Overall rating: 4/5
BMW gives its 518d a new engine, offering more power, greater economy and lower emissions. It's smooth and effortless too, which makes it a very compelling choice indeed.
In the metal 3.5/5
It's a BMW 5 Series, so no surprises here, the changes to this model being restricted to what's going on under the bonnet. Still, it's a handsome machine, if not quite as striking, or divisive, in its looks as its predecessor.
That's true inside as well, where you'll find a finely finished cabin with plenty of space, an easy-to-understand dashboard and familiar operation via conventional controls and BMW's iDrive selector. If it's lacking anything then it's flair, as more recent BMWs, like the 2 Series Active Tourer, demonstrate a bit more sparkle. Conservative then, though in this market that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Driving it 4/5
Time was the entry-model in a range was a bottom-line, get-customers-through-the-door special that nobody bought. That's not the case here; the 518d might occupy the starting position in the 5 Series line-up, but it's no poor relation to its siblings. Power comes from BMW's new 2.0-litre TwinPower four-cylinder turbodiesel engine and while its output of 150hp is unlikely to stir you, its 360Nm of torque makes light work of the big 5. It's super smooth too, which means it's all but imperceptible when it's running, only getting quietly apparent when you rev it hard. You'll not need to though, as the 518d's best work is done at or around 2,000rpm, and the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox has all the ratios it needs to keep it in that sweet spot. Opt for that automatic transmission and you'll not only improve the economy marginally, but have a gearbox that communicates with the satnav system - working out where it is via GPS and making sure it picks the right gear. That's clever stuff, aiding not just the outright economy, but smoothness too.
Like all the 5 Series range there's the ability to tailor the drivetrain via the Drive Performance Control button, it offering Eco Pro, Comfort and Sport. Eco Pro goes heavy on the economy push, flattening accelerator response, cutting the air conditioning and chastising you via the instruments if you're a bit heavy of hoof. Comfort fixes that, freeing up the drivetrain a good bit, feeling less like you're working against it.
Drive it briskly and the 5's chassis reveals it's as balanced as ever, though the steering isn't the last word in feel, it particularly numb just off centre.
What you get for your money 4/5
Aside from that economy figure and tax-reducing CO2 output the 518d comes fairly comprehensively equipped as standard. Air conditioning, leather upholstery, satnav, Drive Performance Control, DAB and iDrive all feature as standard, as do 17-inch alloy wheels in SE specification. The entry-level car is the 518d, at €44,780 on-the-road.
The 520d gains the new engine as well, with power upped to 190hp. It starts at €47,320.
If tax reduction is your ultimate goal you need to pick wisely. The automatic 518d on 17-inch alloy wheels achieves 110g/km, choose the manual and that rises to 114g/km. Likewise, opt for 18-inch and above and that increases to 120g/km with the automatic, and 124g/km with the six-speed manual. Obviously that has more of an effect on the VRT, increasing the overall price of the car, than it does on the annual tax bill, which varies from €190 to €270.
BMW's new diesel engine allows it to retain the lead for drivers who want a premium saloon but want to avoid high running costs via CO2-based taxation. That it's still an enjoyable drive despite its economy-minded brief impresses, and the 518d is no poor relation to the rest of the range.