APPARENTLY THE CAR I’M DRIVING is a ‘business athlete’. I’ll interpret that as an executive sedan fit for CEOs and top management of companies that ate doing very well indeed. Supposedly, most of them like to siting the rear seat and transact business while getting chauffeuted around. So my review has to make sense to the suits but I’m stuck with a problem. I seem to be singularly incapable of behaving like a CEO. I wear a t-shirt and jeans to work and I’m glued to the driver’s seat. There’s just a lot of fun to be had in the new BMW 530d MSport. Top speed is electronically limited to 250kmph and BMW says standstill to 100kmph should take you in the region of 5.7 seconds. But more important than those figures, this car feels alive around our favourite road – the Lap of Mutha. It really is that involving and engaging to drive. Like all BMWs, all the power (261bhp) and torque (620Nm) from the car’s 3-litte straight-six diesel goes straight to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic. Every time I step on it there’s a nice growl from the exhaust. That may not make the 5 go any faster but it certainly makes it sound powerful. The very fact that the power is sent to the rear wheels only means that there is that hint of oversteer that transforms a smile to a grin.
The steering that had felt heavy when we were stuck in a horrible traffic jam before the roads emptied out, feels engaging on the twists and turns of the mountain road, telling me exactly what the front wheels ate doing. It’s deadly accurate too. Few can match this agility and ability to deliver excitement. But all of this excitement isn’t at the cost of comfort. After all, bossman doesn’t want to be tossed around atthe back or have his spine shattered by an oddly placed speedbreaker, does he? The 5’s ride quality is an absolute world away from the BMWs we are familiar with even though BMWs these days have much, much softer suspension tuning. It reminds me of the E-Class. A car that, just yesterday, made me feel like a top boss, stretched out in the back seat.
The new E-Class with its stretched-out wheelbase offers so much space at the rear that it feels more like an S-Class really. And the level of refinement that this new E has to offer its owner/user/occupant is just phenomenal. The lack of noise, the space, the airiness of the cabin and oh, those seats. This is premium at a different level and makes you feel like you’re the man in charge. Even if you’re wearing a tee and jeans. The E 350 d I have at my disposal cruises effortlessly, powered by a 3-litte V6 turbo-diesel. The nine-speed automatic channels the motor’s 255bhp and 620Nm of torque to the rear wheels and provides a smooth surge that propels the sedan forward with an elegance that is difficult to rival. That’s the thing with these six-cylinder motors, that mountain of torque makes rapid progress incredibly effortless.
Adding to that is the superb ride quality and the car seems to glide over the imperfections of Indian roads with a plushness that is close to unfathomable in cars of its kind. This level of comfort, almost bordering on the luxurious, doesn’t come at the cost of dynamic abilities. On the twists and turns of Mutha, the large sedan acquits itself more than respectably; doesn’t feel like a stretched out limousine with the front and rear in different pin codes. In fact here too there’s a nimbleness that belies its length. In fact, I suspect that thanks to its ultra-refined character the E masks its speed and goes quite a bit quicker than it feels. Which is exactly how bossman would like to reach office -quickly without giving off the sensation of being hurried. Urgency without accompanying aggression. The interiors of the E 350d reflect the same attitude as the rest of the car. There’s a very high degree of premiumness at work here.
The fit and finish and the quality of materials used to construct the cabin is absolutely top drawer and ca n not only rival anything that the competition has to throw at it but also come out on top. And then there are those seats. Of course, you expect good all round support and multi way adjustment in the front seats but to have seat back adjustment for rear seats? Yes, the Merc’s rear seat can be inclined for a mote recliner like position, which, coupled with that cricket ground like legroom means you can pretty much be sprawled out in style with your head resting on headrests that feel like down-filled cushions. Staring at the heavens through the panoramic sunroof and cruising along in the comfort of uber refinement, the E feels excellent. The only thing missing, something that inevitably goes out when you take away aggression from the driving experience, is excitement. The car feels awesome to be driven in and good to drive in.
