BMW 1-Series Hatchback

Price range

$35,600 – $64,900

Overall

Good: Fantastic driving position; excellent drivetrains – BMW EfficientDynamics is no mere marketing catchphrase; class leading handling; brilliant chassis.

Not so Good: Unusual exterior styling; tight rear leg room; firm ride; limited standard features on entry level grades.

Design and Engineering

Good : The second generation BMW 1-Series Hatch was, and still is the only model with rear wheel drive in the prestige small segment.

All grades feature EfficientDynamics which is a range of technologies to simultaneously reduce fuel consumption whilst maintaining or even increasing performance. The bold styling is pure BMW, it’s unlikely your neighbours will mistake the 1-Series for a run-of-the-mill Japanese/Korean small car.

Not so good : The 1-Series is no natural beauty – however it’s a design that can grow on you over time. To our subjective eyes the muscular stance, long bonnet and upright windscreen works much better on the 1-Series Coupe with its small booted rear end, rather than the chunky but undeniably more practical hatch bodystyle.

Interior and Styling

Good : The 1-Series provides a truly excellent driving position. The sports steering wheel feels just right and of course adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out); the standard seats are quite comfortable, offering decent support and, importantly height adjustment; the layout of all the controls and instruments is hard to fault – most major functions are accessed through an easy to use menu button with the more driving specific options displayed between the usual BMW dials in a smaller display in the cowled driver’s binnacle. The use of materials is impressive as is the overall fit and finish.

Access to the rear bench is made easy by wide opening doors and the cargo capacity can be increased from 330 litres to over 1,100 litres by folding down the 60/40 split bench.

Not so good : A price to pay for the segment unique rear wheel drive layout is less than class leading interior space. Whilst we have no complaints up front, the back seat is a little cramped, with not enough head and legroom for anyone over 6-feet tall. As a result it can’t match the interior flexibility of a Mercedes B-Class or even the Volkswagen Golf. A better buy for couples than families?

Performance

Good : There customers can choose from both petrol and diesel engines across five different variants.

To kick things off the 116i features a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 100kW of power and 220Nm of torque.

Next up is the 118i which also features a 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo charged petrol engine, but this time amps things up with 125kW of power and 250Nm of torque.

The 125i features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo charged petrol engine that manages 160kW of power and 310Nm of torque.

Fastest of the bunch, the M135i features a 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that pumps out 235kW of power and a massive 450Nm of torque.

And, rounding out the 1-Series lineup is the 118d featuring a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 105kW of power and 320Nm of torque.

The entire lineup comes with a 6-speed manual transmission as standard and there is also the optional eight-speed automatic transmission with Automatic Start/Stop function.

We had a drive of the 116i and had a blast. 100kW doesn’t sound like much for a turbocharged engine, but it sure had plenty of get-up-and-go. Unlike most turbo engine that suffer from ‘turbo lag’, the 116i delivers power in a linear and smooth fashion.

Not so good : Can’t really fault engine performance, BMW offer up a wide range of engines to best suit your needs. Our only gripe is with the Start/Stop function found on the automatic models feels a little intrusive – luckily it can be switched off.

Ride and Handling

Good : If you truly enjoy driving and occasionally (or regularly) wish your hatch could also double up as a sports car, then this could well be the car for you. Steering feel – tick yes to that box as the 1-Series steering feels beautifully connected to the road and remains pin-point sharp – perfect for driving across a favourite back-road.

Handling ticks another box as quite frankly it’s that much better than most of the competition, it’s not even funny. Across all grades body roll is kept to a minimum, grip levels are high and vehicle balance is reassuringly high.

Yep, the interior flexibility disadvantages caused by a rear wheel drive layout becomes less of an issue behind the wheel. The 1-Series chassis is brilliant!

Not so good : Over rougher surfaces the overly firm ride can become a touch irritating – especially if you opt for the sports suspension and larger sized wheels.

Buying and Owning

Good : The 1-Series achieves that rare balance between performance and economy – so in this case the saying ‘you can’t have your cake and and eat it too’ is not true. The rear wheel drive platform and the turbo charged line-up is so much fun.

