Finally, we get our hands on the 5 Series everyone bought - the 523i. KON writes....
|[+ click to enlarge] |
|RM200k cheaper than the 535i, at RM383,800 without insurance.|
|Locally assembled cabin not lacking in build quality.|
|N52 engine may be old, but it's still sweet as ever.|
When BMW gave us the 535i last year, it absolutely blew our minds away. Armed with an engine that can only be described as being weapons grade, the 535i was sickeningly fast, and it had the right chassis to properly harness the engine's awesome power.
Unfortunately, good as it was, the 535i was also eye-wateringly expensive at nearly RM600k before insurance. The motoring press sang all the praises for the car, but ultimately, most customers opted for the RM384k 523i instead. As rich as BMW customers may be, the RM200k saved still represented a lot of money.
Despite constant bugging, it took BMW a while to send us a demo car for the 523i, but arrive it did, as we finally had the chance to evaluate the F10 5 Series on the basis of what most of customers bought.
|523i prowling the streets of Putrajaya. |
Euro-spec 523i - N53 vs N52
As some of you might be aware, the 523i in our part of the world is powered by the 2.5-litre N52B25 engine carried over from the E60 5 Series. In the E60, this engine was offered in two states of tune - 190hp/230Nm in 523i and 218hp/250Nm in the 525i.
For the F10, this engine is available in only one setup, which sees it produce 204hp @ 6,300rpm and 250Nm @ 2,750 - 3,000rpm. These figures are a nice step up from the E60 523i, but still lower than what was produced by the 525i. European versions of the 523i are offered with the N52's successor, the 3.0-litre N53 engine with direct injection.
In the Euro 523i, the N53 is offered in a heavily de-tuned state, so it pumps out 204hp just like our 523i, but arriving at a lower 6,100rpm. Where it holds clear superiority over our 523i is in its torque output, having 270Nm available on tap from 1,500rpm all the way to 4,250rpm.
At this stage, some of you might be tempted to wait for the grey importers to bring in units of the European-spec 523i. We would advocate caution in this, because there is a good reason why BMW is not bringing the N53 into our market - our fuel. As of now, BMW engineers have yet to acclimatize the N53 to our high-sulphur fuel, so if you attempt to run one of these cars with the stuff that comes out of our pumps, you're in for a rude shock when the injectors decide to act up.
In any case, the N52 is not exactly an outdated engine design. It still features Double VANOS and Valvetronic, and it boasts lightweight construction thanks to the use of aluminium and magnesium. It was named among Ward's 10 Best Engines of the Year in 2006 and 2007. The several days we spent in the 523i suggests that this engine still has plenty to offer in terms of driving pleasure.
BMW did keep us on par in the transmission department though. Our version of the 523i comes with the same ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission as per European-spec models. The gear lever is carried over from E60, but that will not elicit any complaints from us, because it simply is one of the best-shaped gear levers in the business.
|8 speeds might be a little too many to handle, don't you think? |
The Test Car
Up until recently, BMW only provided the motoring press with the 535i for review. The 523i test car was only recently registered, and by the time it reached our hands, the odometer had clocked some 3,600km of mileage. As tested, our 523i test car goes for RM383,800 before insurance, which our insurance calculator estimates to be just over RM10k.
Build quality-wise, we did not detect anything amiss in our locally-built vehicle. We did notice, however, that our test car had a full-sized dashboard-mounted LCD in contrast to the smaller screens found on fully imported versions of the 523i, which was only sold for a short period after launch, and at a higher price of RM398,800.
|Full-sized LCD screen for CKD 523i. |
Those who had the opportunity to experience what the 535i has to offer may find the 523i a little underwhelming at first. A half-year period separates my stints in both cars, and yet there were still occasions that I caught myself burying the 523i's throttle expecting the 535i's ballistic thrust - which obviously did not arrive.
Make no mistake though, the 523i, if evaluated on its own merits, is not short of pace by any means. The N52 engine may be a generation old, but it remains as one of the sweetest revving motors around; hitting its 7,000rpm redline with tremendous relish, letting out an almost sonorous roar of approval as you pull its tacho clockwise.
You do need a heavy foot to get the 523i moving along at pace, though we must also admit to have been spoilt in recent times by modern turbo direct injection engines with their beefy slabs of torque. The linear and creamy power delivery offered by the 523i reminds us of how much joy we used to derive in squeezing every ounce of juice out of a smooth-revving naturally aspirated engine.
Unlike the 535i, which had an almost obdurate refusal to surrender grip in hard cornering, the 523i caught us out with surprising understeering tendencies, though it should be noted that we were driving it a lot harder than typical 523i owners. With the 523i, there is a need to be a little more conservative with entry speed into the corner and allowing the nose to 'settle-in' before gunning it.
This is speculation, but the massive discrepancy in the two car's handling characteristics could be due to the different choice of tyres selected for both cars. Whilst the 535i had sport tyres from Dunlop, the 523i was running on more comfort-oriented rubber, which to be fair, were extremely quiet at highway speeds.
|Tyres a little lacking in grip when pushed hard. |
On the handling front, the 523i is equipped with Dynamic Driving Control is packaged together with Dynamic Damping Control. Although it does without Adaptive Drive like the 535i, the 523i still allows its driver to select between four modes - Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+. I personally found all four modes to be on the stiff side, and the so-called Comfort mode was way too wallowy to be comfortable. By my reckoning, Sport actually seemed to give the best balance in handling and ride comfort, which is consistent with my experience in the 535i.
In all honesty, it took me quite a while to take the 523i to heart. Only near the end of my four-day stint with the car that I finally began to appreciate the 523i for what it was and not dismiss it as a poor relation of the 535i. The 523i has it merits, and chief amongst it is the venerable N52 engine.
While it is true that the naturally aspirated N52 cannot offer the same exciting punch as new turbocharged alternatives, it is also premature for anyone looking to write its obituary. The sweet note this six-potter makes as it sings its way to 7,000 revs shows there's still plenty of life left in this award-winning engine. Revving it almost a joy of its own.
Another praise-worthy point of the 523i is that despite being RM200k cheaper than the 535i, it is not severely down on kit compared to its more expensive sibling. The 523i's deficit in equipment to the 535i include paddle shifters, HUD, Active Headlights, smaller rims and the aforementioned Adaptive Drive - none of them any equipment that I would lose any sleep missing out on. So, while the 523i is not as mind-blowingly awesome as the 535i, it is still a fine car in its own merits.