The new BMW is an amusing car. There I was, dawdling along at 60-ish with the gearbox in full auto mode, when I decided to try out the manual 'Steptronic' option and slid the gearstick across into the +/- plane. As I did so, the dashboard display flashed up the legend 'M5'. That's M for Manual and 5 for 5th gear, of course, but don't try to tell me that BMW's engineers didn't enjoy a quiet chuckle every time they saw that. They're not without humour, you know. They might also have had a wry smile whenever they saw the traction control light flickering, as I did, at 90mph-plus. Like I said, it's an amusing car...
The 535d uses a development of the famous 3-litre straight-six derv-burner, still 3 litres in capacity but now with two sequential turbochargers, the smaller one spinning up first and providing instant oomph: 383lb ft at just 1500rpm. The torque peaks at 413lb ft at 2000rpm (more than the M5), and as the engine reaches higher revs the bigger turbo progressively takes on the job of forcing the mixture into the cylinder heads. Peak power of 272bhp is produced at 4400rpm, though the engine will rev to 5000, which is high for a diesel. BMW claims a 0-62mph time of 6.5sec.
And it wouldn't surprise me at all if that's a conservative claim. The 535d is disturbingly, disarmingly and certainly deceptively fast. On a straight of no more than a mile I witnessed it accelerate from 30 to 130 with a barely diminishing vigour and an impressive linearity that wouldn't shame one of BMW's finest petrol engines. Jaguar's bi-turbo diesel is a fine device, too, and probably has this one licked for refinement - although the 5's fairly muted at speed, there's no denying its gravelly diesel voice - but in performance terms the BeeEm feels in a different league.
And it still manages over 35mpg on the 'combined' test, though 30mpg is more realistic for people like us.
It goes round bends pretty damn smartly too. The 535d Sport corners flat and hard, with the DSC (dynamic stability control) light blinking on January roads. And yes, on more than one occasion it really was winking away at 90mph-plus. That said, it's a wonderfully subtle system, and if it weren't for the telltale you mightn't even know it had intervened to keep you on the steered line.
The fact it's kept so busy could be partly to do with the stiff suspension. In Sport guise the 535d feels determined to live up to the 'M' badges that crop up on the kickplates, the steering wheel, and the M5-style 18in alloys. In fact it's not a total triumph. The steering feels stodgily heavy and slow at lower speeds, though the faster you go the less you notice. Similarly the ride, rather lumpen and occasionally caught out by urban lumps and pocks, smooths out at 60mph-plus. Even then there's something heavy-footed about the 535d Sport, a bit like running with your shoes caked in mud. It's as though the suspension isn't quite tuned to the wheels and tyres, and it hasn't quite the sensation of fluid movement of great BMWs of the past.
Maybe a little more give in the suspension, not to mention the tyres' sidewalls, wouldn't be the worst thing. The 535d has the dreaded run-flat tyres, and though tyre boffins get miffed when we say this, they don't give the same feel as regular rubber.
It's not cheap (interestingly, the regular 3-litre turbo-diesel 530d stays in production, the equivalent model being £4K cheaper). The basic price is £39,200, and this car had £6K worth of extras. But there's no question the engine's a belter.