BMW 535d M Sport

Can class-leading exec hold on to its crown?

BMW has a well earned reputation as the manufacturer of some of the finest sports saloons ever made. And this hasn’t changed, even though diesel engines have come to dominate the executive car class.

With a refined straight-six that produces just over 300bhp and 600Nm of torque, the range-topping 535d can switch from quiet cruiser to supersaloon at a touch of the throttle. And BMW’s EfficientDynamics technology adds excellent fuel economy and 148g/km CO2 emissions to the mix. That’s cleaner than the BiTDI Audi and only 7g/km more than the hybrid Lexus. As a result, the 535d sits four tax bands lower than the A6, giving it an advantage with company buyers.

It still needs to look the part – and the 5 Series does. It’s classy and well proportioned, while the unique bumpers and racy wheels of M Sport trim add some aggression, although we prefer the cleaner looks of the SE model.

The interior is less likely to divide opinion, as the 5 Series ticks all the executive saloon boxes. Material quality is superb, the design is fresh and the driving position is perfect. Splitting the Audi and BMW cabins is tough – both are top-notch, easy to live with and more modern than the Lexus’.

Passenger room is similar, although unlike Audi, BMW charges £390 for split-folding rear seats. Other options are costly, too, but that charge can be levelled at Audi as well.

Either way, ticking the right boxes on the order form affects how the BMW drives. Our car was fitted with £2,770 Adaptive Drive, which reduces body roll with active roll bars. It also had £985 Variable Damper Control. But while the car rides better than its rivals (especially in the comfort setting), body control isn’t as good as in the Audi.

Still, the M Sport is grippy and composed in corners. It feels like a big car, but the precise steering has plenty of feel, enabling you to place the BMW accurately. And crucially, the 535d has the extra fraction of driver engagement it needs to stand out. What really sets its apart is the sensational performance. The 5 Series was fastest in all of our acceleration tests, helped in no small part by its eight-speed transmission. It’s smooth and fast, plus its shift patterns cleverly adapt to your driving style.

The company cheekily charges £110 for the steering wheel paddles, but there’s so much torque that a small press of the throttle in almost any gear is all that’s needed to hurtle towards the speed limit in a flash. Although it doesn’t have the Audi’s exhaust note, the BMW’s engine is very refined. Impressively low road noise means the 5 Series is business class comfortable on long-distance trips, too.

Overall, the 535d is all the executive saloon car you could ever need. With its refinement, performance and low emissions, it’s a stern rival for both diesel and hybrid competitors. In fact, it’s so good that even BMW admits it will be much more popular than the brand’s petrol-electric ActiveHybrid 5 model. So what does that mean for the Lexus? And has the 535d got the measure of the new BiTDI Audi A6?

Details

Chart position: 1Why? The 535d has a well earned reputation as the king of diesel supersaloons, but how will it fare against Lexus’ latest hybrid and the new twin-turbo A6?

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