TIME was when motor companies offered us cars that came in three sizes — small, medium and large.
Of course there were varieties of these cars, some with roofs, some without and some with a boot, others with an extension at the back. But nowadays, it seems, these traditional formats have been swallowed by a tsunami of SUVs for which most people will, apparently, queue up to get into. Big ones, small ones, funny ones — it does not seem to matter.
The enduring result of this seismic shift has been to greatly affect various time-honoured types of car, such as the venerable saloon, which is currently in a terrible state of flux and struggling — a bit like the polar bear — to cope with a pretty drastic change in circumstances.
So too the whole concept of the estate car which right now appears to have as fragile a grip on survival as your average Bornean Orang-utan, but a lot less support from the public at large.
Some say the future is writ large in the past, but in the case of saloon and estate cars the future appears to be even more grim than for many of the endangered species our world seems intent on killing off.
But there is hope for our endangered cars and particularly so for the august load-lugger which is the estate. I know this because I recently drove one and it was one of the best cars I got my hands on all year.
Now it may be that the exact car in question will not appeal to a vast swathe of drivers, but it is an indication that the breed might just be saved before it is too late.
The car in question is the BMW 530d Touring in XDrive 4x4 format and with an absolute pile of added M Sport kit thrown at it.
In the normal course of events, this machine would cost €80k as standard, but the specification of the tester added another €20k or so to the bottom line to bring the cost of this model to — if you’ll forgive the terrible joke — an eye-water mark.
Now, while SUV mania has gripped the buying public like nothing since adolescent fads like clackers (remember them) or fidget spinners and pushed manufacturers into making many more of the bloody things, the estate, which fulfilled almost every need a family could have in any number of circumstances, needs a defibrillator.
From cleaning out Aunty Mabel’s house after her untimely death, to bringing the Shetland pony to the vet, or being able to take everyone’s bike on holidays or even carting the U10s — the whole team — to hurling practice on Friday nights, the estate coped with it all.
And this BMW, let me tell you, is everything a proper estate should be — large, comfortable, practical, commodious and stylish as well.
On top of that, this car — now in its fifth generation — is yet bigger, more plush and more passenger-friendly. It wafts around in near-cathedral silence, rides like a limo and handles like a sports car.
Rarely have I come across a car which is so patently all things to all men (and women, of course, lest we get anti-feminist accusations thrust in our direction).
As with any worthy SUV, this is pretty much a go-anywhere car which will fulfil any number of burdensome tasks with an aplomb which is nearly hard to credit.
On the engine front, the car is equipped with BMW’s monumental three litre straight six turbodiesel and it is notable that while in almost every corner of the globe people are proselytising about the death of diesel, BMW has not been among their rank. In fact the company is still very bullish about the future of diesel and that should probably not be surprise given the number of them they make.
In any event, this particular diesel is a truly brilliant one. With some 261 bhp (195 kW) on offer and a 5.6-second 0-100km/h capability as well as a governed top speed of 200km/h, an economy figure of 4.9 l/100km (56.4 mpg) and a relatively tax-friendly emission rate of 134 g/km. The power might not seem like much, but it is.
Sure the two litre version offers 187 bhp, but it is nothing like as refined. Neither does it have the mid-range push which transforms this from being merely quick, to being tub-thumpingly fast.
The extra torque on offer here and the elegantly hushed aural accompaniment set the three litre unit out as something special.
Throw in a suspension system with variable dampers and air assistance at the rear and which allows the car go from being a mile-munching motorway monster to an elegantly poised cross-country tourer and you’ve got a car which is as well balanced and driver-friendly as any saloon you might like to try. Indeed, it reminded me of something like an RS6 Avant without the animalistic tendencies.
Mix in a list of tecchie stuff (albeit some of it part of the extensive and costly extras list) and you’ve got a machine which will deliver in every aspect of your driving needs and those of the passengers too.
Be warned, however that any unnecessary hand-waving may heat your seat, change the radio station or cause the sat nav to redirect you to Mount Kinabalu rather than Mount Mercy.
The extra size of the car adds to its cargo-carrying capacity is larger while the use of lighter construction materials (the rear tailgate is made of aluminium, for example) has increased the permissible load limit by 120kg. That said, stuff like the electric tailgate (including the opening back window) and the 40/20/20 rear seats (which flop at the press of a button) will appeal to many.
It may be that our motoring tastes have changed and modern drivers cannot get enough of their lofty SUV driving positions or the idea that they are an urban Tarzan.
It may also be that the estate car as a format is being ignored to the point of near extinction — here in Ireland at least, but not in Germany where 60% of all 5 Series models are estates — but this car is a genuine argument against the trending masses.
It might be very expensive, but it is a car which will deliver on every promise it makes.
COLLEY’S VERDICT - ****
The Cost: the 5 Series Touring range starts from €55,790 and rises to €103,014, as tested
The Engine: sparkling, three-litre turbodiesel
The Specification: add-ons will give your wallet a pummelling
The Overall Verdict: breathing new life into an increasingly moribund format
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