HarleyEarl

2006 BMW 530xi Touring Wagon

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November 23, 2005

Test Drive:

2006 BMW 530xi Touring Wagon

By Veeno Dewan

Photos by Greg Wilson

In the UK, where I come from, station wagons are known as "Estate cars." Apparently British automotive folklore has it that a wealthy Lord of the Manor wanted a car with a covered rear section so he could tote his pheasant shooting guns while hunting around his thousand-acre country estate: hence the term ‘estate car'.

Another more elegant term for this vehicle was the ‘Shooting Brake'. I remember seeing a few old pictures of Jaguars, Rovers and even an Aston Martin converted to these ‘Shooting Brakes'. Yes, I admit station wagons keys have passed through my greasy palms in my British automotive horror chamber. First up was a rock solid big, old 1979 Ford Cortina that did duty as a parts chaser while I was rebuilding my stubborn and soon-abandoned old Jaguar.

My second wagon was a ratty 82' Ford Escort that I picked up in exchange for a colour TV (don't ask why). Believe me there is no finer way of transferring oil soaked used car parts in the dead of winter.

No such chance of hauling around dirty car parts in the 2006 BMW 530xi wagon. Known here and in the UK as the Touring, it's both an expensive and very beautiful piece of ‘kit'. Key attributes in the all-wheel drive xi version I tested is the impressive looking exterior, sporty engine, luxurious cabin and the stellar performance of the all-wheel xDrive system.

In the looks department, the rear ‘Bangle bustle' (or bum) has been ditched in favor of extra glass, a sheet metal roof and a power lift gate. Overall, it's a nice slice of extra surgery, executed deftly with the rear C and D pillars integrating into a cohesive design. For some strange reason, the arcing, curved flanks running from the front fenders along the doors to the rear bustle reminds me of an airplane fuselage: it must be the considerable girth of the car. Our tester came in a glacial Alpine white paint that toned down its imposing stance. The colour also tended to flatten and dull the exterior styling character lines, and panels. BMWs, I think, always look better in shiny metallic hues.

Standard equipment

More luxurious than ever, the BMW 530xi arrives well-equipped. Standard interior equipment includes automatic climate control, a CD player, one-touch power windows, rain-sensing windshield wipers and heated mirrors. Ten-way power front seats are also standard issue with 12-way power front sport seats.

Have a sensitive derriere? Well maybe you need the optional 20-way power multifunction seat. Bit of a technophile? You might spend a few hours playing with the idrive multifunction control system that seems to annoy many people. (Me... I don't mind it). As well as the much maligned idrive, there are optional nanny devices such as Active Roll Stabilization (ARS) and Active Cruise Control (ACC). Other techno goodies such as Hill-Start Assist and Hill Descent Control are standard with the xDrive. A DVD-based navigation system with voice command, adaptive cruise control and, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, are also expensive options. Audiophiles are not forgotten with an optional glove box-mounted CD/DVD changer, as well as a premium-grade Harman Kardon sound system.

Our fully loaded Touring featured two option packs, the $3500 premium package offering side window sunshades, ski bag, heated rear seats, park distance control and the killer Harmon Kardon Logic 7 Sound System. The pricey M sport package ($6,500.. gulp!) gives you fancy 18-inch double spoke alloy wheels, sports seats, the snazzy M aero package and the ‘interesting' metallic cube interior trim. Also handy was the remote operated power tailgate.

Technological highlights

On the engine front, the 530xi features an all-new 3.0-litre inline six producing 255 horsepower. The power output is achieved using throttle-less Valvetronic valve train (try saying that a few times), and a redesigned three stage intake manifold. Extensive use of magnesium and aluminum in the engine block and water jacket makes for an impressive 25 percent weight reduction off the previous power plant.

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This translates into somewhat of a trade-off for the extra hardware in the all-wheel xdrive system. Also, note BMW claims fuel consumption is reduced by 10 percent as a result of the engine valve and manifold technology.

The 530's xDrive system is similar to the hardware found on the BMW X3 and X5, however there are a few differences; a gear drive replaces the chain drive in the 530xi and the system is electronically controlled and uses a multiplate clutch for infinite variation in the front/rear power ratio. It works with BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), using computers and sensors to adjust the distribution of power. In certain situations the DSC kicks in and applies braking action on a single wheel, and with the xDrive, automatically redirects torque to the wheel opposite it when it needs to correct. In low traction and sliding ice the 530xi car can keep moving even if only one wheel has traction.

Interior design

The cabin has a mild 7-Series look to it with an imposing, neat, and slightly overdone interior. It's the kind of interior that makes you afraid to eat a cookie in it. You'd expect some kind of contraption to emerge from the dashboard, snatch it from you, tidy up the crumbs, and slap you in the mouth as punishment. It's all so... neat and tidy.

The dashboard and centre console and even the door trim panels were decked out in an interesting aluminum trim with a textured cubed surface. It's nicely done, but adds to the obsessive style of the cabin. Yes, everything is in the right place ergonomically although I have a couple of minor gripes: the knobs for the stereo are too small and the cheap rubbery feel is at odds with rest of the car. The indicator turn signals are finicky sometimes and won't return to the rest position smoothly, and the rear-view mirror is stiff to adjust.

With regards to the idrive, although this version is easier to use (my six-year old son figured out how to use the mouse and screen to change between CD and radio within a minute... the little bugger), I think a full set of conventional controls for the climate, navigation and audio systems should be present in full on the car. I say this because older buyers who may use a computer and mouse at work really don't want to use one in the car after a long day at work. Some people I've spoken too are more concerned that taking your eyes off the road to look at the screen to execute a function is not a good idea. Others are more blunt, saying nothing beats the simplicity, speed or tactile feel of good old-fashioned knobs or sliding controls. They do have a point: you won't operate a computer with car-like knobs, switches or buttons, so why use a mouse to operate car functions?

