comfort

BMW 530d – A straight six

2016 BMW 530d M Sport

BMW’s straight six engine has many followers. This weekend they got another one.

 
I once read an article in the British CAR Magazine about which cars you must drive before you die. A sort of “bucket list” for car enthusiasts. I have no doubt when I put BMW’s 3-liter straight six on that list. I had a 530d at my disposal for an extra long weekend to visit my daughter in the UK. The man at the car rental company saw an opportunity for additional sales to a loyal customer. For a few extra pounds I was given the keys to the finest rental car at Stansted Airport.

BMW's designers know how to create the perfect driving position.

BMW’s designers know how to create the perfect driving position.

Look-and-feel3

A BMW 5 Series with navigation and automatic transmission was all I knew about the car as I went looking for it. “Not bad! A fat BMW M Sport with 18 inch wheels”, I thought when I saw the sharp lines on the bonnet and the aggressive front with large air intakes. It reminded me a little of classic British cars, like the Jaguar and the Bentley.

The electric-powered M sports seats were adjusted in all possible ways to make a perfect seating position. Someone had put the iDrive system in Spanish. I realise that such systems are not designed for people in their fifties. Neither my wife nor I was able to figure out how to change the language. I knew that the iDrive system requires a bit of adaption to operate, so I didn’t waste any more time on it.

-Spanish works fine when you are on a weekend trip. The destination on the navigation system was set to our hotel in Colchester, an hour’s drive eastwards across the countryside. I knew well where the hotel was, but appreciated to be guided on the way. To drive a car in Essex requires a constant focus on the speed limits, as there are many speed ​​cameras along the road.

Once I started up the straight six engine, I got that foolish grin on my face. A grin I was unable to wipe off. As a car enthusiast, my head turns around every time I hear a speeding BMW straight six engine, and now I was the one behind the wheel. It is a very creamy sound, indeed.

The BMW 5 Series (F10) has been in production since late 2010, and facelifted from 2014. There are plenty of them on the roads, and the M Sport styling is popular. Yet, this particular car gave me a better first impression than most 5-series I’ve seen before. Strange, because you cannot see on the front that it’s a six under the bonnet. It must have been the color, “Moonstone metallic”, a color that belongs to BMW’s Individual Color Palette. See for yourselves. My pictures were taken in the lights of a warm sunset. What do you think?

M Sport with its large air intakes and aggressive look.

M Sport with its large air intakes and aggressive look.

Driving5

Early in March, in the evergreen Essex countryside, the farmland along the highway was about to turn green with young sprouts. Parks and gardens were planted with yellow daffodils. The roads were dry, and along the narrow country roads between the villages we could see small creeks full of water. To us, this was a nice contrast to the vertical snow-slush we had on out way to the airport back home.

The straight six engine delivers 258 horsepower. The torque, which is 560 Nm at 1500 rpm, is more than enough, to speak. 70 mph on the highway felt very calm. 0-100 kilometers per hour (60 mph) takes only 5.8 seconds. From where my daughter lives, there is a small ramp to the main road where the fast traffic comes abruptly over the hilltop. A tiny snarl of the engine and we were in motion. No stress. Only the driver’s foolish grin.

That’s what I like with a straight six. The power is delivered without stress of any kind. No noise, no vibrations and no harshness. I enjoy how the wide 245 millimeter tires grab hold to the tarmac when accelerating through the bends up the hills on narrow country roads. The automatic transmission is a conventional 8 speed type that adapts to the environment and the driving patterns. It can be shifted manually step by step by tilting the lever to the left. I don’t think the 530d can be equipped with any other transmission.

Inside the city, where our hotel from the 1700 Century was located, the streets were so narrow that we had to put two wheels up on the pavement and maneuver with a clearance of just a few inches. I noticed on a few occasions that my eyes deceived me slightly – the car was actually wider than I thought. I think the M Sport styling with the sharp profiles on the bonnet contributed to it. Luckily I knew well where the wheels were, and the parking sensors told the when obstacles came too close.

Both iDrive and the gear lever required some adaptation.

