Pity the new 5-series Touring (wagon, in BMW-speak). It looks stunning, is superbly practical and is generally pretty swish. But just like every other Five Touring in recent history, it's destined to sell in tiny numbers here, not least because there's an enemy within BMW's own ranks.
The Kiwi obsession with sports utility-type vehicles is legendary and the BMW X5 is one of the best. In fact, it's been BMW's top-selling single model for nine out of the past 10 years. The 5-series Touring? Well, try and remember the last time you saw one on the road.
It can't help that the Touring is more expensive than the X5: the model featured here, the 535i with a 225kW/400Nm petrol six, is $151,500. BMW New Zealand deftly avoids direct comparison by offering different engine options for each, but $145,900 will buy you the X5 40d Sport with a monster twin-turbo engine making 220kW/600Nm.
So life is hard for the 5-series Touring, despite being a sophisticated and practical premium wagon. From the B-pillar forward it's standard 5-series, but at the rear the Touring boasts 40/20/40 split rear seats, a tailgate with separate glass hatch and 560 litres of luggage space (1670 litres with the seats folded).
The seat-backrest angle is variable by up to 11 degrees, or can be folded down using control levers in the luggage compartment. The cargo cover is automatically lowered when the tailgate is closed. It's just all really impressive and reeks of good Germanic design sense.
The 535i is the more powerful of the two Touring models offered (the other is the 520d). The 3.0-litre petrol powerplant seemed a bit middle-of-the-road compared with other 5-series sedan models I've driven, like the 535d and 550i; but that just shows how extraordinary these BMW engines are. In reality, there's nothing ordinary about a petrol-six that takes this wagon to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds yet still manages 8.5 litres per 100km.
An eight-speed automatic is standard and although BMW offers all-wheel drive versions in Europe, our Touring models are strictly rear-drive.
The latest 5-series does not have the dynamic edge of the previous model. It was developed alongside the latest 7-series and is more focused on luxury, refinement and technology.
That's not to say you can't have a pseudo-sporty Five if you're prepared to spend the money. Among the $35,480 worth of options fitted to our car were the M Sports package, Integral Active Steering (which steers the rear wheels for greater agility) and Adaptive Drive, which adjusts the suspension and anti-roll bars for better body control.
I do love the 535i Touring, as it's a BMW wagon that takes you beyond the predictable.
However, because the new 5-series has grown into a baby 7-series, it's the high-riding X5 that remains the more engaging drive and better value. Maybe there's something in this crossover obsession after all.
The bottom line:
The 535i Touring is accomplished, practical and hugely appealing - especially since it has so few direct rivals. But the larger X5 all-wheel drive models still offer more for your money.
What other options did we get for that $35,480 on our 535i Touring test car? Glad you asked. The M Sports package, Integral Active Steering and Adaptive Drive were among the most expensive items, but our car's Comfort seats cost $3080 (and another $980 for heating), a soft-close function for the doors added $1640 and the power tailgate was $1440. Not to mention minor items such as the Surround View parking camera/radar ($1800), a lane-change warning system($1590) and exterior aluminium detailing ($1330). We could go on...
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