I am driving at 80km/h from Ruakākā to Whangārei and many things feel very wrong.
Firstly, the passenger-side rear tyre is as flat as a lizard in the sun.
Secondly, I am watching the view, not the road, and am quite relaxed.
Rolling hills, the occasional winery, lots of cattle and seemingly intergenerational roadworks roll past the window. I could almost be asleep for all the car needs me. As long as I keep a finger on the steering wheel, it’ll do the rest.
As for the flat tyre, well, whatever. I have pressed the in-car emergency call button to be connected to BMW roadside assistance. They tell me I can do 200 miles on the run-flat tyre.
The steering is a little soft, but other than that I’d have had no idea there was an issue.
Two days out from Christmas and this could have been a disaster, but Beaurepaires sort out the tyre, though with a $1300 bill for me to meekly hand over to the excellent folk at Pead PR, who organise BMW’s cars for the media.
The run-flat tyres are still not widely available, so I am damn lucky they are in stock, otherwise I would have had to wait for them to arrive from Auckland over the break. The tyre guy told me (I am not making this up) that availability of replacement run-flat tyres is the biggest issue around.
From Whangārei, it is back home to Paparoa, where I have to constantly explain to people that this is a loan car and I didn’t buy it. But when you have a vehicle that is such a joy to drive, leaving it sitting in the garage would be a crime, so I take the family to Hot Water Beach on Coromandel Peninsula for New Year’s Eve, and then return north a week later to attend the Bay of Islands Music Festival in Kerikeri before spending a lovely couple of days at Whangaroa.
More than any car I’ve driven other than the Jaguar F-Type R, people get the hell out of the way when the 520i drives up behind them. I figure that’s thanks to the aggressive M series front-grille splitter, which makes the car look much more powerful that it really is. I can’t complain if I manage to intimidate the odd Prius driver into pulling over, of course.
M Sport Suspension may make the car handle better, but I’d be happy with the standard suspension if the grumpy kids in the back would shut up about how hard the ride is (The M series also has better brakes.)
The reversing assistant stores the last 50 metres travelled when going under 35km/h so the car can automatically retrace the path without you being involved.
What BMW calls the Driving Assistant is a clever self-driving tool that takes over speed, steering and keeping the car in its lane. This works well pretty much all of the time, other than being a tad officious in keeping me in the centre of the lane.
BMW has made the M Sport package standard across the range, so you need the M5 to really experience the legendary M series performance. I’m driving the base-model 520i, which clocks in at $99,900. The plug-in hybrid is $129,900 and the 550i xDrive (all-wheel-drive) is $174,900. There’s also a 550i xDrive Pure for $149,900. The more expensive 550i gets adaptive fancy sport suspension, soft-close doors and a few other nice-to-haves.
When I picked up the car, the BMW rep went to fetch a 550i for me, and I corrected him to get the base model. Stupid honesty.
The two-litre twin-turbo engine of the 520i generates 135kW of power and 290Nm of torque, but it certainly feels like a lot more. The 0-100km/h time of 7.9s is a little sluggish, but who is going to care about that on New Zealand roads? The V8 550i massively amps the specs to 390kW of power and 750Nm of torque, getting you to the speed limit in an impressive 3.8 seconds.
The 520i is a pleasure to drive. It feels a little underpowered because I am a spoilt brat and have been testing sports cars for the past month or so. In reality, it is probably not.
It genuinely is the sort of car you don’t want to get out of. I went to the supermarket in it and after two hours, I received a text message from my 12-year-old – “You OK? You’ve been away a long time and I was worried something had gone wrong.” I decided not to explain that I was just enjoying driving around in it.
When I eventually let them in the car, the kids delight in trying out the gesture control, where a flick of the wrist changes the radio station, or moving your fingers in a circular motion alters the music volume. I grow to like it, but it is still a gimmick.
The centre console is dominated by a large cupboard that opens from the top. Once my phone is in its slightly unwieldly wireless-charging position, there’s space for two coffee cups and nothing more unless you open the pop-up french doors of the console, which means you then can’t rest your hand on them. The upshot is a feeling that the car needs more console space for wallets, keys, lollies, etc.
While I am on niggles, the passenger-side front door seemed hard to close. No matter who was in the seat, it would regularly take a while for them to pull the door shut hard enough.
Overall, I find the 520i to be an even-handed, refined drive that corners well, but is obviously bored when driven at less than 80km/h on the open road. This is a car that is all about the driver. Sorry, kids.