Show the world you’ve made it
IT doesn’t seem so long ago that you’d go round to someone’s house and know they had a few quid because they’d have a telly with doors on it. Since then, TVs have got thinner and the cathode ray tubes which used to make them approximately the width of a sofa have shrunk so much you can hang your telly on the wall and pretend it’s a picture frame. Now I don’t know how the head-up display (HUD) in the BMW 5-Series actually works and I don’t care, but let’s just say it must be the automotive equivalent of a big-arse telly with doors. It’s amazing. I haven’t been this impressed since R2-D2 projected Obi-Wan Kenobi at Princess Leia out of his wazoo.
It’s certainly seductive. The colour graphics float in space at the front of the bonnet and inform me of my speed and current location. The display even projects a succession of lovely arrow graphics telling me where I need to go next, according to the navigation system. The idea is that it reduces eye strain as it limits the need for your eyes to refocus from the car’s instrumentation to the road and back again. It succeeds wonderfully, although I find the effect slightly hypnotic and can’t take my eyes off it. I suspect this isn’t exactly what BMW had in mind. But at £940, the HUD option is almost entirely unnecessary and an absolute must-have. Ten years from now no-one is going to want to look at a second hand 5-Series on eBay without a head-up display. Really.
Looks-wise the car is handsome enough – if a little conservative – and due to a softly curving bonnet and some truly great alloys it gets an unusual amount of attention for its sporty looks. Driving it is fantastically stress-free and easy. It feels quick and powerful thanks to its 306hp 3.0-litre engine, with very little road noise at speed, and handling that is surprisingly good for a car so big.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox means acceleration is very smooth. Though the gear selector was annoying at first due to an unusual unlock safety switch on the side, I found I got used to it soon enough. Our car included Driving Dynamics Control, which means it had a Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ setting. This allows you to change the chassis, throttle and transmission set-up depending on your mood or road conditions. Out on the leafy A Roads of Surrey it made for a surprisingly enthusiastic drive but most of the time the Normal mode was so appropriate it felt like voodoo.
The only issues were that the car seems to be a little wider than it feels, though an excellent parking system displays views from around the vehicle when you’re parking it, helping to avoid expensive brushes with street furniture. Oh, and the instrumentation seemed a little
obscured by the lovely thick oval steering wheel, but it didn’t matter because the HUD told me everything I needed to know. Minor gripes.
The only real disappointment is that so much refinement, so excellently engineered into the car, means the engine just doesn’t seem loud enough. I was expecting a wonderful soundtrack from what is a large – if relatively economical engine – but sadly there’s no such thing.
So all in all, it’s an excellent car, possibly the best of its kind, with or without the head-up display. Minus the roar.
BMW 535I SE SALOON
PRICE: £37,300 (not including options)
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 195g/km
MPG COMBINED: 33.6mpg
VALUE FOR MONEY