In Australia, BMW offers 71 distinct variants of 16 models. Just 12 of those 71 variants are available with a naturally aspirated engine. The remaining 12 are on the endangered species list with several more expected to become extinct some time in 2012. By 2014, with the introduction of the turbocharged F30 M3, BMW's naturally aspirated history will be just that. That once great atmo engine company has embraced the turbo as warmly as Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagen
Many of BMW's great atmo engines have been impossibly smooth in-line sixes, traditionally powering models like the 528i. Nothing signifies the shift in engineering philosophy quite like the new 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder 528i that's just arrived in Australia.
The N20 TwinPower four powers variants of the X3, Z4, 3 Series and now 5 Series ranges in two states of tune; 135kW/270Nm for 520i and 180kW/350Nm in the 528i.
Like all F10 5 Series models except the seven-speed dual clutch M5, the 528i runs an eight-speed ZF torque converter auto. It's never short of the right ratio and never wrong footed. Neither do you ever feel that the boosted 2.0-litre four-potter is not up to the job of man-handling the Commodore-sized Five. By just 1250rpm peak torque has arrived and all 350Nm hang around until 4800rpm.
The 528i's 180kW arrive just 200rpm later and plateau until 6500rpm. It's a strong if not particularly characterful engine and in 528i trim delivers 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds and 6.7L/100km. So much for the old adage that only milk and juice comes in 2.0-litres.
It's no surprise that the rest of the package remains as we've grown to expect from the 5 Series range - which remains a car that divides opinion. For some, and depending on the chassis options selected, the 528i might feel a smidge too firmly sprung, a feeling sometime exacerbated by the heavy and stiff-sidewalled run flats tyres. For others, and I profess to being in the second camp, the 528i, like most Fives, is a well-round executive sedan with a finely judged balance between comfort and sports.
At $77,900, the 520i undercuts the turbo-diesel 520d by $2800 to become the new 5 Series price leader. The 520i can't match the diesel at the pump - 6.4L/100km plays 4.7. But if you can cop the extra fuel cost (though the $2800 lower entry price will buy a couple of year's petrol) and shorter range, you'll love the refined performance of the petrol compared to the gruff diesel.
If the excellent $115,600 535i turbo six calls into question the need for the $179,900 twin turbo V8 550i, then the $98,200 528i does the same to the 535i.
The 528i might just be the 5 Series sweet spot. That's often been the case over the five generations of Five, so the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Engine 1997cc in-line four-cylinder, 16v turbo, Max Power 180kW @ 5000-6000rpm, Max Torque 350Nm @ 1250-4800rpm, Transmission 8-speed automatic, 0-100km/h 6.7sec (claimed)
Price: $98 200
On sale now.
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