Week ending January 20 Mileage 19,200 Driven this week 447 miles
Our time with the 520d Touring is almost at an end; it's currently at just over 19,000 miles and I'd expect it to leave the car park by the time it clicks over 20k.
However, we're still playing with it. We've switched to winter tyres, guarding against the (remote) possibility of a late-January cold snap and setting up a (brief) evaluation of winter rubber in damp or wet conditions.
First impressions? The rear end isn't quite so planted on warm-but-wet roads, and the ride quality has improved. There's just a little bit more suppleness to the set-up now; were it not for the pay-off in traction, it'd be a real gain.
Week ending January 13 Mileage 18,753 Driven this week 543 miles
I find our BMW 520d Touring almost flawless, with one exception - the manual gearbox. Normally I’m a fan of the traditional stick shift, but when I drove through London last night I was soon convinced that it needs to have the eight-speed automatic.
It’s a pretty hefty option, at £1,525, but it’s the only thing the car is really missing in standard SE spec, although I’d also tick the reversing camera box (£330).
The manual box would be fine on the open road, I suspect, but there’s simply too little low-end pull from that frugal turbodiesel engine to make it a relaxing stop/start drive.
Week ending January 6 Mileage 18,210 Driven this week 83 miles
I decided to spend Christmas with my girlfriend's parents in the Lake District, and I didn't relish making the 550-mile round-trip in my long-term Kia Picanto. Luckily magazine editor John McIlroy wasn't using his 5 Series Touring over the festive period, so I persuaded him to part with the keys for a couple of weeks.
The 520d is built for long motorway schleps, so it was the ideal companion. Few cars in its price bracket are as smooth and comfortable at speed, and I managed a respectable 42.1mpg. Just as importantly, the BMW's huge 70-litre fuel tank meant I didn't need to make any stops for fuel.
The perfect estate, then? Not quite. When I returned I went shopping in the January sales, which meant crawling in stop-start traffic for more than an hour. Here, the BMW's heavy clutch and notchy manual gearbox were frustrating, and the offset driving position (the pedals don't line up properly with the steering wheel) became much more of an issue.
If I were in the market for a new 520d I'd have no hesitation in spending the extra £1525 BMW charges for the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox. It makes driving at low speeds much less frustrating, and has no impact on fuel economy.