Not so good : If you’re looking for a hatch that is versatile enough to carry adults in the back you might be hard pressed. Otherwise a great car.

BMW 1 Series Coupe

Price range

$43,400 – $99,900

Overall

Good: Sporty design; on-road handling performance; twin turbo diesel engine.

Not so Good: Bland interior; rear leg & headroom; iPhone connectivity.

Design and Engineering

Good : The BMW 1 Series Coupé hit our shores in May 2008 and received a mid-life facelift in August 2011 that saw the Coupe gain a number of exterior, interior and technology enhancements.

With the facelift also came the addition of a new entry-level variant; the BMW 120i Coupé.

The mid-life update brought with it a number of changes that included refreshed headlights with the option of Bi-Xenon lights, LED tail lights, new front bumper design, redesigned front vertical air intakes and a new rear bumper design.

BMW also introduced two new metallic paint finishes (Marrakesh Brown and Vermilion Red), two new interior upholstery colours (Oyster and Savannah) and a new Alpine White interior trim highlight.

The range also gained three new alloy wheel designs, including a set of 17-inch ‘Streamline’ alloy wheels fitted as standard to the 123d and 125i.

Not so good : Some people might find the design of the BMW 1 Series Coupé a little subdued in its standard guise. The M Sport Package is definitely worth considering on the lower variants, however, it still doesn’t give the car the same aggressive flared wheel arches that are found on the BMW 1 Series M Coupé.

Interior and Styling

Good : Slipping inside the BMW 1 Series Coupé you are presented with a chunky but well sized steering wheel that adjusts for both rake (up and down) and reach (in and out); it also adorns the brands badge.

Dark tones are the main theme of the 1 Series interior, with silver and white highlights spread throughout the dash and door trim. Dash plastics are soft touch, the silver highlights are metallic look and the Arctic White strip that divides the dash is hard plastic.

All control buttons and knobs are minimalistic and serve a purpose, the cockpit is very much focused on the driver with displays and window controls all angled towards the driver.

The seats are on the firm side but offer up great levels of support, they feature electronic adjustable side bolstering for an extra sung fit for spirited driving.

Not so good : The BMW 1 Series Coupé looks like a fun car and is fun to drive, however the same can’t be said about the interior. Inside portrays a more smart and sophisticated feel that doesn’t seem to match the cars character.

BMW have tried to inject some youthfulness into the interior by adding a white highlight strip; this could have been more fun if it was colour matched to the body of the car or offer up a list of colour options for customers to personalise their car.

We also found the 1 Series interior a little tight, it does have seats in the back but they serve very little purpose as it is next to impossible to seat two adults in comfort.

Performance

Good : The BMW 1 Series Coupé range is powered by three petrol engines and one diesel engine.

The entry level BMW 120i Coupé is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder in-line petrol engine delivering 115kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

Powering the BMW 125i Coupé is a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line petrol engine producing 160kW of power and 270Nm of torque.

Next up is the BMW 123d powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder in-line TwinPower Turbo diesel engine producing 150kW and a whopping 400Nm of torque.

The BMW 135i Coupé is powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line TwinPower Turbo petrol engine producing 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque.

And last but not least the top-of-the-range BMW 1 Series M Coupé shares the same 3.0-litre six-cylinder in-line TwinPower Turbo petrol engine as its 135i sibling; however, BMW engineers have squeezed an extra 25kW power and 100Nm of torque out of the engine for a total of 250kW of power and 500Nm of torque.

All models come with a six-speed manual transmission as standard. The 120i, 125i, and 123d are optionally upgradable to a six-speed automatic transmission, while the 135i is available with the optional seven-speed Double Clutch Transmission.

Our time was spent in the BMW 123d six-speed automatic and I must say we didn’t want to give it back. The diesel power plant had next to no turbo lag thanks to BMW’s TwinPower Turbo setup and delivered its 400Nm of torque in a liner fashion.

Not so good: For the average driver the 123d has more than enough oomph to get you from A-B, however planting the right foot too much can see the backend drift out even with ESC engaged; fun for some and others not so much.

Ride and Handling

Good : As far as handling and cornering performance the BMW 1 Series Coupé is one of the top performers. Featuring a 50:50 weight distribution front to back, the 1 Series is dynamic and agile especially when pushed through some twisted country side roads.

