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BMW 530d 2004 review

Is it possible to improve on perfection? For many, the BMW 530d is not only one of the finest diesel-powered cars on the road.

We have always been fans of the 530d, but the 535d takes our respect to new heights. With barely any loss of economy, the performance will send Jaguar's S-Type 2.7D back to the drawing board. The Sport variant's ride may be a little harsh for some, but this is one of the best diesel engines and finest executive estates around.

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Is it possible to improve on perfection? For many, the BMW 530d is not only one of the finest diesel-powered cars on the road, but it's among the most capable all-rounders, too. Providing a perfect balance between performance, economy and practicality, it has been a massive hit.

Yet despite that success, and as rival manufacturers such as Jaguar and Audi begin to draw closer, BMW has moved the goalposts still further with the new 535d. Here is a car that the maker modestly claims has "the best diesel engine in the world".

As has become BMW's habit of late, the 535's badging is something of a misnomer. The reality is that this machine uses the same 3.0-litre, straight-six engine as in the 530d, albeit with the addition of a second turbo. This gives the newcomer a healthy power boost from 218bhp to 272bhp.

As a result, the automatic-only 535d Touring driven here covers the sprint from 0-62mph in 6.6 seconds and will cruise on to achieve a 155mph limited maximum speed. Without the restriction, BMW reckons the model would run to 162mph. And that's impressive for a car that offers fuel returns of 34.4mpg on the combined cycle - a minor drop from the 35.3mpg of the 530d.

As if those on-paper figures were not good enough, it only takes one press of your right foot when you're behind the wheel to convince you that the sequential turbos are nothing short of a work of genius. Forget everything you ever knew about diesel engines; if you thought that the 530d rewrote the rulebook on oil-burners, then the 535d rams it through a shredder.

For starters, there's a complete absence of turbo lag - acceleration is instant when you need it. And the engine is so quiet that, if it weren't for the diesel lettering above the fuel gauge, you'd never be any the wiser that you were sitting inside a derv car. It really is that refined, both around town and when cruising on the motorway.

In fact, your hardest choice is likely to be between the SE or Sport trims, the latter a £2,625 option. The Sport is undoubtedly the better looking, thanks to its firmer, more body-hugging seats, a chunky M-Sport steering wheel and 18-inch alloys. However, some aspects, such as the stiff ride and the headache-inducing hexagon-etched metallic trim, may make you think twice before forking out. Wood is available as an alternative in the Sport, but the SE's brushed alloy inserts are so much nicer.

The SE model is also the cheaper of the two, although it's unlikely to enjoy such strong residuals. Interestingly, when it comes to tempting buyers, the 535d could well be BMW's own worst enemy. With more than 80 per cent of all new 530d models currently being specified with an automatic gearbox (a £1,350 option), you only have to add 17-inch alloys and climate control (£475 and £575 respectively, and both standard on the new car) to be edging close to the 535d SE's £38,600 list price.

The sheer brilliance and success of the 535d could therefore end up being detrimental to 530d sales, as customers plump for the more powerful car instead. Then again, nobody said improving on perfection was going to be easy...

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