ROAD TEST: Plush load lugging in BMW 530i Touring
ONCE the bastion of space and flexibility, the outlook for station wagons appears grim.
Through the 1980s and '90s families embraced the big-bummed versions of Falcons and Commodores, yet changing tastes and the SUV revolution has almost banished them from showrooms.
Sedans are also on the popularity outer as buyers opt for high-riding versions of wagons which were once so popular.
Prestige marques have done their darnedest to keep the wagon dream alive, even trying to "sex-up” the nomenclature with terms like estate and shooting brake.
BMW calls its 5 Series wagon a Touring - perhaps designed to implore romantic thoughts of the open road and travelling to far-flug regions with ample room for suitcases and family needs.
The 530i Touring differentiates itself by combining the mundane with performance mastery. While it's been around since mid-2017, the large wagon remains a classy option for those willing to spend $111,900 plus on-roads.
Deep pockets are required, and while there is a wide range of options available to personalise and drive up the bottom line, there is little need for extra extravagance due to a long list of basic equipment.
The M Sport package is standard, but our car boasted the no-cost Luxury Line option. The latter includes 19-inch alloys, nappa leather trim, ventilated front seats, four-zone air-con and a sports leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Other opulent touches are a Harman/Kardon surround sound stereo with 16 speakers, 12.3-inch colour driver instrument display, central 10.25-inch colour touch-screen with satnav that has real-time traffic updates, keyless entry, in-built sunblinds for rear windows, power tailgate and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
Servicing-included packages are available for $1695, covering five years or 80,000km. Maintenance coverage is a little skinny with the basic pack, inclusive of oils and filters, but the 'Plus' for $4750 also includes "renewed” brake pads and discs at all four corners, wiper blades as well as clutch disc and plate.
Intervals are traditionally annual or every 15,000km, but all BMWs have "condition-based” servicing so frequency depends on how far you travel.
Impressive technology was the hallmark of the 5 Series when it first arrived boasting "autonomous” driving for up to 30 seconds in highway conditions.
Well-equipped, complimentary items are a head-up display that projects a digital speedo and satnav directions onto the windscreen (polarised sunglasses dilute the clarity), radar cruise control, automatic parking assistant, surround camera view for parking and lane-keeping assist to stop the driver wandering if distracted.
Looks are deceiving. The better half labelled it a "hearse”, while others may see the Beemer wagon as a well-heeled sales rep chariot.
The turbocharged four-cylinder can haul from standstill to 100km/h in a hot hatch-like 6.5 seconds. Quick off the mark and with impressive balance during rapid changes in direction, it feels athletic and remarkably nimble.
Compared to the cheaper diesel variant, which starts from $94,900, the 530i gains bigger brakes and adaptive dampers which work in tandem with a system that adjusts the steering and transmission response to the driving situations. Buttons next to the shifter enable shifts between economy, comfort and sport settings.
Refined steering conveys brilliant feedback to the driver who feels in total control - it's the kind of performance which has made BMW renowned the world over, but has been lost on occasions during recent times as the Bavarian brand aims to keep pace with market trends. Average fuel consumption is claimed 6.3 litres for every 100km. Our experience saw an average climb above nine ... maybe we enjoyed the Beemer's sporting attributes too much.
Operationally the layout is easy to navigate once you know your way around the menus accessed via the central screen. We think this is actually easier to use than the more modern iteration found in the new X5.
Boot space is generous as you'd expect, 570 litres (40 more than the sedan) and that expands to 1700 with the 40-20-40 split-fold rear seats flat.
With high levels of technology and prestige, the 5 Series Touring offers space and grace with a sporty dark side.
There is little need to follow the masses. The wagon provides the space needed and every time I sling into a bend solidifies the decision not to buy an SUV.
JAGUAR XF SPORTBRAKE 25T FROM $95,800
Less cabin space than the BMW and a slightly smaller boot (565 litres), but it's cheaper and offers impressive handling with a 184kW/365Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol engine.
MERCEDES-BENZ ALL-TERRAIN WAGON FROM $111,200
The only Benz wagon now offered in this size, powered exclusively by a 143kW/400Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl diesel engine, a niche product which can handle the bitumen and gravel roads.
BMW's load-lugging surprise packet. It's a driver's car with a lot of luxury touches and technology rather than a luxury car that handles well.
AT A GLANCE
BMW 530i TOURING
PRICE $111,900 plus on-roads (premium)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3yr unlim km w'ty; services $1695 5yrs/ 80,000km (OK)
ENGINE 2.0-litre 185kW/350Nm turbo 4-cyl, 8sp auto (quick)
SAFETY 5 stars, AEB, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, lane support systems, surround camera view (good)
THIRST 6.3 litres/100km (we got 9.5)
SPARE None, run-flats (becoming standard)
CARGO 570 litres (generous)