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The BMW 530i xDrive has a place in this world

The BMW 530i xDrive isn't what the Ultimate Driving Machine used to be, but it's also not what you think it is.

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I moved into my current home about two years ago, and part of the joy of home ownership involves purchasing appliances. Washers. Dryers. Dishwashers. Ugh. Course, once they get installed, I prefer not to think of them at all. Ever. Just do what I need and be done with it. But do people really look at cars like the BMW 530i the same way?

Are regular BMWs meant to be appliances?

BMW 530i
2023 BMW 530i xDrive Quick Take
Get one:

It’ll dance if you want it to. Surprising body control for a large lux sedan. Comfy. Unassuming. Takes up zero RAM inside your brain. The last “classic” 5 Series.

Don’t get one:

Excels at its mission, but never deviates from it. How much for this? Interior is starting to show its age.

Soul Score: 6

The automotive equivalent of going out in your sweat pants.

The 2023 BMW 530i xDrive Overview

BMW 530i

Why are M cars so damn good? Perhaps because they start from such good stock. Namely, a regular BMW.

What is a regular BMW, you ask? Used to be cars like the E46 330i, or even the E60 550i – not M cars, but damn good sport sedans. This is the “Ultimate Driving Machine”® after all. But then something happened. BMW noticed Mercedes and Audi selling a lot of cars with a lot more luxury and a lot less sport.

You know what happened next, and suddenly, we’re here. A 5 Series with a four-cylinder engine and absolutely zero M badges.

But there’s goodness in this BMW 530i, I promise, along with something no M car provides: peace.

Performance Score: 5. Plan ahead.

BMW 530i
Behind normal-sized kidney grilles is an engine that probably doesn’t belong.

The last time I drove a car with less than 300 horsepower, it had…this engine in it. BMW’s B48 four-cylinder.

It did well in the X3 I owned. Its predecessor, the N20, served with honor in my old 328i and 528i. But fast, it ain’t.

Yet there’s more here. The suspension holds up its end of the bargain, and the steering at least doesn’t let you down because you’re in a 530i, not an M5.

Engine

BMW 530i
It’s very quiet unless you put it in sport, then it’s just harsh.

Let’s play a game. I have in front of me two sedans. Both are all-wheel drive. Both have turbocharged four-cylinder engines. There’s only about a 20 horsepower difference, and about a 150-lb difference between the two.

Clearly, one is our story car – did you guess the other is a 2023 Subaru WRX? Despite the close specs, they couldn’t be further apart in personality, as you’d expect, and it starts under the hood.

This B48, it never asks you to do anything. 258 lb-ft of torque is all reporting for duty by 1,400 RPM, and peak power comes on by 5,200. I wouldn’t say it’s hesitant to rev by any means, but you just don’t need to in order to move forward. The sounds that emanate are best described as a grunted hush (You can’t unhear it now). An N52 used to sit in a bay like this, but wow that was over ten years ago.

Perhaps this engine is a good reason to switch your ride over to an electric one – I doubt we’ll miss the mighty turbo four-cylinder once it’s gone.

Transmission

BMW 530i
Attached the ZF to a T-Rex or the space shuttle and it’ll still work great.

Ah but, the ZF that motor is attached to saves the day. Quick to respond to inputs, or simply step out of the way, it’s clear where the R&D money went to maintain that sport sedan feel.

Eight speeds is plenty. In sport mode the 530i is quick to snap to attention, bringing the engine to full boil. Turn it back to comfort, and you just waft down the road. Every 5 Series uses this transmission (beefed up else where), so perhaps this is something to point to when people try to define a modern M5: It’s simply the fastest 5 Series.

Chassis and steering

BMW 530i
Business as usual.

If I asked you to drive this BMW 530i blindfolded against, say, a Mercedes E-class or the like, I bet you could tell the difference after the first turn. There is something about the 5 – this car feels like the F10 did, both belaying their luxury intentions with genuine chassis capability.

That’s not to say this is a sports car, or even a sports sedan. At least, not in the way you might remember a 5 Series being. There is plenty of squat and dive. But it never embarrasses itself, and there’s the option of the adaptive suspension if you’d like a bit more sport. Opt for summer tires and you might just get a bit of that magic back.

BMW 530i
Never really fun, but never needy.

xDrive is here, providing traction for all those red light launches bound to happen. All-wheel drive cars tend to understeer more since we’re asking the front wheels to steer and put power down, but you’d never notice that trait unless you’ve decided to leave the country club in a hurry. An sDrive (rear-wheel drive) 530i is a true unicorn, especially in the northeast. But if you did find one, I might tell you to get that instead and add snow tires for winter. You’ll be better off.

As for the steering, I find it amazing that BMW has made every single car they produce feel the same. Perhaps the filtered-out response is a bit more appropriate here, but regardless, BMW needs to do better.

Brakes

BMW 530i
Braking is unremarkable. I suppose that’s a good thing.

I’m tempted to give the 5 Series a pass here – it’s a loaner car and who knows how hard it’s been driven. That said, even the M3 has a squishy brake pedal unless you put it in Sport mode. If you find an example with M Sport brakes, terrific. But I wouldn’t expect much to change as pedal feel and brakes size aren’t exactly related.

Now, would a 540i, with BMW’s amazing B58 six-cylinder be a better option? I suppose – it’s not that much more money. But a part of me wonders if it’s needed because of this car’s intended mission. At any rate, the G30 has been discontinued, so check the used market and see how much more the six-pot is. Otherwise, it’s grunted hush.