The electronic steering feels well weighted and direct, offering plenty of feedback to the driver so that you know what the car is doing.

The ABS anti-lock brakes are very solid and responsive, and work well with the DSC Dynamic Sta-bility Control.

Not so good : It’s really hard to criticize the ride and handling of the BMW 1 Series Coupé because it does it so well. If we were to nitpick we’d say that the ride is a little on the firm side, however, it is a two door coupé so you can expect that from a car of this type.

Buying and Owning

Good : The major draw card for the BMW 1 Series Coupé is the rear-wheel-drive drivetrain and the powerful yet frugal 2.0-litre diesel engine.

If you look to the other end of the scale, you could also say that the BMW 1 Series M Coupé is awesome value for money in relation to its bigger brother the BMW M3.

You’ll be hard pressed trying to find a competitor that can offer this much fun and performance.

Not so good : The BMW 1 Series Coupe is a little thin on the standard equipment list. The options list is fairly extensive but you do pay a premium.

BMW 3-Series Sedan

Price range

$56,400 – $91,400

Overall

Good: Sports Sedan king on the handling front; Stunning modern looks; Smooth linear power delivered across a number of power trains.

Not so Good: Fairly firm ride in the 335i, especially over rougher surfaces with the bigger rims and lower profile tyres; We think the 320d’s interior is quite ugly; Interior could offer more storage options.

Design and Engineering

Good : The new BMW 3-series arrived on our shores in February 2012, featuring a bolder design, with a wide and more aggressive stance that includes a slimmed down BMW trademark kidney grille and sleeker headlights.

The sixth generation 3 Series has also grown in size compared to its predecessor, with its increased track (front + 37 mm, rear + 47 mm), length (+ 93 mm) and wheelbase (+ 50 mm) all growing in size.

Not so good : Some people might not be a fan of the grown proportions of the 3-Series. We think its aggressive while still having a touch of elegance.

Interior and Styling

Good : Interior feels well built and the finishing materials are of a high quality. Most drivers will be able to get comfortable; the small-diameter steering wheel feels solid with tilt & reach adjustment.

The comfortable and supportive seats (the sports seats offer plenty of side support) and good outwards visibility are all pluses. The rear seat space is adequate for adults and the boot space is good (it helps when there is no spare – as run flat tyres are standard).

Not so good : Interior is lacking in storage compartments. Although the new 3-Series has grown in size, the rear seat bench is more suited to 2, rather than 3 adults due to the design of the outer seat cushions. We found the hard textured brown wood highlights found in the 320d quite ugly to touch and look at.

Performance

Good : The sixth generation BMW 3-Series features a new engine line-up with three petrol engines and two diesel engines.

Starting with the diesel options the 318d features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that produces 105kW of power and 320Nm of torque when mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission fitted as standard.

Next up, the 320d features an up-tuned 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that produces 135kW of power and 380Nm of torque when mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission fitted as standard.

Kicking things off for the petrol line-up is the 320i featuring a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol that produces 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque 8-speed automatic transmission.

The 328i comes with an up-tuned 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol that produces 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque when mated to a 8-speed automatic.

Sitting at the top-of-the range is the 335i featuring a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol engine that produces 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque when mated to a 8-speed automatic transmission.

Not so good : The base model 320i has the chassis for it, but you must work the engine hard to call this a Sports Sedan.

Also, the 318d doesn’t feel quite as refined as other diesel options that BMW has to offer.

Ride and Handling

Good : Handling has always been the 3 Series’ strength and the sixth generation is no exception. It is still the most sports-handling orientated vehicle in its class; excellent body control across the range; the 3-Series is fantastically agile for a Medium vehicle.

Not so good : At low speeds the steering in the 3-Series can feel overly heavy; however as speeds rise it lightens up and offers better feedback. Run-flat tyres come standard (on most variants), and the stiffer side walls means the 3-Series ride is a little on the firm side, most noticeably over rougher surfaces.

Buying and Owning

Good : For the amount of performance on offer the 320d & 320i have outstanding fuel economy. The BMW badge is still worthy of its high quality stature.

