New saloon from BMW raises the stakes again.
LOOKING at the map, there was little doubt it was going to be a long, hard journey. We had just been handed the key to a brand new BMW 5 Series executive saloon inside the neat arrival lounge at Pau Airport which sits at the very fringe of the Pyrenees, the mountain range which separates France from Spain.
In front of us was a 1,200-mile trip, driving the length of France, through Belgium and Holland to the ferry port of IJmuiden.
An overnight sailing would, hopefully, see us arrive suitably refreshed in Newcastle for the final leg north to Aberdeen via Dumfries, where I would drop off my travelling companion. The first stage of the journey was along a mixture of single-carriageway routes similar to our own A and B roads which would take us to just south of Bordeaux where we would join the French Autoroute system.
The relatively quiet D834 with its long tree-lined straights , was the ideal opportunity to get to know our BMW 535i SE, powered by its silky-smooth three-litre, 306bhp petrol engine.
Beautifully refined and extremely comfortable, we both quickly realised that far from being a long slog, we were going to thoroughly enjoy this trip up the backbone of France and on to dear old Blighty.
With some recently-introduced competition looking to make strong inroads in the premier executive sector, BMW have responded just as one would expect they would to keep their position or even to get ahead of the game.
The newcomer retains the elegant lines of its predecessor, as it does the German manufacturer's perfectlybalanced 50:50 weight distribution, while upgrades to the tried-andtested engine range offer more power coupled with lower emissions and better fuel consumption.
Inside the new 5 Series is a pretty remarkable place to be. Occupants are cosseted in sumptuous leather seats while the leather trim continues to the door panels and centre console box. Deep pile carpets and liberal use of brushed aluminium on the dash and round the dials also help add a luxurious feel and look to the cabin's interior. The leather rimmed sports steering wheel, which houses the controls for the sound system, cruise control and Bluetooth mobile phone connection, is yet another work of art and a joy to be behind.
On the hoof the luxury express simply ate up the miles, but offered little indication of just how fast it was really going. On some rougher surfaces there was a little bit of road noise, but that did not in any way spoil the driving pleasure.
BMW is looking to sell around 12,000 5 Series models in a full year, with more than two-thirds being snapped up by the fleet market.
Of these, 90% of buyers are expected to opt for one of the three turbo diesel versions, but with its straight six turbo-charged petrol unit under the bonnet, it would take something really special to better the 535i SE Saloon.
SMOOTH RIDE The BMW 535i SE is powered by a silky-smooth three-litre, 306bhp petrol engine