2019 BMW 530i Sportline (USA)

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In all the years that I have been renting cars out of the Hertz USA fleet, I’ve been able to sample models from a very wide variety of manufacturers who sell on the American market. Only a few have not played in the daily rental market, sone not at all (such as Lexus and Acura, neither of which seem to be any great loss) and others where the handful of cars that are on fleet are few and far between. That’s been the case with BMW for years. Periodically, there have been a smattering of their cars, mostly 3 series models, on fleet, and for a brief period around 2011/12 they had some X5 models, one of which I was able to sample, but generally, if you wanted a premium-badged German model instead of something with a domestic or Asian badge on it your only choice was a Mercedes, even though I gather customers repeatedly asked and lobbied for BMWs to be available as well. Something changed in 2019. When I arrived for my first trip of the year in March, I spotted a large number of 740i models parked up, and later that trip was also able to sample one of the newly arrived X3 cars before they all seemingly vanished. Arriving for the second trip of the year, in September, I found that both Los Angeles and Phoenix, and as far as I can tell, plenty of other locations as well, have now added the 530i to the fleet. It is badged as Group K, which is used for luxury sedans, and has in recent times been replete with Mercedes E350 (if you go back a few years), the Jaguar XF and the Volvo S90. At the end of a couple of weeks where I had generally been driving around in models from the lower end of the fleet, I decided that as the finale, I would try to source one of these 530i models, as it would be a nice luxury finale for the trip and also because I had driven a 520d Touring in the UK for a few days earlier in the year, and whilst many aspects of the car had impressed me, its ride in M-Sport spec was so awful that I had concluded you could not live with it no matter how competent the rest of the car had proved to be. I wanted to see if a petrol powered, US spec model, which equates to what Europeans would think of as an SE, but which bore “Sportline” on the door kickplates, would solve this issue and prove to be the perfect executive car that many of the UK press had said was the case for the 5 Series in general.

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The 530i is actually the entry level car in the US range, with buyers there denied all the diesels (perhaps for understandable reasons now but it was always the case) and a view that a less potent petrol car would also be deemed to be “underpowered” even though Europeans do not really perceive the 520i that way. Despite what the name might suggest, a 530i these days has a 2.0 litre engine with just 4 cylinders but it does put out 248 bhp, which is sufficient to endow the car with more than ample performance. There is keyless starting, as you might expect from a car of this class in 2019 and once the engine fires you will barely be aware that it has done so, as it is extremely quiet. Indeed lack of noise remains a feature once underway. You might lament the fact that the car no longer has 6 cylinders but this engine is exceedingly smooth and refined so the loss is more perceived than real. There is a standard eight speed automatic gearbox and it is well matched to the motor with imperceptible gearchanges that are very rapid so the car always seems to be in the right gear for what you want. There are paddles if you really want to try to do better yourself but in normal motoring on public roads, that is going to be difficult to achieve. You also get the choice of thee driving modes: Sport, Comfort and Eco, and these do exactly what you would imagine in terms of sharpening up the responses for Sport mode but with some penalty around noise, economy and comfort, though the differences are quite subtle. I left in Comfort mode almost all day as I suspect most owners will do for everyday motoring.

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Gone are the days when non M cars are true s  ports saloons, so it was perhaps not a surprise that the steering in this 530i, whilst generally good, does not have as much feel or sharpness as you would find in say a Jaguar XE, and certainly as I applied more lock it felt increasingly loose. Not enough to cause concern, but it seemed clear that making the car light-feeling and easy to manoeuvre was the priority. That said the car handles well, with minimal roll, and plenty of grip. Canyon roads are not the place to find the limit, but the swooping bends are a good test, and indeed I have seen BMW development cars on the roads I was driving clearly testing their cars out so it was no surprise that this car was good to drive on my test route. This car came on 245/45 R18 all-season tyres and pleasingly, I can report that these transform the ride from the utterly unacceptable experience I had of a UK market 520d Touring on 20″ wheels and run flat tyres to something which was really rather good. Whilst bigger wheels may look better, your spine and the rest of your body is going to have pay a penalty for every mile you drive that can be avoided by choosing smaller and softer tyres and in everyday use there is probably no discernible handling penalty for doing so. Visibility is as good as you get in a modern car, with the usual sorts of aids such as parking sensors a reversing camera and blind spot warning to help out.