Not so good : Run flat tyres are still noticeably louder than conventional rubber over broken up bitumen. Like its German competitors, the 3-Series option lists are very long and it’s all too easy for the list price to escalate sharply if care isn’t taken when ticking all the boxes!

BMW 5-Series Sedan

Price range

$77,900 – $179,900

Overall

Good: Elegant styling; Generous cabin space; Build quality; Excellent drivetrains; Class leading dynamics.

Not so Good: Ride over poor surfaces; Lack of interior storage cubbies; Expensive option pricing. Lack of standard features.

Design and Engineering

Good : The sixth generation BMW 5-Series, codename F10, arrived in Australia in June 2010. Compared to the previous shaped E60 gen 5-Series which featured a rather extravagant design, this one is less controversially styled and in our eyes the far better looking of the two. So a return to classic BMW good looks and of course the 5-Series still features the brands signature kidney grille and Hofmeister C-pillar kick design traits. We like the slightly muscular bulge above the rear wheels and the way the rear lights glow at night (trust us, they look really cool).

The new 5-Series has a wheelbase 80mm longer than previously (at 2.97m it’s longer than all its competitors) yet the overall length has only increased by 58mm thanks to shorter overhangs.

The lightweight body, a mix of high-tensile steel and aluminium (for the doors, front wings and bonnet) shares its platform with the more expensive 7-Series. Other highlights include the all-aluminium double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension and the option of four-wheel steering, adjustable dampers and active anti-roll bars.

Not so good : Not everyone will be excited by the overall conservative styling or that much of the new technology is offered as cost options.

Interior and Styling

Good : Thanks to the stretched wheelbase and a slightly wider body the 5-Series is more spacious than ever before. The interior is a very classy affair, much improved over the previous model in terms of design, use of materials and even fit and finish.

The driving position is typical BMW excellence with the optional sports seats offering superb comfort and good levels of support. The centre console is slightly angled towards the driver (just how we like it), the iDrive control system – improved over the previous generation, is matched to a wide seven inch display screen and the head-up display system, which displays speed and directions from the satellite navigation, is now projected onto the windscreen.

Not surprisingly, thanks to the longer wheelbase, second row cabin space has improved thanks to the additional leg room on offer. Rear shoulder room has also improved. The boot is impressively long, a ski-port and folding seats further adds to load functionality if required.

Not so good : The cabin is short of compartments for storage odds and ends (but maybe not surprising considering this isn’t a Multi Purpose People Mover or SUV segment vehicle). Whilst the outer two rear seats are most definitely comfortable, the centre rear seat is less so. The boot is generously sized at 520 litres (and also lovely finished) however the opening is narrower than we expected.

Performance

Good : The 5-Series range is powered by six engines in total (not including M5). There is four petrol engines and two diesel engines on offer.

First up the 520i is powered by a 2.0-litre in-line four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Meanwhile, the 528i features the same 2.0-litre in-line four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as found in the 520i but this time around power and torque has been increased. The 2.0-litre manages 180kW of power and a massive 350Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The 535i features a 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 225kW and 400Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Last of the petrol engines is the big daddy 550i featuring a 4.4-litre V8 twin turbo engine that produces 300kW of power and a jaw dropping 600Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed sport automatic transmission.

Now, moving right along the 520d features a 2.0-litre in-line four cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that produces 135kW of power and 380Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Last but not least the 535d features a 3.0-litre in-line six cylinder turbo diesel engine that produces 230kW of power and 630Nm of torque when matched to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The 535i’s engine offers very impressive power delivery – amazingly turbo lag is virtually nonexistent! It’s a ripper of an engine, the 225kW of power arrives in a positively linear fashion and the big 400Nm of torque is available from a remarkably low 1200 revs. It’s a real Jekyl and Hyde power plant, staying quiet and polite when required or guttural and character-full when pushed.

Fuel economy across the range is mighty impressive ranging from 5.2-litres per 100kms for the 520d to 10.4-litres per 100kms for the 550i (both official combined figures).

Not so good : We found the 520i with its 2.0-litre in-line four cylinder turbocharged petrol engine a little underwhelming, when you put your foot down there is a noticeable pause before there is any sign of motion. Although fuel consumption is rather impressive at 6.7-litres per 100kms.

