpm.
It's that sort of efficiency that allows the BMW to fully achieve its EPA ratings of 26 miles per gallon city and 37 mpg highway. On my cruise down the 101 between the San Francisco airport and Salinas, CA, the onboard trip computer showed me averaging about 36 mpg, even taking into consideration the stop-and-go stints I faced leaving SFO.
But the diesel engine isn't just for highway efficiency. Once I finally got off the 101 and through the city of Salinas, I was greeted with many a canyon road on my way down to Carmel Valley. On uphill passes, the low-end grunt was welcome, as the 8AT didn't need to jump down several gears to keep the power on tap. With my foot firmly on the throttle, the transmission would only step down one gear, maybe two, the full 413 lb-ft readily available to move the 4,255-pound sedan with authority.
None of this 5er's aspects of driving were particularly sporty, this first and foremost being a luxury cruiser, but the 5 Series is still designed to be a great steer. The suspension is well tuned to be comfortable on the highway and firm enough to offer good feedback and damping on winding roads, the steering is direct yet somewhat heavy, and body roll is apparent but well-managed - nothing you wouldn't expect for a car this size. Honestly, the 535d is a relaxed, smooth operator, but it's still plenty engaging on more entertaining stretches of pavement.
One gripe: run-flat rubber. On many surfaces, plenty of tire noise was apparent, and the ride quality did suffer on broken stretches of road. The larger 19-inch wheels of the M Sport package look wonderful, though - just ditch the run-flats.
Inside, the 5 Series is exactly what you'd expect - comfortable, well-appointed and quiet, all things that make the commute down the 101 as serene as possible. I dug the ivory white Nappa leather of this tester (don't spill anything!) and the way it contrasted with the black dash/doors and aluminum trim. While I still prefer the Audi A6 in terms of onboard tech, the 5 Series with its latest iteration of iDrive and a touchpad integrated atop the large iDrive controller dial has all of the functionality you could ever want.
The 535d starts at $56,600 with rear-wheel drive, or $58,900 with xDrive all-wheel drive. Add on options like the M Sport pack, the Lighting Package, Premium Package, and multi-contour seats, and you arrive at the $68,725 of my test car, including $925 for destination. A comparable 535i xDrive starts at $1,500 less, of course, but the diesel power is really well-matched with the dynamics of the 5 Series. If you don't mind the added price premium - not to mention the higher cost of fuel - it really is a great package. To hell with airplanes - this is the way to fly.