Both iDrive and the gear lever required some adaptation.

Comfort4

It is somewhat meaningless to describe the comfort of a car that is so well designed for the driver and passengers’ wellbeing. The comfy seats, the wonderful sound, and everything you see and touch, are first class. A good question here is wether the comfort killed the car’s sporty handling.

I had the dynamic damper control on “Comfort” the whole time. It suited us well wherever we drove, mainly on highways and narrow british countryside roads along hedges and stone fences, on partly worn asphalt with quite a few pot holes. None of the roads we drove on, were suited to push the limits of the car’s sporting characteristics. I’d had to take it on a closed track in order to put sportiness to the test.

With a total length of 490 cm (193") it feels like a spacious car.

With a total length of 490 cm (193″) it feels like a spacious car.

Space5

In the Nordic countries, a 530d would most likely be a Touring (stationwagon) with xDrive (4wd) ready to climb the roads up to some mountain cabin. Me, I like the fullsize sedans, and I’ve had the pleasure of owning several fine sedans over the years. I think the 530d sedan looks more elegant than the stationwagon, and much more like a classic British car, like the Jaguar. Anyway, I expect to have plenty of legroom in a sedan of 490 cm (193″), which we of course had.

Brakes can be decorative, as here.

Brakes can be decorative, as here.

Safety4

The European NCAP test of the 5 Series stretches all the way back to 2010 when the model was introduced. The results were actually pretty good, – the 5 Series ended in 3rd place that year. Still today, those results are slighly better than german competitors, like the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-class, which was tested the year after.

The BMW’s good handling and the vehicles body size contribute of course also to the good active safety, – the kind of safety that prevents accidents from happen – and not least, the feeling of being inside a safe car.

Renting a fat BMW is a great way to reward yourself.

Renting a fat BMW is a great way to reward yourself.

Economy5

The start price of 530d is NOK 653,900. Our British model with the M Sport package and navigation would reach 756,800 before we had looked further on the equipment list. Cars in this class normally have extra equipment in the price range of NOK 100,000.

There aren’t any economic arguments behind the choice of a BMW with the straight 6 cylinder engine. The 4 cylinder 520d with 190 HP is NOK 150,000 cheaper, and still quite a decent car. The price difference is a result of Nordic import taxes. I am amazed of the official consumption figures. 0.46 liters per 10 kilometers on highway driving, and 0.60 on urban driving are no less than impressive. Since I didn’t know exactly how full the tank was when I got the car, I cannot give any exact consumption figures, but my diesel consumption was approximately – and probably no less than 0.70 liters per 10 kilometers. That’s not bad either.

The car had stop & start technology. I experienced that the system worked better in the BMW than in cars from Audi / VW. In the BMW, the car did not start until you released the brake completely, whereas the Audi / VW starts when the momentum on the brake changes slightly, which actually makes the car start and stop several times during the same halt. I noticed that the stop & start system did not turn itself off in steep uphills, – but I never considered that as a problem.

BMW straight six is ​​all about passion – Not sensible arguments.

positive1
⦁ Fantastic powertrain
⦁ Very good sports seats and seating position
⦁ High active safety.

negative1
⦁ High local taxes (Norway)

The M Sport styling makes the front very aggressive.

The M Sport styling makes the front very aggressive.

Instruments at daylight.

Instruments at daylight.

I am delighted that BMW still keepshass not gone away from the red instrument lighting which Audi unfortunately did

I am delighted that BMW still keeps the red instrument lighting which Audi unfortunately has left behind.

The George Hotel, Colchester.

The George Hotel, Colchester.

Colchester is the oldest town in the UK.

Colchester is the oldest town in the UK.

Daffodils in Castle Park, Colch.

Daffodils in Castle Park, Colchester.

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Volvo V60 D2

2015 Volvo V60 D2 Kinetic

I cannot say that the V60 is a premium car, – nor a roomy stationwagon. Nevertheless, it has some good Volvo qualities.

