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Summary - BMW 5 Series Touring is now more practical and more capacious, but the star is the fine four-cylinder diesel. It's the cheapest new 5 Series engine, but also one of the best all-round.
We like - Broad all-round competence, classy rear end, handy practicality, exceptional 520d diesel engine
We don't like - Many suspension gadgets are optional, no stop-start on auto yet, Merc beats it for space
BMW sells a Touring to every other 5 Series customer in Germany. The UK split isn't that far behind. The load-lugging version of the 5 Series may at first glance seem a bit pointless now the 5 Series GT is here, but appearances can be deceptive. The GT is a model for rear-seat luxury; this Touring is about all round practicality.
The Touring badge first appeared on a 1970s hatchback. People 'do' much more stuff outside of work nowadays; the Touring had both grown in size and versatility in response. Today's model has, however, still kept some of the coupe-like profile and semi-sporting slant to the rear end.
Unlike rivals such as the Mercedes E-Class, this is not an estate whose overriding goal is space-creation. BMW compromises on capacity to give sleeker looks; as with the saloon, it's tidier than its predecessor, with stylish tail lamps making it seem wider and more squat. It's a very appealing load-lugger to look at.
This Touring also gave us the first taste of BMW's four-cylinder 520d diesel. The cheapest engine in the range, it's easily the best seller - more than one in two 5 Series sold have this motor. Now boasting 184hp, it's nearly as quick as the base 3.0-litre 6-cylinder petrol, so is far from a featherweight.
BMW redesigned the existing 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel. This was chiefly to push up refinement and narrow the gap to the six-cylinder engines. An overhauled injection system and higher injection pressures help smooth combustion and quieten the trademark diesel clatter.
It still doesn't sound as refined or appealing as a six-cylinder, but this really is one smooth four-cylinder unit. It revs freely, barely vibrates and never judders or shakes, even when pulling from low revs. Some vibration is felt through the clutch and gearlever though, particularly at engine shutdown.
Power delivery is exceptional. It builds at 1,500rpm and doesn't let up until 5,000rpm. Diesels with this spread of response are rare, particularly ones that produce it this smartly and smoothly. In the mid-range, it surges with vigour far beyond its boot badge; turn the stereo up and you'd swear it was a larger, thirstier engine than it actually is.
Tall gearing has economy in mind, though. Be lazy with the gearchanges and let the revs drop, and you'll get minimal engine response. This is where the easy gearshifts of the auto will come in; we know that 'box is brilliant, and expect it to be the icing on a first-rate drivetrain with this engine.
Ride and handling
Touring models are slightly stiffened over the saloon, which tautens the ride quality a little. It is still a lot more compliant than the old model, though. Touring models have a further benefit of standard self-levelling rear suspension, ensuring the rear doesn't sag when laden. It can take a 650kg payload.
Handling benefits from the lighter weight of the engine. It adds a bit more sensitivity to the front end, which is good for precision. Ultimate handling is at the mercy of the options list, though; different wheels, electronic settings and even steering systems can be chosen, honing a fundamentally engaging setup.
Touring models are all about the rear; BMW immediately pleases with 50 litres' more space seats up. The capacity is now 560 litres, stretching to 1,670 litres with 40:20:40-split seats down. Bigger than a Volvo V70, but still some way off a Mercedes E-Class' 1,950 litres. A Ford Mondeo estate can swallow 1,745 litres.
BMW says people buy Tourings for working versatility, not just ultimate load space. To this end, it has designed clever new features such as a load cover that auto-retracts when the boot is opened - electronically, via the keyfob, if you want. Easy-reach handles in the boot drop the seats flat in a flash, too.
Seats down, it's a long, almost-flat load bay, further aided by a low sill. Underneath the boot floor is a gas strut-assisted cubby; with a special kit, BMW says this can be used to store two mountain bikes upright. There is also a multi-function metal rail system in the boot floor, while it is beautifully carpeted throughout.
Another Touring characteristic is a separate-opening tailgate glass window, and BMW's retained that here. Unlike the saloon, it has a wiper, so means reversing in the rain is safer. Rear passengers get marginally more headroom; to grab an extra 30 litres' boot space, their split rear seat back can be inclined more upright for reverse comfort Karma.
Economy and safety
BMW equals economy, and there is no more fuel efficient 5 Series than the 520d. Manual versions get stop-start, shutting the engine off at tickover, which helps achieve 55.4mpg economy. The auto isn't as good, but it's still more impressive, as it achieves this figure without stop start; that's still a little way off for self-shifters.
The very latest Euro NCAP crash test ratings show the 5 Series achieves a full five-star result; the old car famously didn't manage this, so the current one is an officially safer machine. It has an array of optional safety gadgets too, such as Night Vision. A well-developed anti-skid ESP system comes as standard.
MSN Cars verdict
Sporty and practical, the 5 Series Touring is not the ultimate estate for loads, but it's one of the best as far as the driver is concerned. It's more useful than the saloon yet great-looking in its own right. The star is the revised diesel motor, though. Smoother and quicker than you'd think, yet also capable of 55mpg, onlookers should never sniff at spying the 520d badge...
|Need to know|
|Engine - diesel||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel|
|Torque (lb ft)||280|
|Top speed (mph)||138|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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