DRIVEN: BMW 535I SE
PH puts more (unexpected) miles on 'der neue 5'
How we laughed.
The safety car driver probably felt a bit sheepish after that incident, as I did on stepping off the aeroplane to find the pleasant little Friday afternoon hop over the channel I'd been contemplating (naturally with a stop for a decent bit of lunch at BMW's expense), had been morphed into a significant road trip by an unexpected extra hour in the air.
Still, even though it meant buying a toothbrush and wearing the same clothes two days running, I've always been seduced by the romance of a long drive so it wasn't all bad. (Not that the reality of French motorway facilities is necessarily that romantic, but you know what I mean.)
PH's car was to be a 535i, in Space Grey, with the new twin-scroll, single turbo version of BMW's 3.0 six-cylinder, and in SE trim which delivers a more impressive kit roster with every succeeding generation. The 535i costs £37k in standard SE guise but BMW's press fleet managers had managed to load the beast up with an impressive £14,305 of 'must have' extras.
With a few other gewgaws lobbed-in, that means I'd been handed the keys to a motor with a £52k price tag and probably the logarithmic capacity to drive itself home. But I couldn't find a button for that, which suited me fine.
Not that you'll find much stray switchgear on the Bimmer, as pretty much everything is automated or accessed through an iDrive unit whose functions are getting ever more complicated, yet which remains pleasingly intuitive to play with. I managed to use the nav system POIs and the integrated phone hook-up to find and make a reservation at a hotel in Tours on our way back to Blighty without pulling over, which may be old-hat to more seasoned iDrivers but made me feel quite smug.
We've reported on the new 5 series already, of course, but that article concentrated more on the car's dynamic attributes than its 'everyday' core values, which are remarkably impressive.
It's always a delight to wind a BMW six up to the limiter, and doing so in the 535i will not disappoint, either from a performance perspective or the pleasing yowl the engine makes when pressed. But on a long run like this, it's just as delightful to enjoy the peace and quietude the new machine offers. The cabin may not be quite as tactile or engaging as a Jaguar XF, but it's unquestionably an extremely relaxing place to travel. The new 8-speed auto option makes a big difference while cruising too, offering almost imperceptible changes and adding to the sense of wafting refinement. (It has an impressive sport mode with paddle shifts too, but why bother on the autoroute?)
As our earlier report hinted, the car's plethora of electronic systems may have slightly marginalised the driver from some of the rawer thrills of conducting this latest iteration of the 5, for instance with regard to the feel of the electronic steering. But it's undoubtedly an athletic machine in spite of that, and spending a couple of days on a high-mileage road-trip is enough to prove the new version remains one of the world's truly great all-rounders.