Ride and Handling

Good : The 5-Series is a superb driver’s car. The chassis is excellent and the optional variable dampers and active anti-roll bars offer the combination of a comfortable ride in urban traffic and ‘oh my god this is good’ handling capabilities on fast flowing country roads. The harder you push the more you are quietly aware of the work BMW engineers have achieved, to create this class leading handling large luxury sedan. Yes the ride at times can be a touch firm, but this is a small price to pay for the brilliant body control and capabilities on offer.

The optional four-wheel-steering is very good for an electric system, and definitely one of the best we’ve tried. The four-wheel-steering also equates to the 5-Series having an impressively compact turning circle at lower speeds, perfect when negotiating that tight spot in the multi-level car park.

BMW have created a very quiet cabin, even at highway speeds wind and tyre noise is thankfully almost nonexistent.

Not so good : Whilst the ride is good over most surfaces, it’s best to avoid pot holes as they can be met with a crushing thump (we’ll put it down to the extra stiff chassis, firmish suspension and standard run-flat tyres).

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box with standard safety equipment of six airbags, anti-lock brakes with cornering brake control, brake assist, dynamic stability control, active front headrests and active bonnet pedestrian protection.

As well as being an impressive sports sedan this generation 5-Series is equipped with a higher level of standard features than previously. Standard features on the 520d (and of course the more expensive grades as well) include multi-zone climate control, keyless start, cruise control with brake function, front and rear park assist, head-up display, satellite navigation, auto-on lights and wipers, Bluetooth connectivity and high quality leather upholstery.

The grades above this (528i, 535i, 550i) add a host more luxury goodies and on top of this the option list is as long as your arm, should you be tempted. Our favourite options are Adaptive Drive (which includes Dynamic Drive & Dynamic Damper Control), Surround View (which show a bird’s-eye view of the car, using high mounted cameras, as a parking aid) and Lane Departure Warning.

Not so good : Tick too many options and the price heads upwards FAST. Our favourite option, Adaptive Drive (which adjusts the suspension for different road conditions and driving styles) costs a big $7,000 and Integral Active Steering (four-wheel-steering) which is good but less impressive overall, is $3,600.

BMW 5-Series Wagon

Price range:

$92,800 – $138,900

Overall

Good: Refined cabin; Build quality; Excellent dynamics and amazingly low fuel economy (520d).

Not so Good: Ride over poor surfaces; Smaller cargo space than competing E-Class; Expensive option pricing.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in January 2011, sleek lines and a sloping roofline ensure the BMW 5 Series Wagon is not a box on wheels, in fact, some of the test team thinks it is more whistle-worthy than the sedan. In terms of design it is the opposite of BMW’s X5 SUV. The Touring sits much lower to the ground with a long bonnet, raked windscreen pillars and a curvy rear tailgate.

Based on a cut down version of the 7 series, at 2968mm it has the longest wheelbase in its class. To cut down on weight, the doors, front wings and Bonnet are made from aluminium, and as a result is lighter than the competing Mercedes Benz E-Class Estate.

The wagons share the sedan’s trick all-aluminium double-wishbone front suspension, but the Touring gains as standard the self-levelling rear air suspension to cope with the heftier loads.

Not so good : At over 80mm longer than the previous generation, the 5-Series wagon is now approaching 5 metres in length, 4907mm to be exact. Which is not necessarily a disadvantage in tight parking situations as front and rear parking sensors are fitted as standard.

Interior and Styling

Good : The stretched wheelbase and wider body has allowed more room in the 5 Series than any previous model. Interior design, materials and fit and finish are much improved.

Optional sports seats ensure superb comfort and good levels of support and the driving position displays the superiority expected of BMW. Angled slightly towards the driver, the centre console is just where we like it, and the iDrive control system is another improvement over the previous generation. It’s matched to a seven inch display screen, with the head up display system (showing speed and satellite navigation directions) projected onto the windscreen.

With the longer wheelbase, it’s no surprise the second row cabin space offers more leg and shoulder room.

Luggage capacity ranges from generous with the rear seats in use, to huge with the seats fully folded. The rear bench split folds in a convenient 40:20:40 ratio and a separate opening window in the tailgate is useful for loading smaller items.