Utility Score: 9. Why do you need a 7 Series?

BMW 530i
Bigger inside than a 3 Series

The 5 and 7 Series have really become melded together over the past few generations (I’d rather have an F10 than an F01), and that trend continued for the G.

My F10 got my family through the toughest part of “newborn baby”, with all the strollers and diaper bags you could think of. The 530i is just as good, if not a bit better because of more leg room in the rear seat.

BMW 530i
It’s plenty big back here, but still not as useful as an SUV. I cringe at typing that.

A standard power tailgate, extremely comfortable front seats, room for five…it’s all you need. And praise be to the memory-equipped power-adjustable steering column. If you share a car with someone that is not you cloned in a lab, then you will be grateful for this feature that’s absent on lower-model BMWs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve injured the man bits getting into the X3 after my 5’3 wife has driven it…

Fuel Economy Score: 7. B48 hate

BMW 530i
You might be surprised to learn that the B58 is just 1 MPG worse.

You can look at this two ways. I drove my 328i and my 528i a combined 220,000 miles in about 5 years. I definitely saved a lot of money on fuel, and this 530 is better at saving said dino juice than any N20 ever was. 25 city, 33 highway, not bad for a car that’s this big.

But…

If the engine is a sort of soulless lump that makes unpleasant sounds, maybe a 530e, or an electric 5, isn’t such a bad idea. Especially if said electric 5 is about the same price. I drove a similar 330e and came away somewhat impressed.

And I’ll just sneak this in. A 540i gets just a single MPG less. Hmmm.

Features and comfort: 9. Appliance time

BMW 530i
Everything you need, depending on what you’re used to.

The 530i certainly has everything you need to go about your daily life. But perhaps its greatest feature is its ability to simply disappear. It’s quiet, unassuming, and in Skyscraper Grey Metallic, stealthy.

BMW’s couch mode

BMW 530i
Not as big as in BMW’s X cars, or as fancy as the lit window in the 7 Series.
BMW 530i
The screen was enlarged for the LCI.

It’s a 5, so even though it’s a base model, you still get a lot of good stuff such as heated seats, a big sunroof, power tailgate, a digital dash…you get it. Want for nothing. I’m no fan of the active cruise control or whatever other self-driving modes BMW offers, so I did not miss them.

BMW 530i
They might look dated, but they offer much easier access to changing temperature.

Slide right into a Vernasca leather-covered driver’s seat that is extremely comfortable for long drives, but might be lacking for high-G turns. Look around and find the pinnacle of old-school BMW interior mixed with digital new-ness. The LCI G30 BMW 530i saw a larger screen and fully digital dash like the rest of the lineup added, but still has that wonderful dial for lighting control instead of buttons.

Elsewhere, BMW did their usual yearly shuffling, and the 530i can’t be equipped with the Parking Package for 2023, oddly. What will grandma do now without all those cameras and beeps?

BMW 530i
I’m not a big Vernasca leather fan – it feels the same as SensaTec, BMW’s fake leather.
BMW 530i
The wood is also suspect – it’s a lot like the F10 in here, not always a good thing.

Also here are not one, but two dials for climate control with a readout that looks like BMW went shopping at RadioShack’s going -out-of-business sale. Whatever, I’d much rather this than fumbling through menus on the latest iDrive versions.

BMW 530i
Touches like this old-school dial are ok, but newer BMWs use buttons that take up less space.

Classic proportions

BMW 530i
Overall one of BMW’s better recent efforts.

To the editorial eye, this is the best-looking G-based BMW made. The LCI, with new headlights and taillights, only helped the car’s cause.

Missing here is everything – no M Sport Package, or Shadowline Trim with darker headlights. Skyscraper Grey is a beautifully subdued color, making the 5 blend in with normal traffic. It might look better with some sport kit, but if this were your daily, does it really matter? I see F10, E39, even a little E34 here, and if your eyes have been exposed to a G60, you know what a departure the new car will be.

BMW 530i
The basic 5 Series has no pretense of M outside.

The BMW 530i isn’t built to drive, but to live

BMW 530i

Your car bros would like you to believe that every time they hop into that M5, they’re driving a million miles an hour, destination: exotic. Babes at the finish line and all that. But sometimes you just need to go to Costco for toilet paper. I don’t see anyone geo-tagging their M car on social media in the Whole Foods parking lot. And even though M cars are civilized, even in comfort mode, they draw attention to themselves.

But this 5 is harmless. Park it up front – there’s nothing fancy on it. No need to worry. Don’t wash it this week. Don’t wash it this month. It won’t mind. Yet this isn’t a Toyota Avalon or Nissan Maxima – you’re still in a BMW, so there’s no slop in the responses or unrefined driving behavior. You never get in and go yuck.

Even better – the 5 Series is the poster child for depreciation, and as the new model comes out, there will be 530i and 540is available with low mileage just sitting on lots because “it’s not the new one”. At nearly $60,000, I’m not in a 530i. But at $39,000? Yea, now you’re talking.

If I needed a third car, I’d consider a used one of these. Surprised?

We all need toilet paper.

BMW 530i

2023 BMW 530i xDrive Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger sedan.

PRICE

Base: $56,995

POWERTRAIN

2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four cylinder
248 @ 5,200 rpm
258 @ 1,450 rpm
eight-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 117.1 in
Length: 195.8 in
Width: 73.5 in
Height: 58.2 in
Curb Weight: 3,878 lbs

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 26 / 23 / 32 MPG

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