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The interior of the 530i very much follows current BMW design and thinking. As the model dates back to 2016, it has not (yet) gone as far down the path that all German brands seem to be treading with ever more complex and almost superfluous glitzy technology and sometimes tacky detailing. So this one is actually rather pleasant. The materials used are all of good quality, with lots of leather and some nicely textured soft plastics, though the fake wood was not to my taste (but I am told that many Americans love it!) but you can specify alternatives. The steering wheel, in true BMW tradition is a bit too chunky. but the leather wrap makes it nice to hold. The instrument cluster contains two large digital dials for speedometer and rev counter with smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature to the side. As I seemingly always find with BMWs. the odometer is set so low that i cannot see it when driving which is a bit frustrating. This car had a headup display which showed your speed and the current speed limit. Conventional column stalks are used, BMW having abandoned the one-touch units they tried for a while and lights are operated from a rotary dial on the dash to the left of the wheel. The steering wheel boss contains buttons for cruise control and audio repeater functions. The centre of the dash features a prominent touch sensitive 10.2″ infotainment screen, and BMW have retained the console mounted iDrive controller with associated buttons as well as audio station preselect buttons below the screen which all make this one of the easiest to use systems there is. As well as the AM, FM and XM Satellite radio with 12 speakers, there is navigation, Apple Car Play and pages of settings options to personalise your driver and ownership experience. Below the screen are the buttons and knobs for the dual zone climate control.

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Seat upholstery is of a man-made leather type. You need to upgrade to a 540i in US spec to get the stuff that came off a cow. In standard trim I would not describe this is the highest quality or the softest that you will come across, but it was OK. There is full electric seat adjustment for both front seats and there is also extensible front seat bolster for those with long thigh bones (which is not me!). You can sit surprisingly low in the car, making it feel more like a sports car and if you set the seat low then there really s masses of headroom, but even with positioned higher there is ample clearance from the sunroof. As well as being able to move the headrests up and down, you can also move them forward and back. There are seat heaters fitted. Once you’ve found the desired position for everything there are two memory settings to store it. There is electric adjustment of the steering.

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As befits a car of this size, the rear is spacious, though only really for two people as there is a sizeable central tunnel and the centre console unit comes a long way back. Legroom should not be an issue even with the front seats set well back and there is ample headroom. There is a drop down central armrest. That console unit features air vents and there are map pockets on the back of the front seats as well as pockets on the doors for odds and ends.

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The boot has electrically assisted opening and closing. It is not perhaps as large as you might expect though it should still prove capacious enough for most people’s needs. The central area is lower than sides. The rear seat backrests are split and drop down to give a much longer cargo area if required. Inside the cabin there is a good-sized glovebox, pockets on the doors, a central armrest cubby, and a lidded area over the driver’s left knee. The centre console houses a pair of cupholders and there is a phone charger under a cover.