Not so good : Unlike the BMW X5 or the competing E-Class wagon the 5-Series Touring is only available with five seats.

Rear luggage space also can’t match that of the competing Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate, as BMW have opted for a sleeker exterior design than the boxy rear styling of the Merc. Nevertheless at 590 litres or 1,670 litres with the rear seats down, you could never say cargo capacity is lacking.

Performance

Good : Two engines are on offer, a diesel four-cylinder (520d) and a turbo petrol six-cylinder (535i). The 520d produces 135kW of power and 380Nm of torque, the 535i produces 225kW and 400Nm.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel is identical to the power plant of the 520d sedan, producing its’ peak torque of 380Nm between 1750rpm and 2750rpm. Both grades come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission that provides seamless gear changes. Yes, this is one brilliant transmission!

The 520d is very impressive. Remarkably quiet for a diesel, it’s super refined and responsive. World class. This is a car that is happy to cruise on the highway or accelerate hard out of corners. No matter how hard you drive it, the fuel consumption stays impressively low, especially for a vehicle of this length. The official combined figure is an outstanding 5.3L per 100kms.

We’re also fans of the 535i variant. Click here to read about this engine in further detail. BMW 5-Series Sedan Review | Car Verdict

Not so good : BMW Australia offers a V8 powered sedan (550i) however not in the Touring body style.

Ride and Handling

Good : The 5-Series Touring is an excellent driver’s car. The handling capabilities are very high; it might even be a touch more impressive than the already brilliant sedan. Agility and poise – yes and yes. The harder you push the more quietly aware you become of the work BMW engineers have undertaken to create this class leading handling large luxury wagon. The ride at times can be a touch firm, but this is a small price to pay for the brilliant body control and capabilities on offer.

Not so good : The ride feels a little unsettled over rough surfaces and the run-flat tyres are a touch noisier than ideal. The steering also provides less road feedback than 5-Series of old.

Buying and Owning

Good : The 520d Touring comes standard with (normally) optional features such as Auto park-assist, parking sensors, reverse camera, Bluetooth, satellite navigation and head up display. The 535i Touring adds one size larger 18 inch alloys, an improved audio system, electric adjust steering column and full electric front seats, smart-key entry and a power opening tailgate.

Needless to say we highly recommend the 520d Touring and are confident it would be an excellent ownership proposition.

Not so good : Both the 520d and 535i Touring are priced noticeably high when compared to the equivalent sedan variants. However we should add that both vehicles are fitted with a host of features that are optional on the sedan.

The vast number of shoppers at this price point will get behind the wheel of a big SUV instead, such as BMW’s own X5.

BMW X3 SUV

Price range

$62,200 – $74,900

Overall

Good: Agile handling; Improved ride; High quality cabin with generous rear seat space; Super frugal x20d variant offers an excellent combination of performance and economy.

Not so Good: Styling can’t match the muscular X5; Slightly more wind noise than ideal at highway speeds.

Design and Engineering

Good : This 2nd generation model arrived in Australia in March 2011. More muscular than the 1st gen X3 (2004 to 2010), it features a lower stance and a less polarising overall design. The side body creasing is a styling highlight and far more dramatic in the metal than the picture shows.

Impressively, the X3 is lighter and roomier in spite of being similar in size to the first generation X5. It’s a notable 8cm wider and 11cm higher than the smaller X1. An aluminium bonnet and doors contribute to the weight reduction.

Not so good: The X3 still doesn’t look as muscular as the bigger brother X5, probably because it lacks the dramatic pumped out guards and even wider stance.

The X20d grade comes standard with 17 inch alloys that struggle to fill out the wheel arches however this can be overcome by opting for the larger 19 inch alloys.

Interior and Styling

Good : Evolution has been kind to this generation X3’s interior. The fit and finish is superb, and whilst the design focuses on being uncluttered, it still feels luxurious with lots of soft touch plastics and high grade materials up front. The driver’s instruments are clear and logical. The improved iDrive system and heads up driver’s display work well.