A weekend with a Volvo stationwagon is no bad weekend. I must admit that for a man who grew up with great Volvos like the PV and the Amazon, it feels a bit special to drive a Volvo. Though the V60 is anything but a retro design. It is a modern car that challenges the Audi A4 and BMW’s 3 Series.

Instruments are all digital like a computer screen.

Instruments are all digital like a computer screen.

Look-and-feel3
I lifted the seat a little, adjusted the angle of the seat cushion and raised the backrest a bit. The lumbar support was perfect. I expected nothing else than a perfect seating position. After all, this is a Nordic car built in the Torslanda plant in Gothenburg, Sweden, for tall and blonde guys like me.

Before I put the key into the ignition slot, I got the feeling of a slightly outdated cockpit. Somewhat small and deeply located instruments, and a center console with too many buttons? I think all that belongs to the past. It is more than 10 years since Volvo was awarded a prize for its special center console design. When I turned the ignition on, however, I discovered that the instruments were a digital screen – all digital like a computer. That raised my impression considerably.

Compared to its competitors, I would not describe the interior as premium class, – at least not in the basic version I drove, with fabric seats. Yet, there was something honest, solid and robust over it – in a typical Volvo manner.

The exterior design is also very Volvo. The V60 has continued the style of the V50, and got a front quite similar to the V70. I like the facelift made in 2014. I also like the rounded rear end. The designers have obviously put more emphasis on style than space.

When it comes to the overall impression, I’m left with mixed feelings. On standard 16″ wheels it looks a bit dull, and when parked along with other typical family cars, it looks kind of small. Yet, I cannot deny that I get a good feeling knowing that it’s a Volvo.

The V60 got a facelifted front in 2014.

The V60 got a facelifted front in 2014.

Driving5
A 1.6 liter turbodiesel with 114 horsepower and a torque of 270 Nm doesn’t sound much. But believe me, the high torque makes the small engine feel more powerful on the road than on the paper.

After a few kilometers, the Citroen C4 came on my mind – a car I have spent much time in, lately. The engine in my V60 is a result of a joint venture between the PSA Group (Peugeot and Citroen), Ford and BMW. It’s a legacy of the days when Ford used to own Volvo. For Volvo’s 2016 models, the D2 engine is now replaced with a new engine developed by Volvo. It has 120 horses, but on paper quite similar characteristics as the outgoing engine.

Volvo has chosen a six-speed manual transmission that is perfect for Nordic speed limits. You’ll have to use the shift lever a little to get the best out of the engine, but it pulls nicely in 6th gear from 80 km/h (50 mph) and up.

I noticed that the V60 felt more like a compact car than a fullsize car. Furthermore, I also noticed that the height difference between the throttle and brake felt somewhat higher than what I’m used to.

The center console, once praised, today outdated.

The center console, once praised, today outdated.

Comfort4

At once, I was not impressed by the comfort in V60. I knew that the seats are the car’s biggest asset. Well, it turned out that I could sit effortlessly behind the wheel for several hours without feeling any discomfort at all – something I would characterize as a kind of discrete comfort. The comfort is there alright, but you don’t think about it.

The sound inside the cabin was influenced by quite charmless engine noise. It got better from 80 and upwards with the sixth gear engaged. The suspension is a bit firm but far from uncomfortable. I think it must have been the suspension that made me feel that the V60 drove pretty much like a compact car.

Terrain-bikes fit in here, barely.

Terrain-bikes fit in here, barely.

Space5

I usually don’t focus much on on luggage space in the cars I come across, but I cannot write about a station wagon without touching this subject. The V60’s body style reveals that there is not too much luggage space. It is particularly the opening that might cause a problem when trying to load large items. I barely got room for my terrain bike with back seats folded down. The biggest problem was the width of the back door. It was actually easier to fit the bike in a Golf wagon/SportWagen.

The trunk is however easy to operate for more manageable objects. It’s easy to fold down the back seats to a complete flat floor. It is easy to secure the load from sliding forward, in typical Volvo fashion. I also liked that the window pillars were covered with washable hard plastic on the inside – and not fabrics. Then it looked fine inside, even after I had transported my terrain bike home after having used it in the mud.

Neat Nordic design on door trims.

