BMW 530i (E34) review – driving

BMW 530i

I’ve now put around 18,000 miles on the 530i in just over a year.  I’ve used it extensively both commuting to and from work and school, and for traveling all over California.  It’s been a good companion, polishing off the miles with aplomb and providing a comfortable and relaxing vantage point to observe the road from.

Strangely for a large (well, ‘mid-sized’) vehicle, the 530i seems most at home on two-lane roads in the hills and mountains.  It has an unreasonably good glide-ratio, meaning that when you get to the top of the hill, you can put it in neutral and just coast along for miles.  At 55MPH in 5th gear, the engine needs just a shade over 2000 RPM to maintain speed, and can achieve up to 26 mpg with careful management.  Not bad for a 20-year old V8 that merited a ‘gas guzzler’ tax when it was first sold!

Curves (‘the twisties’) are handled with relative grace.  It’s a larger car than the E46 (6 inches longer) with softer suspension, but grip is good and if you try to fling it around a corner, it responds well.  Moreover, if you back off slightly, the 530i makes for a considerably less jarring experience than the E46.  It’s a much more pleasant car to be in if you are prone to getting car-sick.  Brakes are decent – just don’t make a habit of panic-stops.

On the interstate, the 530i is quite capable of cruising along at 75MPH for hours with nary a distraction or complaint.  Road noise is never excessive, and the huge windshield and side windows (especially in the back) are great for watching the landscape drift by.  The seats are solid but not hard and my back has generally fared better in them on long trips than with the E46.

In city-driving or stop-and-go traffic, things aren’t quite as appealing.  The car’s short gearing means that if you like to keep RPMs low (as I do), you’ll be forever hopping back and forth from 2nd-4th gear.  Oh, you can stay in 2nd gear up to near-freeway speeds (redline is 6500RPM), but if you like a quiet ride, you’ll be shifting early and often.  Fuel economy drops to an abysmal 12-14 mpg in stop-and-go conditions.

It’s a car that feels substantial.  Doors open and close with a nice heft and there aren’t any noticeable creaks or rattles to distract from the drive.  I suppose the interior trim was part of what made it a luxury car when it was first sold, but I find it all nicely understated.  Compared to the current-generation 5-series that I sat in at the LA Auto Show, the simplicity of the controls and the lack of a shiny infotainment system were a clear plus to me.

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