The driving position is excellent; the upright seating gives the driver good visibility and the pews offer good levels of adjustment. The electric park brake is handy and eliminates the need for a traditional hand brake; there are big, practical door pockets and the central positioned large colour screen is class leading.

With such good levels of head and legroom in the rear seats, 6 foot adults should have no problem getting comfortable. Rear cargo space is a very generous 550 litres and grows to 1600 litres with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded down. The tailgate has a low opening so access is also good for shorter people.

Not so good : Some people may find the dash design overly plain (we’d rather say minimalist).

Performance

Good : Two grades are on offer. The x20d features a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo diesel which generates a healthy 135kW of power and 380Nm of torque while the x28i with a 3.0-litre inline six cylinder petrol produces 190kW and 310Nm. Both grades feature constant all wheel drive and an eight speed automatic transmission.

The x20d variant offers a brilliant compromise between overtaking oomph, low speed pulling power and fuel economy. The engine is impressively refined, smooth and produces minimal turbo lag. It’s also far quieter than the diesel norm. With stop-start the x20d also makes no sound as you come to a complete halt at traffic lights.

The eight speed transmission is brilliant. It holds gears for as long as you want and is a real step forward over the previous six speed automatic transmission used by BMW which was by no means shabby.

Official combined fuel economy for the x20d is a very low 5.6 litres per 100km, very impressive when you take into consideration the sheer size of the vehicle and the effortless performance it delivers.

Not so good: At very low revs (i.e. below 1,500rpm) the 2.0-litre engine in the x20d can never match the effortless power of a larger displacement BMW turbo diesel engine. Wind noise at highway speeds is a touch higher than ideal.

Ride and Handling

Good : The X3’s handling is very impressive. It sits flat through corners displaying minimal body roll. The optional 19 inch alloys with wide, low profile tyres offer high levels of grip.

The constant all wheel drive system sends 60 per cent of torque to the rear wheels but if necessary, 100 per cent can be sent to the front or rear. Whilst not intended as an off roader, the X3 does offer Hill Descent Control and 21cm of ground clearance.

The ride is a noticeable improvement over the previous model. The X3 is now more compliant, a smooth highway traveller, comfortable over most surfaces and rides quietly.

Not so good : The ride is still not the most comfortable in its class. Over rougher surfaces it can feel a touch unsettled and the stiff walled run flat tyres don’t help.

The steering feels slightly artificial at low speeds this is due to the electrically assisted power steering.

Buying and Owning

Good : The X3 ticks the safety box with six airbags; impressive electronic stability control and strong anti lock brakes as standard fare. All grades are fitted with brake regeneration technology and the x20d gains a start-stop system to maximise fuel economy. Inside, all X3s come standard with keyless start, a 6.5 inch colour screen, reversing camera, USB audio and Bluetooth connectivity.

The M Sport package is a very tempting option; adding sports suspension, M sports bodykit, sports seats, M leather steering wheel and 18 inch M light-alloy wheels.

Not so good : The standard run flat tyres still aren’t the best combination for outback travellers, however for urban buyers they make sense as boot space is the big winner.

The x28i is far thirstier than the impressive x20d variant but against its petrol powered competitors it can hold its head high

BMW X5 SUV

Price range

$92,100 – $172,900

Overall

Good: Muscular styling; classy and spacious interior; superb drivertrains; class leading handling; great value against similar sized BMW sedans and wagons.

Not so Good: Uncomfortable second row middle seat; firm ride; expensive option pricing.

Design and Engineering

Good : Arriving Down Under in March 2007, the second generation X5 is significantly bigger than the original model and as a result this is the sole BMW model to offer buyers the option of third row seating. As with the original 2000 to 2007 year predecessor, which was a truly ground breaking vehicle in the premium SUV segment, the current X5 remains a luxury, road-focused sports SUV. Our entire test team gave the nod of approval to the styling; it’s one of our favourite looking big, premium 4×4’s.

The mid life facelift appeared in June 2010, bringing along new bumpers, larger air intakes, relocated fog lamps and new L-shaped tail lights.

Not so good : The styling is an evolution of the original, yet the X5 has grown significantly in size (especially length), resulting in the entry level grades on standard 18 inch wheels not looking very sporty. However, ticking the optional 20 inch alloys with massive 315mm rear tyres will certainly go a long way in upping the sport factor!