The rest of the interior is impeccable with excellent quality in the trim plastics and the fine leather upholstery. I often try to find loose, squeaking or ill-fitting panel gaps in a BMW, and always fail. The big seats are firm, supportive and comfortable without being too hard. A standard panoramic sunroof lets in lots of light and does not compromise front or rear head room. The rear seating area has ample leg and shoulder room and tall adults are well catered for. The wagon roof extends headroom by around 15 mm (0.6 in.). They will also appreciate the optional heated rear seats.

Moving to the rear cargo area, it's a fully carpeted, well finished area that contains 950 litres (33.6 cu. ft.) of usable space with the rear seats in place. Fold the rear seats down and this increases to 1,650 litres (58.3 cu. ft) of cargo. If you do decide to load your 530xi with heavy car parts, the self-levelling rear air suspension will ensure you won't look like a funny car dragster going down the road. A nifty power operated tailgate is a boon and closes by a push button switch.

Safety

The 530xi Touring has inherent rigidity and tank-like solidity. Standard safety equipment includes a head protection system and side-impact airbags for both the front and rear seats.

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The aforementioned Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake proportioning, cornering and stability enhancements are standard across the 5 Series model line and work very well together. Inside the car, active front head restraints and Advanced Safety Electronics (ASE) that monitor and govern the deployment of safety systems are optional. Also as mentioned before both Hill-Start Assist and Hill Descent Control features are standard with xDrive.

Driving impressions

v The BMW 5 Series sedans are extremely well balanced machines and totally at home with hard and fast driving manoeuvres when in the hands of capable drivers. The 530xi is even more of an attraction due to its xdrive. On the highway, the car feels solid and stable thanks to its super stiff chassis.

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Broken pavement, bumps and expansion cracks barely upset the car's poise. The active steering system transfers steering responses fast and accurately, and the xdrive comes into its own on fast curves and during abrupt steering corrections. With its lower centre of gravity and 49/51 percent weight distribution front to rear, the wagon reacts better than bulky SUVs. Its responses are faster and more defined and there's less fear of breakaway in a corner.

Shifting the sweet six speed manual transmission is a delight, and the in-line six cylinder engine delivers torque in a smooth flexible curve that really makes use of the transmission's well-spaced gear ratios.

In and around town, the 530xi is aided by it park distance control so you don't bash into things when parking. Low speed handling is a breeze with good steering proportioning although the electric steering can feel a little fuzzy during ultra slow maneuvering. Overall the 530xi is a refined, comfortable, sporty wagon that's a high quality, luxury alternative to a ponderous SUV.

With a truly great chassis, engine and sophisticated technology, the 530xi is a jewel of German engineering and prestige, and comes with a price that could buy you some serious jewels. With a base price of $72,400, our as-tested vehicle came in at $82,400 with two option packages. When I told people the price, most stood dumbfounded or slack jawed. "Ohhh" was the usual response. Most assumed the Bimmer was around $60,000, tops.

The BMW 530xi Touring is a frighteningly efficient wagon that few can equal in execution. It's not cheap, but is very, very good at what it does. If your lifestyle includes multiple annual skiing trips, regular cabin retreats or long recreational journeys, you can probably afford this kind of car.

Technical Data: 2006 BMW 530xi Touring

Base price $72,800

Options Premium Package ($3,500) includes manual side sunshades, auto-dimming exterior mirror, auto dimming interior mirror, ski bag, storage compartment package, heated rear seats, park distance control. Harmon/Kardon Logic 7audio system. M Sport Package ($6,500) includes M-multi-function leather sport steering wheel, sport seats, aluminum cube trim, high gloss shadow line, M Aerodynamic package, anthracite roof liner, 18-inch M double spoke alloy wheels.

Freight $1,595

A/C tax $100

Price as tested $82,400

Type 4-door, 5-passenger wagon

Layout Front engine/all wheel drive

Engine 3.0-litre inline 6, DOHC, 24 valves

Horsepower 255 @ 6600 rpm

Torque 220 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Curb weight 1750 kg (3858 lb.)

Wheelbase 2886 mm (113.6 in.)

Length 4856 mm (191.2 in.)

Width 1840 mm (72.4 in.)

Height 1491 mm (58.7 in.)

cargo capacity 951 litres (33.6 cu. ft.) seats up

1651 litres (58.3 cu. ft.) seats down

Fuel consumption City: 12.1 L/100 km (23 mpg Imperial)

Hwy: 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg Imperial)

Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

Edited by HarleyEarl
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Holy $h! @ the price, but I saw my first yesterday and its looks quite stately...more impressive than a dime-a-dozen X5 or X3.

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I have to say, this is one of those cars where I like the wagon version better. Usually it's the other way around. This is a sensational car.

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Holy crap @ the price, but I saw my first yesterday and its looks quite stately...more impressive than a dime-a-dozen X5 or X3.

(It's in Canadian dollars)

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I have to say, this is one of those cars where I like the wagon version better.  Usually it's the other way around.  This is a sensational car.

i agree. honestly, this is likely my perfect car. i mean, THE TOP of my list. I'm not crazy on the interior in spots, but cargo room, handling, AWD, stick.....i'll assume the six is fast enough and call it my perfect car.

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I am the proud owner of an '06 530xi sport wagon. It's quite the step up from my Volvo V70 GLT wagon.

I did have a question though. I saw another 530xi sport wagon and on the side next to the marker light, was an Xdrive emblem in chrome. I'm trying to locate information about this emblem and why it's on some vehicles and not others. Any thoughts out there?

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Wagons are pretty damn good looking machines. Not sure if I could ever own one because I do prefer the shape of a sedan a little more. 

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