Touring with prestige, performance

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 10:54 25/05/2011
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ROBERT CHARLES

Rob Maetzig road tests the BMW 535i Touring.

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It's very expensive - but it's also very desirable. Rob Maetzig road tests the BMW 535i Touring.

Yes, we all know that statistics are proving that the trend these days is for motor vehicle purchasers to opt for SUV body styles rather than traditional wagons.

And that's fair enough, too.

If we look at the luxury end of the motor vehicle scale, there's good reason why SUV product such as the BMW X6, X5 and X3 command such popularity - they offer an excellent combination of all-wheel drive off-road ability, ease of use around town, a 'command' driving position so favoured by so many people, and of course, luxury.

But when it comes to sheer looks, nothing in BMW's SUV fleet comes close to matching those offered by the German marque's biggest wagon, the 535i Touring.

What a sensational-looking car.

In terms of wheelbase, it is identical to the 5-Series sedan, but when viewed from the side it looks just so much longer - even though its body shell is in fact shorter.

That's because its long bonnet flows beautifully into a smoothly sloping windscreen, which in turn flows into a very long roof line.

The roof line then flows sports- wagon-style into a tailgate that, in itself, contributes to the magnificent low-slung look of this BMW.

Looks aren't the only thing that is magnificent about the 535i Touring, however. So is pricing, particularly so with the vehicle that we've just had for road test.

The big BMW, with its twin- turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, normally retails for $151,000 - which is an impressive enough price anyway. But our road test model carried a further $35,480 worth of options, which took the total price up to a breathtaking $186,980.

Would I choose to install all of the 15 optional extras this car had?

Maybe I wouldn't have optioned in the likes of an automatic tailgate opener at $1440, and roller sunblinds for the rear windows costing $1640, or a $3070 integrated active steering system, or a $1640 soft-close function for the doors, or an $1800 surround view system (although it was pretty neat to enjoy a sort of bird's-eye view of exactly where the car was during parking and close manoeuvring).

But if I had the readies that enabled me to buy this car in the first place, I would definitely spend another $8350 to install an M Sports package, and a further $7620 to fit what is known as Adaptive Drive.

This Adaptive Drive system offers four driving modes, which allows the driver to select comfort, normal and two sporting settings.

Comfort makes the suspension far too soft for me, to the extent it would be easy for those aboard to become carsick even at around- town speeds. Normal is somewhat better, and I'd probably find myself choosing either that or the Sport setting, depending on whether I wanted normal driving or with slightly sportier suspension and accelerator settings.

Sport-Plus turns the BMW into a super-hard riding car that you really wouldn't want to experience for too long on any of our coarse- chip secondary roads with their surface imperfections. But it certainly does transform the 535i Touring into something sensational in terms of performance potential. You just wouldn't want it for very long, that's all.

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But heavens, this is a nice car.

From the moment you climb into the low-slung driver's seat and press the start button, slip the ergonomically-shaped gear selector into drive and move away, the big wagon impresses as luxury motoring personified.

If you wish to store any cargo in the rear, it is a matter of either hitting the remote button and the rear window will pop up and at the same time roll back the tonneau cover, or you can touch a button on the tailgate and the entire tail will automatically lift high up out of the way so you can stow bigger items.

I found that, with all seats in, there's not a tremendously large storage area at the rear. It's 560 litres via a load area that is long rather than wide, but this improves considerably by folding down one or all of the rear seats to open up the load space to 1670 litres.

But what is impressive is the quality of the load area. It's all carpeted and cosseting, to the extent I felt quite guilty storing my dirty and damp golf clubs in there after the weekend round.

Up front, there's leather all round, and there's the computer- mouse-like BMW iDrive controller that lets those aboard access all sorts of convenience and comfort features - including internet connection and an excellent sat- nav system.

And then there's the power on tap.

The car's 3.0-litre twin turbocharged straight-six petrol engine develops 225 kilowatts of power and 400 Newton metres of torque, and it is mated to an eight- speed twin-clutch automatic transmission that has to be experienced to be believed, in that it moves up through the gears very quickly.

Plant the accelerator pedal and this wagon can accelerate to 100 kmh in a tad over six seconds, and the rolling acceleration is also very good.

Of course, when this happens the fuel consumption rises accordingly, but when driven carefully, the BMW is capable of returning an average fuel consumption of 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good for a car this size.

I suppose if I had to select one word to describe the BMW 535i Touring, it would be prestigious.

It might look far more aggressive than the sedan version, and it might offer a level of practicality that takes it almost to the level of its SUV sibling the X5, but the wagon's demeanour simply feels better than either of them.

And that underlines the fact that, increasing popularity of SUVs or not, there's still room in the luxury market for the classic estate car.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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