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2018 BMW 530d Touring Euro-Spec

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 6/22/2017 MIKE DUFF

Although they are a rare sight in the United States, in Europe, station wagons are a popular part of most manufacturers’ lineups. How that came about, at BMW at least, wasn’t via exhaustive market research but rather an after-hours project. Max Reisböck was the man responsible.

Back in the mid-1980s, Reisböck was a mid-ranking BMW engineer frustrated by the inability of any of the company’s sedans to carry the paraphernalia required by his growing family. With the practicality you’d expect from a German gearhead, he set about building his own wagon, buying an E30 318i sedan that had been involved in a rear-end collision and converting it into his dream longroof transport. The process was carried out in a friend’s garage and took six months, with the finished car impressing his colleagues enough for the company to sign off on a production version.

Every 3-series from the E30 generation onward has offered a station-wagon variant, as has every 5-series since the E34. But despite several attempts to sell Bimmers wearing backpacks to Americans, none has been particularly successful. Lack of demand for the current 3-series Sports Wagon means it likely will be the last sold here. It’s a situation that seems certain to deny us the latest 5-series wagon (Touring, in BMW parlance).

Matters of the Estate

We drove the new 5-series Touring in the United Kingdom, which remains one of BMW’s biggest markets for station wagons—or estate cars, as the Brits say. While pretty much everything forward of the C-pillar is common with the sedan, the Touring’s added practicality and handsome lines make it a particularly compelling proposition.

The latest iteration of the 5-series has grown larger and become more sensible than its predecessor, and that holds true for the Touring even more so than for the sedan. It’s not the largest luxo-hauler on the market, but it makes a case for being the best all-rounder.

Engine choices for the wagon are simplified slightly compared with the European sedan, with three gasoline and three diesel powerplants. The 530i and 540i are mechanically identical to the eponymous U.S. sedans, meaning a 248-hp inline-four and a 335-hp inline-six, both turbocharged. (There is also a four-cylinder 520i in some markets.) But it’s the three diesels that will compose most of the sales volume: an entry-level four-cylinder 187-hp 520d, a 228-hp 525d that uses a turned-up version of the 520d’s turbocharged 2.0-liter, and finally the 530d with BMW’s new B57 turbocharged six-cylinder diesel that’s good for 261 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque. That’s the model we drove, equipped with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox and optional all-wheel drive.

This isn’t quite as refined as the 530d sedan that formed a previous entry in our series on Cars European Automakers Deny Us. The Touring’s open luggage compartment creates more interior volume for harmonic resonances to breed in, and there’s a slight (but noticeable) increase in road noise compared with the hushed sedan. Similarly, the loss of the structure behind the rear seats has almost certainly led to reduced rigidity, and per BMW’s figures the Touring weighs some 200 pounds more.

But such modest changes don’t really diminish the 5-series Touring. The diesel engine is all but inaudible under gentle acceleration, producing a pleasantly muscular hum with firmer throttle applications. The peak torque of 457 lb-ft is on deck and saluting at just 2000 rpm, and the deftness with which the eight-speed auto shuffles its ratios means it doesn’t need to be worked hard for rapid progress. Only in extremis does the engine own up to its diesel origins, as it is reluctant to rev beyond 4500 rpm in response to transmission kickdowns. BMW’s claimed 5.6-second zero-to-62-mph time (with all-wheel drive) is just 0.2 second behind that of the equivalent sedan.

Ride comfort is outstanding, even on the 20-inch wheels of our test car. The standard air-sprung suspension does a fine job of dealing with both large bumps and rough surfaces. Steering remains a mild disappointment; the electrically assisted rack allows no real sensations to get through. And we’d like a manual gearbox, but even Europeans have given up on ordering those. (The base 520d can be specified with a stick in some markets.)

The 5-series isn’t the biggest luxury wagon, but it presents its luggage space beautifully. The 20-cubic-foot capacity with the rear seatbacks up is three cubes less than in the Mercedes-Benz E-class wagon, although it’s fractionally more than you’ll find in the Volvo V90 (all according to Europe-market measurement standards). With the rear seats folded—the three seatbacks collapse individually—volume increases to 60 cubic feet, which is four less than the supersize Benz but six cubic feet up on the Swede. The BMW also has separately opening tailgate glass, like the 3-series wagon, allowing smaller items to be put into the cargo hold without opening the entire liftgate.

Missing Out

While we’ve been told that at least one version of the 5-series diesel will make it across the Atlantic, it seems highly unlikely that the Touring will follow it. Anyone looking for a more practical 5-series will have to make do with the upcoming 6-series Gran Turismo hatchback—or alternatively follow the herd and buy an X5. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Specifications >VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear- or all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback

ESTIMATED BASE PRICE (Germany): $55,000

ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 24-valve diesel inline-6, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 183 cu in, 2993 cc

Power: 261 hp @ 4000 rpm

Torque: 457 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 117.1 in

Length: 194.6 in

Width: 73.5 in Height: 57.6 in

Cargo volume: 20 cu ft

Curb weight (C/D est): 4400–4550 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 5.4–5.6 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 17.8–18.0 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 14.0–14.2 sec

Top speed (governor limited): 128 mph

FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):

EPA combined/city/highway: 31–33/28–29/37–39 mpg

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