The Bimmer reflects an attitude that could be the yin to the Mete’s yang. From its exterior to its interior, from its stance to the way it drives, the S has a certain brashness to it. Where the Merc is proud, there is a bit of youthful arrogance in the 5. Quality is on par with that of the E’s but where the Mercedes displays maturity, the 5 is clearly for a younger tech-savvy audience who like their gadgets and gizmos. The centre console is canted towards the driver and there’s more cold-touch metals than warm-touch woods. All of you who are familiar with the old iDrive will now go ooh and aah over a new addition that has filtered down from the 7 Series – gesture control. Twirl your finger and the Harman Kardon system’s volume increases or decreases. Point with two fingers in front of that touchscreen and the channel you’re listening to or the track you’re playing changes. Swipe across the face of the screen and you can cancel an incoming phone call. It is ultra-cool and added to that is BMW’s head up display (HUD) that now has a colour display that also shows navigation directions. So cool is everything that I keep fiddling with the controls long after the drive, the shoot is over, and the car is parked back at the office.
Admittedly, the Merc does have a fantastic Burmesrer sound system that makes you feel as if you’re at a concert hall but where coolness is concerned, it is the Bavarian that skips ahead. The rear of the BMW too is equally well-equipped with individual screens on the headrest of both front seats. You can play your music, watch videos or the navigation system. It is almost like the entertainment system that you get in airplanes on a long haul flight. But the BMW is beggared by the Merc where room at the rear is concerned. Going from the E to the 5, you end up feeling you’re in smaller car. It’s not as if the 5 isn’t roomy. In its own right it can take the regular E head on, but in this battle with the long wheelbase version of Merc’s best-selling sedan, the BMW simply cannot match up. That the BMW gives the panoramic sunroof a miss also means there isn’t any spectacular star gazing to be had from the rear seat of the 5.
From the outside, I prefer the styling of the BMW right from the onset. It comes across as sharper and more dynamic. To me, those lines and that stance communicate a sense of purpose; that purpose being driving pleasure. It’s lithe and muscular at the same time, like a feline that’s just about to pounce on unsuspecting prey. The Mercedes is good looking too but in a stately and dignified sort of way. It doesn’t have that sense of aggression about it and appeals to those who like beauty without being a beast. The fact that it’s a stretched out limousine also means that you can bury any hopes you may have had of sporty proportions. Although I preferred the look of the BMW, the E seems to attract more attention and I was asked quite a few times about it by passersby, neighbours and a couple of complete strangers.
Gaurav, our photo ed, actually thought the Bimmer was a facelift and was surprised to know it’s a full model change! Finally, there’s the BMW’s party piece for all those who have fancied playing James Bond. If you recall the Pierce Brosnan starrer Tomorrow Never Dies you will remember a BMW7 Series that 007 drives using a remote control. While that was an act of special effects, this BMW will actually let you play Bond for a few metres. Using the unique BMW Display Key that first made its appearance with the all-new 7 Series, you can remotely park the car. Get out and lock it. Then stand behind the car to remotely start the engine and then move the car backwards or forwards.
The next step in this brilliant piece of tech is an evolution where the owner will be able to summon the car from the parking lot to a predesignated spot. The future is already here it appears and being able to control the car from the outside and watching it park itself feels better than a million bucks. It’s an easy one, isn’t it? Just pick the 5 and I should be done with it. It’s more engaging and filled with futuristic tech and even looks better in my humble opinion. But there is a catch – the cars are almost incomparable. Even though the Merc and the Bimmer are eyeing slices of the same pie, they couldn’t be more different from each other. The Mercedes comes across as a car that is trying to work a balance between driving pleasure and the pleasure of being driven around.
The BMW on the other hand is clearly a driver’s car that’s best enjoyed from the front seat. Oh it is around six lakh rupees cheaper too but really, does that matter? One is the mature individual who is all too aware of his abilities and is proud of them but exercises discretion. The other is capable, knows it and has never let go of a youthful arrogance that is delightfully characterful. The truth really is that you need to pick one for yourself because these two are like friends who have grown up not too far from each other, influenced by similar philosophies but have evolved to become completely different characters.