Neat Nordic design on door trims.

Safety4

According to NCAP, the V60 is on the same level as the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series, – all placed in the top league when it comes to safety. You can order your new V60 with Lane Departure Warning and Blind Spot Alerts, but not Adaptive Cruise Control.

Economy5

Stylish rear lights.

Stylish rear lights.

With a starting price of NOK 360,800, the V60 is placed exactly in the same price range as its premium class competitors. Secondhand values are extremely good, even for models before the 2014 face lift. To ensure a good resale value, I would order my V60 with slightly larger wheels. I also recommend the extra equipment that were installed on my test car, like Parking Sensors, Towing Hitch, All-Digital Instruments and Automatic Lights.

The PSA turbodiesel engines have been around for a couple of years now, and they are well known for low consumption and durability. They can easily do 300,000 kilometers (187,500 miles) without major problems, not only in Volvos, but also in cars from Peugeot, Citroen and Ford.

I think Volvo’s D2-engine is the best choice in terms of economy.

The V60 is honest, simple and robust, – everything that we associate with Volvos.

positive1
• Ergonomic seats.
• Interior can stand heavy-duty use

negative1
• Small luggage to be a stationwagon

Room for bits and pieces

2015 Skoda Rapid Space Back 1.6 TDI / 105

It looks like a Golf, but runs like a Fabia. The luggage compartment is nearly as big as a station wagon. Could it be the ultimate family compact?

Sportsback-1
Look-and-feel3
The Spaceback looks good. It shares identity with “family members” like the new Golf, the Audi A3 Sportback and the facelifted Seat Leon. Alloy wheels and fog lights look nice. But a beautiful appearance cannot hide the dull interior of the basic equipment line. Plenty of plastic – cheap plastic. The only positive feeling you get when you enter the car, is a feeling of space. Plenty of space. This is a typical car for everyday transportation of kids, football-players and muddy dogs.

Driving3
As I take the car on the road, I understand at once that this is neither a Golf, A3, nor Leon. This car drives like a Fabia. A large Fabia. I checked on the Internet to find out that the Skoda Rapid is built on the front suspension of the Fabia, and has borrowed the Roomster’s rear axle. It’s not a bad car to drive, but does not live up to the Golf we tested a few weeks ago.

We used the Rapid in connection with a relocation process, moving bits and pieces from an apartment to a small village house in the south of France, – close to the Spanish border. We drove a lot, both empty and loaded with furniture and household items. The Rapid has plenty of room. I felt it was more like a small “van” than a driving machine. Extra weight affects the performance in the same manner as it would in the smaller Fabia.

One thing I really hated, was the location of the clutch pedal. It was located too far to the right. I got the feeling of sitting diagonally when I used the clutch. The pedal rubber was heavily worn on one side, despite the fact that the car was quite new. A sign that other drivers must have felt the same.

The well-known TDI engine of 105 horsepower worked well. The 5-step manual transmission distributed the power as it should, and I did not feel any necessity for more gears.

Comfort3
I never managed to adjust the driver’s seat correctly. The height adjustment lever affects the rear end of the seat cushion, only. In order to get some lateral support, I had to jack the seat all the way down. But then I felt I sat too low (I’m 1.88 tall). Therefore, I had to seek a compromise. Apparently, Skoda has chosen to use standard Fabia seats, which do not fit this vehicle very well. If the seats had been placed a few centimeters higher, they would fit me much better.

Another weakness of comfort is the relatively high noise level, especially from the TDI engine at slow speed. Since the engine worked well at low revs, it did not feel annoying. At motorway speed the noise did not seem that intrusive.

I liked the leather steering wheel, the front armrest and the manual air conditioning worked fine, too.

Space5
The Spaceback has 415 liters of luggage capacity. With the back seats folded down, it is possible to carry 1370 liters. The Golf’s luggage capacities are respectively 380 and 1270 liters. In the Spaceback the trunk seems considerably larger and deeper than the Golf. Even inside does the Spaceback feel more spacious than the Golf, but I think that can be explained by the fact that the Skoda is equipped with rather small and low seats.