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American customers get far less choice of 5 Series version than Europeans for whom there is a long list of different models. The Touring is not offered at all, so all US market 5s are all saloons, and there are no diesels. Entry point, which is the spec of the test car, is the BMW 530i. This carries a base price of $53,400. a bit higher than that of its most direct rivals, and for this money you get a 248 bhp turbo four-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a moonroof, and the iDrive infotainment system with a 10.2-inch touch screen, navigation, 12 speakers, and Apple CarPlay. Even though it’s the base trim, the 530i still comes with plenty of driver assistance features, including adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, front and rear parking sensors, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring. You can add BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system for $2,300. The 530e iPerformance ($53,400) is this sedan’s plug-in hybrid trim. It shares the 530i’s standard features, but its powertrain pairs a four-cylinder engine and a single electric motor for a combined 248 bhp. Add an extra $2,300 for the all-wheel-drive system. The 540i costs $58,950 and comes with a 335 bhp six-cylinder engine. Its list of standard features closely mirrors those of the previous trims, but with the addition of leather upholstery. As with the lower trims, you can add all-wheel drive for $2,300. The M550i starts at $74,450 and comes with a twin-turbo 456 bhp V8 and all-wheel drive. Other standard features include an adaptive M Sport suspension, M Sport brakes, parking sensors, a 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound system, and a power boot lid. The high-performance BMW M5 starts at $102,700, or $110,000 for the M5 Competition. It features a V8 that puts out 600 bhp (617 bhp in the M5 Competition) and all-wheel drive. Other standard features include heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and a head-up display. Having selected the car based on the engine, you can select from one of three 5 Series styling packages. The Sport is the default choice and comes with gloss-black design elements on the bumpers. The Luxury style features chrome accents from the front grille to the rear tailpipes, with light alloy wheels and modified bumper inserts to match. The M Sport steps up the sportiness with an aerodynamic style treatment, a lowered suspension and special exterior trim. From this point, BMW offers a variety of packages, or “tiers” in BMW lingo. The Convenience package adds a powered boot lid, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats and XM satellite radio. The Premium package can be added to that and comes with an automated parking system, parking sensors, a head-up display, enhanced USB and Bluetooth connections, a wireless charging pad, a surround-view camera system and gesture control. Go with the Executive package to get full LED adaptive headlights with automatic high beams, soft-close automatic doors, a dynamic digital instrument cluster, and power sunshades for rear passengers. Naturally, more customisation is available. The Dynamic Handling package includes an adaptive suspension and active roll stabilisation. For the M550i, which comes with the adaptive suspension, you also get Integral Active Steering, which is a rear-steer system. A Luxury Seating package bundles ventilated multi-contour front seats with massage function and upgraded leather upholstery. Finally, look at the Driving Assistance Plus package to get more advanced safety feature such as full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, front cross-traffic alert and evasive steering aid. Many of these features can be equipped as stand-alone options alongside remote control parking, night vision with pedestrian detection, a heated steering wheel, a rear-seat entertainment system, Harman Kardon or Bowers & Wilkins premium audio systems, and ceramic-trimmed controls. As far as I could tell, the test car had the Sport trim and the Convenience package as well as some options such as the head-up display and wireless charging pad.

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I rather enjoyed driving this BMW for the two days of my test tenure. It gets good reviews from the American press, and it is not hard to see why as this is a supremely competent car, with no real weak points at all. And unlike most of the rest of the BMW range, to my eyes, it even looks quite good in an understated elegant sort of way. For sure you perhaps would not call the 530i the “ultimate driving machine”, as BMW would like to think their cars are, as in this latest G30 guise, it has subtly shifted the focus from sportiness to refined luxury and composed cruising, which are probably attributes that more of the likely buyers will appreciate. Certainly in the spec of this test car, without the curse of the M-Sport package and 20″ run flats, its ride was far more comfortable than the model I sampled in the UK a few months prior. That one had a ride that was so bad I concluded you could not live with it, whereas this one was much more what you would want if you are going to drive on roads as opposed to hurling your car around a track. Although I have driven most of the 5 series’ rivals in the past couple of years, the specs of them have been sufficiently different that it remains very hard to decide which is truly “best”, and indeed with standards being so universally high these days, choosing between any of them may come down to personal preference. If I am being totally honest, in purely objective terms, the 530i is a “better” car than my Maserati Ghibli in quite a number of ways, but I still do not regret the fact that three years ago I eschewed the BMW and its German rivals in favour of the car with the Trident badge. Meanwhile, in America, if you want a luxury car as your rental, the 530i would seem to be the main car on fleet at present, with just a handful of the Jaguar XF also around. It’s a tough call between the two, as both are excellent. It may come to down to what is actually available on the day, and if that happens to the BMW, then you are not going to feel short-changed.

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