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BMW 520d EfficientDynamics review (2011 onwards)
What: BMW 520d EfficientDynamics
Where: Bedfordshire, UK
Key rivals: Audi A6 2.0 TDI, Jaguar XF 2.2d, Mercedes E220 CDI, Volvo S80 DRIVe
Summary: BMW gives its most popular 5 Series model the full EfficientDynamics treatment - but does the 520d EfficientDynamics Saloon make enough of a difference?
We like: great refinement, relaxing drive, few compromises compared to standard car, business tax savings
We don't like: manual gearbox seems like an afterthought, lacks a little precision, not that much more economical than standard
This is the BMW 520d EfficientDynamics Saloon, and it takes tech from the 109g/km CO2 320d EfficientDynamics Saloon into the larger executive car sector, creating a 119g/km 5 Series priced only £405 more than the ordinary and best selling 520d SE.
The modifications are remarkably few, and seem to represent little compromise; the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine still produces 184hp, and with a 0-62mph time of 8.2 seconds it's just 0.1 seconds slower from a standing start.
Yet according to the usual EU measuring statistics, the 520d EfficientDynamics - we'll call it the ED for short - can crack 60mpg combined. And in an effort to help you achieve this it includes a new ECO-PRO driving mode.
Even when an ordinary 520d emits only 125g/km CO2 in this latest 'F10' generation, the Benefit-in-Kind taxation savings for business users are a substantial 5% a month. So what, if anything, is the catch?
There are two key modifications to the 520d ED's otherwise familiar diesel engine. ECO-PRO mode revises the mapping and, if necessary, the power consumed by items such as the climate control, while a new flywheel massages the refinement.
This last uses the same dual mass with 'centrifugal pendulum absorber' design as the 320d EfficientDynamics, and cancels out the drivetrain vibrations that are so typical of diesel engines - at even the lowest revs.
It means the 520d ED is quite comfortable cruising along at just over 1,000rpm in any gear, and given enough notice it will even accelerate up from this engine speed in sixth. Slowly, but with little complaint.
Combined with ECO-PRO's softer throttle response, this cleverly manipulates the way you drive the car, and you find yourself motoring more gently as a result. It's very persuasive in its own way.
Add in a longer final drive ratio on the transmission, brake energy regeneration, start-stop and active aerodynamics and you've got reduced fuel consumption. Furthermore ECO-PRO prompts you with gearshift points, and, perhaps less agreeably, tells you when it thinks you're going too fast.
The ED also offers Comfort and Sport modes. We can't quite see the point of the former, while driving the car hard in Sport left us frustrated by a lack of fizz and the notchy, flimsy feeling gearshift action from the six-speed manual 'box.
Ride and handling
So the car is at its best in the optimised ECO-PRO setting - which is probably good news as it defaults to this every time you get in. But what about BMW's famed handling dynamics?
First thing that strikes you about the current generation 5 Series is that it is a big car, and it feels it on the road - as intimidating initially as a 7 Series. But like the 7 you soon get used to it.
Even with 17-inch alloys as standard the ride quality is supple enough that it will be a non-issue for most people. But compared to its reputation BMW does seem to have smoothed the edges off the chassis at the same time.
The 520d ED still feels perfectly pleasant to drive, and you get a greater sense of involvement than in the equivalent Audi, certainly. But there's less accuracy in the steering and more body movement in the corners.
Many buyers in this segment may prefer a more relaxed approached, however, and it does suit the nature of this particular car. Eco special or not, though, you won't be missing out on any creature comforts.
Leather, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate and front and rear parking sensors are all standard. Our test car was specced up further with a head up display, four-zone climate, and a vast central display screen complete with satnav and internet connectivity.
The driving modes are selected by a large rocker switch on the centre console, the iDrive interface elsewhere gets ever more intuitive to use, and other neat touches - literally - include the touch-sensitive number buttons, which you can brush over to view current functions before you commit.
Fit, finish and material quality is impressive throughout, there's plenty of rear legroom and the boot is a capacious 520 litres. However, the ergonomics of the gearlever give you the distinct impression the new 5 Series was designed to be an automatic.
Economy and safety
There is no automatic option for the 520d ED (yet) - though eight-speed and 'Sport' units are available right across the rest of the range - autos are usually less efficient than manual gearboxes after all.
Tell that to Volvo, mind, which builds the only rival that matches the ED for CO2 emissions, the 119g/km S80 DRIVe, and you can now have that with a dual-clutch auto without any eco penalty.
As the S80's 1.6 diesel only musters 115hp power is no contest - but then, even as an auto it is currently £3,500 cheaper than the £30,435 the 520d ED costs. Both BMW and Volvo manage an official combined 62.8mpg.
We drove the 520d ED on a variety of roads, and over 300 miles averaged not quite mid-40s mpg. We expected better, and got it on trips that involved more motorway mileage; early to mid-50s is possible here.
Trouble is, we rather suspect that a regular 520d would fair almost as well. The difference in CO2 will save you £65 a year in road tax (£30 v £95), but really it's business users that will benefit, as that BIK figure drops from 18% to 13%.
Safety equipment, as with all new 5 Series, includes six airbags, highly comprehensive stability control and run-flat tyres as standard. Optional upgrades include adaptive headlights, high-beam assist, blindspot monitors and night vision.
The MSN Cars Verdict
The BMW 520d EfficientDynamics Saloon feels like less of a leap than the original 320d EfficientDynamics, but it still has many commendable features. We love the refinement that allows you to use such low revs, and it is a relaxing car to drive.
Other current 5 Series attributes mean it's comfortable and spacious, too, and although the difference between the ED and the regular 520d is apparently slight, the modest price difference compared to the tax savings means it should make plenty of business users very happy.
|Need to know|
|Engines diesel||2.0 turbo|
|Torque lb ft||280|
|Top speed mph||144|
|CO2g/km / Tax %||119 / 13|
|Ratings out of five||BMW 520d EfficientDynamics Saloon|
|Ride and handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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