Can a 2.0-litre four-pot provide adequate thrust to propel a German mid-sized luxury sedan? Well, yes, and it has been done before, though BMW has been late to the party. The Mercedes E-Class managed pretty well with a 1.8, and the Audi A6 has always had a 2.0T model as its entry-level variant.
After years of six-cylinder smoothness, the 5 Series finally embraced four-cylinder power, launched in Malaysia earlier this year. We tested the impressive 528i M Sport recently, and here we have the 520i, which utilizes the same 2.0-litre twin-scroll turbo engine but tuned to lesser outputs and offered at a lower price point.
To recap, the 528i, which makes 245hp and 350Nm, is priced at RM409,800 before insurance. The 520i as tested here makes do with 184hp and 270Nm, but is priced significantly lower at RM358,800. The 520d goes even lower at RM338,800, but despite the diesel model’s relative success, petrol buyers still form the majority of BMW’s clientele in Malaysia, and we foresee that the 520i will eventually be a key seller of the 5 Series range here. Nevertheless, we have been told it is the 528i that is selling better at the moment. It would seem then, that news of any economic slowdown has been greatly exaggerated.
For the cynics, it is tempting to dismiss the 520i as a poor man’s 5 Series, and the numbers back that argument – lower price, reduced power and less equipment. Fortunately, the reality is a little more pleasant. Typical of a modern turbo direct injection engine, mid-range grunt is strong, with peak torque available from 1,250 to 4,500rpm. So, detuned it may be, but the engine will obligingly pull the 520i along at speed when gunned, and more crucially, the availability of twist at the low end allows you to cruise along at pedestrian engine speeds without struggling.
|Appearance-wise, it is identical to the now-discontinued 523i.|
As a matter of fact, the lower boost level applied to the engine has some advantages over the long run compared to the highly-tuned 528i. Improved fuel economy is a given, and there is less turbo lag – which means response is a little bit more immediate, although the difference is barely noticeable and the 528i will still leave it behind once its on full song.
Another less frequently discussed advantage of a lower tuned engine would be improved durability – turbocharging takes a few kilometres off an engine’s life expectancy – although we expect that with a typical ownership cycle, an average unit of the 5 Series would probably have went through three to four owners before this becomes an issue.
|These 17-in rims appear smallish in the F10.|
If, like me, you found yourself in a 528i before stepping into the 520i, a couple of missing things are noticeable. The M Sport bits are gone, of course, and so is heads-up display. You still get iDrive, Driving Experience Control, quad zone climate control, Integral Active Steer, and enough of the 528i’s kit that it will not make you feel that you’ve opted for the poorer relation.
In any case, I know that if it was my money on the line, I would be happy to make do with less equipment and power if it meant savings of RM50,000. What I was not quite prepared to accept was a regression in driving dynamics. While it was no surprise that the 520i did not seem to handle as sharply as the M Sport-enhanced 528i, it was a bit shocking for to discover that the 520i just didn’t seem to absorb potholes and undulations as convincingly as the 528i did.
You would expect an M Sport-kitted BMW to ride harsher than the standard model, but in the 5 Series, the reverse would seem to be true. After returning the test car however, I have since learned that the 520i and 528i M Sport have identical suspension settings for the Malaysian market, so the differences reported here might be due to the respective wheel/tyre combos or just varying conditions of the test cars. The 520i wears 225/55 R17 Goodyear Excellence tyres, whereas the 528i gets staggered 18″ Dunlop SP Sport donuts.
Having said that, however, the overall driving experience of the 520i is still pleasant, if not as outright impressive as the 528i. Compared to the 523i it replaces, the 520i is clearly an improved vehicle both in terms of straight line performance and driving dynamics. Throttle response is more immediate in the 520i, and ride comfort is better sorted as well.
We are still waiting for an opportunity to test the 520d, but amongst the variants that we have reviewed thus far, the 528i is clearly the sweet spot of the current 5 Series range. For those with less stringent requirements in performance and dynamics, the 520i will suffice – the RM50,000 saved can then be blown on a nice holiday.