Until recently, company car buyers looking to save cash and cut a dash in the car park made a beeline for the BMW 5 Series
. With its low CO2 emissions and fuel-efficient engines, it was the top choice for many business customers.
But the latest Audi A6
changed all that. More efficient, better equipped and every bit as desirable as the BMW, the newcomer was crowned Best Executive Car at our most recent New Car Awards. However, BMW is fighting back with its new 520d EfficientDynamics (ED). Designed to put the brand back at the top of company car shopping lists, it boasts supermini-rivalling CO2 emissions of 119g/km and low Benefit In Kind rates.
Externally, there’s little to distinguish the ED from other models in the 5 Series line-up. The only visual clues to the car’s efficiency credentials are special aerodynamic 17-inch wheels – although our test car was fitted with standard SE alloys, which are a no-cost option.
It’s a similar story inside, where the ED could easily be mistaken for any entry-level 5 Series. You get the same logically laid out and beautifully built dashboard, perfect driving position and decent haul of standard kit – including leather trim, Bluetooth connectivity and dual-zone climate control.
What’s more, there’s loads of space. Rear seat passengers get plenty of room to stretch out in comfort, while opening the tailgate reveals a well shaped 520-litre boot. However, you’ll have to fork out an extra £375 for a split-fold rear bench – this useful kit is standard on the Audi. Yet for most company car buyers, cutting tax bills will be more important than capacity – and this is where the ED excels.
The car’s Performance Drive Control system allows drivers to tailor the throttle response and steering weight to suit road conditions, and a new ECO PRO setting helps to slash emissions and deliver claimed fuel economy of more than 60mpg. At the touch of a button, it tweaks the engine management system for greater efficiency, and reduces the amount of energy consumed by kit such as the air-con and heated seats. You also get a neat dashboard display that tells you how much fuel this has saved you over a journey.
And that’s not all: the six-speed manual gearbox (there’s no automatic option) has longer ratios for more economical running. As a result, the BMW emits only 119g/km, placing it in the lowest company car tax bracket. This means higher-rate earners will pay only £1,580 in tax per year – a whopping £586 less than for the Audi. What’s more, we achieved a respectable 39.2mpg at the pumps.
Sadly, the trade-off for these reduced running costs is blunted performance. At the test track, the BMW’s smooth and refined 181bhp engine was clearly hamstrung by the transmission’s tall gearing. The 520d ED needed 11.2 seconds to sprint from 50-70mph in sixth gear – a full 2.8 seconds more than the A6.
This shortfall in pace is even more pronounced in ECO PRO mode, which encourages economical driving by delivering an extremely tardy throttle response. Things improve when you switch the Performance Drive Control to its Sport setting, though.
And as with every 5 Series, the ED benefits from agile and engaging rear-wheel-drive handling, plus beautifully weighted controls. Yet when you want to relax, the car turns into a comfortable cruiser. There’s very little wind and road noise, while the suspension does a better job of soaking up bumps
than even the supple Audi.
On the face of it, it’s hard to argue against the frugal and clean 520d ED taking the win in this test. While its straight-line pace has clearly been compromised in the pursuit of efficiency, it matches the A6 for desirability and quality, and beats it when it comes to driving fun. So, has the 5 Series now done enough to regain its executive car crown?
Chart position: 1WHY: New EfficientDynamics version of the 5 Series promises amazingly low 119g/km emissions and 62.8mpg fuel economy.