If I was a salesman at Skoda, I would use “space” as the number one selling point.

Safety4
Skoda Rapid is one of the latest models from Skoda. Basically, it has almost the exact same level of security as Octavia – according to NCAP. But you cannot order it with the latest and most advanced safety equipment like BLIS (Blind Spot Info System) alerts, drowsiness detection system, lane change alerts and adaptive cruise control. Besides, do not expect the active safety to be at the same level as Golf. Braking distances, for example, are considerably higher in the Spaceback.

Economy5
The TDI engine with 105 horses is one of the market’s best engines when it comes to fuel consumption and economy. It is easy to find an economical driving style. A low price tag and an expected good resale value also contribute to a positive and healthy economy.

It seems that Rapid is designed to fill the demand for cheap cars in Eastern Europe and countries in the Near East. Its main contestants are other typical cheap cars, such as Dacia and the Korean brands. In countries where there are high import taxes on cars, the price advantage gets less significant, and you might as well buy an Octavia or a Golf.

The Rapid is not the ultimate family compact, but it did a respectful job as a removal van.

positive1
• Luggage capacity.
• Low fuel consumption.

negative1
• Hard to find comfortable seating position.
• The clutch pedal is too far to the right.
• Noise from the engine

sportsback-3

The Spaceback

sportsback-5

Plenty of room

sportsback-7

This is the area we tested the Skoda

No Turbo? No Fun!

2014 Opel Astra 1.6 / 115 Active

It has been a while since I drove a new car in this class without turbo. A noisy engine that has to be revved hard, modest performance and heavy on the fuel, – brings me back to the nineties.

I have taken the Astra for a test trip to La Cite in Carcassonne, France. A place kept intact from European Middle Age. No Wonder it is on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Look-and-Feel3
Astra looks good in white – Summit White. 17” alloy wheels with 10 double spokes. Leather steering wheel and fog lights are the only extras. The Astra looks and feels like a true German car, both from the outside and behind the wheel. It feels safe and solid. But nothing inside makes me think of a premium car. I really dislike the two gloomy orange displays. They are cheap. No armrest between the front seats, and the contourless seats doesn’t leave any good impressions, either. I also hate the jumble of buttons on the dashboard middle console.

Driving3
The engine does feel a bit outdated when you drive it, but on paper it looks okay. The ECOTEC engine provides 115 horsepower and features VVT Technology (Variable Valve Openings). This is the entry-level motorisation. I strongly recommend to choose the new turbocharged 1.4-liter petrol engines at either 120 or 140 hp instead.

The problem with the test car’s engine is that it doesn’t have any punch unless you drive it hard, – or at least get the feeling that you are pushing it to the limit. The engine is noisy, and a lot of that noise enters into the cabin. I shift up to the fifth gear already at 60 km/h (40 mph) because of the noise. When I get to 80 (50) I get an urge to shift up, – but I can’t because there are no more gears.

With this engine you get the best torque around 4000 rpm. By that time the noise is real intrusive. But reality is still not so bad. At 3000 rpm in top gear, the speedometer shows respectfully 109 km/h (68 mph). On the motorway, in about 120 km/h (75 mph) and above, I get a better impression, however. The car feels very safe at motorway speeds – and it gives actually some driving pleasure. I think the Germans never would make a car that didn’t feel right on the Autobahn.

Aside from the engine, the car is good to drive. Suspension, steering and brakes are as I expect in a German car: Safe and responsive, – but not as responsive as the best in the class.

Comfort3
The seats in the test car are not as good as Opel’s sport seats, but not bad. They are one step up from the entry-level seats, because they seem to have some extra padding, and they seem very durable. The air conditioning with dual zone function worked fine.

Space5
The Astra has quite a long wheelbase for its class. That is the reason why the cabin feels spacious, and offers plenty of legroom. The trunk however is average for the class. It has a double floor that can be folded in, or possibly taken out completely.

Safety5
The A-pillars look quite dominant, but they do not reduce visibility. At least not for me. I think they might feel dominant for drivers who like a low seat position. Astra’s A-pillars give me a good feeling of sitting in a steel cage.

