Change without change
Initially, the new BMW 5-series range could certainly be confused with that 700,000-selling original range of 1972 that extended BMW’s influence away from the sporting 2002 and coupes. Of course there were always 2500 and bigger 2800/3.0 descendants, but for families who didn’t want a really big car, the 5-series was an under-stated choice, filling much of the solid need that Rover once occupied in British hearts. There was, and continues to be, a sporting element amongst customers, but most are very conservative, right in the Mercedes mould.
Thus there is a slight disappointment on first acquaintance with the 518 carburetter four and the three fuel-injected sixes (520i, 525i and 528i), that the car doesn’t look new. Yet there are some strong benefits associated with both minor styling changes for aerodynamic reasons, and the need to save weight (up to 198 lb.) without loss of structural integrity.
First reports indicated that there was little left of the original car in the sheet metal. While it is true that aerodynamics forced a higher boot line — complete with squared off boot and Granada/Audi-style lamps — and that the front is subtly recontoured, our eyes tell us that the doors, screens, roof and floor are substantially the same as before. A front opening bonnet has saved some weight, but may be mourned by those who knew the original could not fly open in their face at speed.
The fashionable aerodynamic drag factor is reduced by a claimed 12% (now 0.385), but much of the work for this was done in wind tunnels outside BMW, for their own, new, tunnel was not available during the six-year development period.
Inside, the cars change most with a rather more complicated, but still comfortable and ergonomically sound, arrangement of four-spoke steering wheel and heavily contoured fascia to sweep the controls toward the driver.
Most fuss has been made about the service interval indicator. Like the fuel consumption indicator it is thoroughly engineered to compute information. BMW say that the average “moderate driver”, i.e. one who doesn’t use his car only for short runs, could stretch service intervals to over 9,000 miles — and that most customers will benefit with cheaper servicing. The 6 and 7 series array of check lights has also been incorporated, this time on the ceiling, providing a warning without needing a prompt from the driver.
Underneath the car, suspension is improved by use of the double joint MacPherson strut system used on the 7s, while the 184 b.h.p. 528i has a degree of its happy oversteering exuberance tamed by mounting the trailing arms at 13º instead of 20º to an imaginary transverse line, and by the addition of a trailing linkage that picks up aft of the point where the arms, prescribing a Y, become one.
Engine work follows the pattern towards higher compresison efficiency. Outputs ore mostly unaffected, though the 2-Iitre six with injection and 9.8:1 c.r. is rated at 125 b.h.p. (the same as the old 320i four). Also it was obvious, talking to BMW engineers, that the 2.5-litre actually does little over the 150 b.h.p. to which it is restricted by German insurance rates. The bigger sixes both have an effective fuel cut-off to save petrol use on over-run.
BMW engineers say they do not expect their smaller engines to follow the turbocharging route they exploited in saloon car racing in the 1960s, rather to be slightly increased in capacity for slow revving, quieter output.
On a route from Munich to Kleinwalsertal, Austria, we drove: 525i with Getrag 5-speed overdrive gearbox (standard on 528i only) and TRX 200/60 tyre option; 520i with ZF 3-speed automatic: 528i automatic with TRX, and 5-speed overdrive 528i. All models can be fitted with a gas shock-absorber/stiffer spring sports pack, as before. The smaller models then taking the roll bars of the larger sixes. No suspension changes are provided to go with TRX tyres.
Outstanding impressions were of reduced noise levels and handling that is safe rather than inspirational. The 528i does have improved cornering capabilities: the oversteer now sets in at higher speed and is still slow enough in onset to be exploited. TRXs just make the limit high enough so that you are unlikely to exceed it on public roads.
In all cases the sixes displayed more than the 115 m.p.h. claimed for 520i (0-62 m.p.h., 11.8 sec); the 122 m.p.h. claimed of 525i (a really quiet performer now, which we timed at 0-62 m.p.h. in 9.93 sec. on the speedometer: they claim 9.9 sec.); while the 528i certainly seemed capable of 130 m.p.h. and fractionally under 9 sec. for the 0-62 m.p.h. sprint.
Prices? Given the rate of 4.5 dm. to the pound we were quoted an increase of 5 to 5.9% on German prices (tax paid) for the present range of: 518 – £4,567; 520 – £5,211: 525 – £5,855 and 520i – £6,844. The 518 will not be sold in Britain until 1982, while the others are scheduled to appear at Motorfair in October. and go on sale (at considerably higher prices than the German ones, as is normal for all car makers in Britain) that month as well. As a simple guide, add 6% to British tax paid prices.
The new 5-series buyer will not be gaining much he can show off to the neighbours, but he will get an inner glow for a much improved motor car. — J.W.