On first driving the 2005 E61 BMW 535D M Sport Touring, your senses are deceived, especially after being used to petrol driven BMWs. The performance seemed to be lacking the edge that was expected. However, through continued use, you soon come to realise that it is the competence of this car that sanitises some of the sensations that may be felt in its petrol driven counterparts.
The shape of the BMW E61 Touring models is not to everyone’s taste but I like it and I think it emphasises what is a prestige sporty vehicle and in M Sport guise, it has a more aggressive road hugging stance, helped by the 18 inch M Sport alloys and M aerodynamic kit.
For me, the interior of the E60 and E61 models took a bit of getting used to. I wasn’t a fan of the art deco styling but it did grow on me quite quickly. My 535d has the aluminium cubed trim and black leather. All of the switches and controls have a quality feel to them. The only slight irritation is the i-drive which is cumbersome to navigate and responds a little too slowly for my liking. This one has the Professional sat nav which I like because it means I don’t have an extra unit stuck to my windscreen, but without post code search, it sometimes makes finding addresses difficult, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area.
The original BMW blue tooth preparation leaves a lot to be desired as far as the transmitted audio quality and signal goes, although the received audio and signal is usually fine.
Although it probably sounds like I am moaning a lot about various aspects of the car interior and equipment, its actually very good. The build quality and finish is what you would expect in a BMW and there are plenty of toys to keep me amused. I have the Head Up display which is one of those features that once you have had it, you don’t want another car without it. Those who haven’t experienced it may think of it as an unnecessary expense, but its actually a very useful tool. To have sat nav instructions in front of you without having to look at the screen is much easier at motorway speeds or in heavy traffic. Its also great to use on the continent when you can change the speed of the head up display to KMH and don’t have to squint at the small KMH markings on the speedo.
Another essential item as far as I am concerned is the adaptive xenon headlights. They make halogen lights look like candles and are especially good on winding dark country roads.
I bought this car because I was doing a lot of long distance driving, often fully laden. It simply eats up the miles. The earlier comments I made about it being sanitised was not intended to give the impression that there was no feedback between the road and driver, but simply that the sensation of speed and acceleration are deceiving, making three figure speeds come up on you without even realising it. Having lived and travelled extensively in Germany, the car is fantastic at autobahn speeds and is as steady at 150mph as it is at 70mph. If you really want to push on, you can switch the auto box into manual mode which allows sequential shifting.
The steering, whilst light, does give enough feedback to the driver and the handling and road holding are excellent, no doubt helped by the DSC+T (dynamic stability control and traction). BMWs have a lousy reputation in the snow, especially autos but as far as BMWs go, this is one of the better ones on the white fluffy stuff.
The M sport model is equipped with sports suspension which is an essential to me on any BMW that I own. Yes, the ride is a little harsher but unless you are driving over pot holes, you soon forget about it. The situation isn’t helped by the run flat tyres. The hard side walls transmit a little too much crashing and banging from pot holes into the car. On the subject of tyres, a spare is not included and you have to opt for a “get you home” emergency wheel kit if you intend to travel any distance with a puncture. This is a real pain because without a spare, you have to have your tyre replaced to continue a long journey, which happened to me once in the middle of a freezing cold December when I had a 300 mile plus journey to complete. Having said that, the run flats are a major safety benefit. My front tyre deflated at 80 MPH. The puncture warning on the dash showed but the car felt perfectly normal, even at this speed, which made me think that the puncture warning has malfunctioned. If you have ever has a flat with a non run flat tyre at speed then you will appreciate how much better run flats are in such situations.
Performance is as good as you would expect for a 3 litre twin turbo diesel producing 272 BHP and an enormous 560NM of torque. Keep you right foot down and it will keep on pulling and pulling until you hit the speed limiter at 155mph. Its only under hard acceleration that the engine note tells you that its a diesel engine and even then, it doesn’t sound remotely tractor like as some expect it to.
In terms of fuel consumption, I average around 32MPG with a combination of long and short journeys. I have an BMW E39 540i Sport with similar performance which returns around 6-7MPG less under the same conditions. Such fuel economy has allowed me to drive from the UK all the way to my destination in northern Germany via the channel tunnel without stopping for fuel. For someone like me who loathes having to stop on long journeys, this is a major benefit.
There are only two criticisms I have of the way the car drives, both of which I have heard from other drivers with the same car. From stand still, there is a slight turbo lag which is a nuisance when wanting a quick start from a junction. To alleviate it, you have to press harder of the gas only to be catapulted into space if you don’t let you foot off soon enough. This process becomes a skill to be learned and once you have got used to it, it can be done without thinking about it. The second issue is that in top gear at around 1900 RPM with a constant load on the throttle, there appears to be what seems like a flat spot. Whilst it doesn’t lose power, any small depression of the pedal has no effect and a little more pressure is needed to get over this flat spot. In the right conditions, at a constant throttle, I have even got the engine speed to hunt up and down by about 100RPM. Neither of these are major issues but if you are really bothered about them, why not get a remap pushing torque over 600NM and power up to around 340 BHP!
In terms of practicality, the load area is simply amazing when the back seats are folded down. Even with a small child in the back, I have amazed myself on several occasions as to what I was able to load into the car with the split rear seat only half folded down. If you need a car to carry large loads, then the BMW E61 Touring is well worth considering. Although I’ve rarely travelled in the rear seats, there is ample legroom and it feels quite relaxed in there.
On the whole, this is a fantastic car for long journeys with a large load. Whilst it doesn’t feel like a sports car and lacks the excitement and sounds of a petrol driven car, it is an extremely practical, quick and capable long distance cruiser.