All relevant safety equipment are in place. For more active safety, it is possible to order adaptive lights and adaptive cruise Control as extra features.

Economy3
Basically, Astra is quite economical to own. Expect lower resale value than bestsellers like Volkswagen and Toyota. The fuel consumption on this car was pretty high compared to the 140 hp turbocharged engine tested previously. You can roughly calculate 50% higher consumption.

positive1
• Plenty of legroom
• Feels safe on the motorway

negative1
• Engine is noisy and not very powerful
• High fuel consumption
• Bad taste information displays
• Too many buttons on the dashboard’s center console

A wider smile

2013 Opel Astra 1.4 / 140 Turbo Excellence 5 door

2013-astra-140-700

The new Opel Astra is distinguished by the chrome portion of the grille. It now has a wider smile. And the Astra truly offers a smile. I like German cars. They feel safe and a bit heavy. So also the New Astra.

Look-and-Feel3
The last facelift added a little touch of elegance to the model. But although the Astra is quite modern and stylish, it really lacks character, compared to competitors like the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf. Still, I can’t put my finger on anything specific.

Getting into the car, behind the wheel, gives me the kind of impression I expect in a German car. Sport seats in partial leather and fabrics. Leather steering wheel that gives a good grip.

As soon as I turn on the ignition, the nice quality impression was gone. Two small, horrible information displays on the dashboard. Red letters on an gloomy orange background is neither informative nor elegant. I am sure it is possible to tone down the brightness of the displays, but I would definitely have chosen an upgraded infotainment system.

I don’t like the many small buttons on the dashboard center panel, either. It looks stylish with many small buttons, especially in the dark – but the function level in new cars today requires better user interface. It should be possible to operate the radio and climate control without having to stop the car.

Driving5
The chassis is a little sporty and works very well on the motorway. Steering and suspension feel safe and responsive, – but not as responsive as the best in the class. Still, it feels alright both in the city and on the motorway.

The new 1.4-liter gasoline turbo engine of 140 horsepower contributes to an absolutely nice driving pleasure. My test car was brand new, and I felt that it was a little hesitant when I tried to drive it sporty. I had to check to make sure I really had the 140 PS engine. Anyway, It is not a very zippy engine, but still feels powerful. Modern turbo-feeder gasoline engines have the same characteristics as turbo diesel engines – the same strong low-end torque and the same low frequent sound.

Comfort5
I sat quite firmly in the sport seats. At first, I felt them squeeze my butt and back a little, but this is typical for such seats. After two hours in the same seat, I felt good.

Although the suspension is a little sporty, it felt comfortable on the motorway. The sound level on the motorway is comfortable, as well.

The test car had the equipment level “Excellence” (equivalent to “Cosmo”) which includes comfort features like automatic lights, rain sensor, automatic dual-zone climate control, trip computer and more.

Space5
I am 1.88 meter (6’2”) and had plenty of room in the back behind a driver like myself. Three adults will be okay in the back seat for a while. Inside, it feels nearly as spacious as a car in the Mondeo class. The luggage compartment is quite normal for the class. It has a double floor where the cover can be folded in, or removed. Anyway, the trunk is too small for being a full family car, but the wagon will work fine as a family car.

Safety5
Opel Astra has all relevant safety equipment in place, and the car feels very safe. I have heard that some drivers feel that the A-pillars block their sight a little, but I don’t feel the same. To me, they give a feeling of sitting in a steel cage. The new Astra is available with intelligent, adapting front lights. You can also order adaptive cruise control. This was not installed on my test car.

Economy5
This car offers great fuel economy compared to the car’s size and motorization. Astra 1.4 140hp comes with a nice price tag, as well. I am a little uncertain about the resale value. Opel’s popularity has faded – and is still fading. Used Opels are not sought after.

positive1
• Powerful Engine
• Cabin Space

negative1
• Gloomy and ugly displays in the dashboard
• Too many buttons on the dashboard’s console

2013-astra-700-3

 
opel-astra-1.4-140-2