Interior and Styling

Good : A premium-feel, superbly high quality and welcoming interior with lots of cabin space thanks to the extra wide and tallish body. The dash is understated, classy and most importantly, thanks to the standard i-Drive (improved over previous versions), the ultra-wide central navigation screen, the highly legible instrumentation and the useful favourites buttons, all the technology is logically arranged.

The driver’s position is excellent, the three-spoke sports steering wheel is lovely to hold and the optional sports seats are supportive yet extremely comfortable. We’re also fans of the optional head up display, which projects a digital speedo readout onto the windscreen, reducing the need to take your eyes off the road.

The second row offers lots of head room, sufficient legroom as well as air-conditioning vents and retractable sun blinds. There’s lots of space in the rear cargo area, and the 2nd row seats fold almost flat to create massive amounts of carrying space. When not in use the optional third row seats won’t be noticed as they disappear into the floor.

Not so good : The middle seat in the second row bench isn’t very comfortable and the optional third row seating is for kiddies only. The amount of 3rd row legroom is minimal compared to a large People Mover. Most of the latest high tech features are unfortunately on the options list (well at least in the entry level grades). I.e. lane departure warning, active cruise control, lane departure warning and the very cool birds-eye view reversing camera.

Performance

Good : The X5 is offered with some of the best engines currently for sale, with not one of the five being less than very good. The mid-life facelift (mid 2010) brought significant drivetrain upgrades across the range with more power and less fuel use across almost all grades.

The entry level xDrive 30d’s 3.0L single turbo diesel engine produces 180kW of power and 540Nm of torque; the xDrive 40d is significantly more impressive, its twin turbo 3.0L diesel engine producing a big 225kW and an even bigger 600Nm. Whilst neither diesel is lacking in urge it’s the latter of the two engine’s that we most recommend. It is amazingly smooth and powerful, offers brisk acceleration (especially for such a big vehicle) yet the official combined fuel economy is only 7.5L per 100kms – that’s about par with a Toyota Corolla small car!

At idle the x40d is remarkably quiet for a Diesel powered SUV, sounds surprisingly sporty at higher revs and as with all current X5’s, is teamed with a beautifully smooth eight speed automatic transmission.

The three petrol offerings are the xDrive 35i (3.0L twin turbo inline six with 225kW and 400Nm), the xDrive 50i Sport (4.4L twin turbo V8 with 300kW and 600Nm) and the X5M (also with the 4.4L twin turbo V8 but producing a whopping 408kW and 680Nm).

Not so good : After spending a week with the xDrive 40d (the twin-turbo diesel grade), we can’t see many buyers choosing the similar priced xDrive 35i (the entry level petrol grade). Yes, in isolation the twin-turbo petrol engine is also very impressive, yet we feel it is much more so in less hefty BMW models. It makes a difficult case to opt for the xDrive 35i grade when it can’t compete with the two diesels for fuel economy and lacks the outright ‘oomph’ and barrel-chested noise of the xDrive 50i Sports’ twin turbo V8.

Ride and Handling

Good : The X5 offers impressively agile handling and considering its mass, it feels far wieldier than one would imagine before jumping behind the wheel for the first time. It really does handle to BMW’s typically high standard and even at high speeds the X5 can embarrass many a smaller vehicle along winding country roads. The body control is excellent, actually the dynamics are class leading with the Adaptive Drive system playing a significant part in ensuring the big BMW stays flat through corners.

Ride comfort has improved over the previous generation and not surprisingly the ride is most comfortable on the standard 18 inch wheels of the lower grades.

The speed tuned BMW Servotronic steering ensures lighter work for parking, yet is also nicely weighted and controlled at highway speeds and on twisty backroads.

Not so good : Whilst the X5’s sporty handling is far superior to the class average, it comes at the expense of a truly cosseting and uber comfortable ride. Over rough road surfaces or even worse, corrugated dirt roads it is most noticeable. Whilst this is a tradeoff we can live with (as the handling is so good), we’re not sure that everyone will think this way, with the competing but less sporty Lexus RX SUV offering a softer ride. So as the saying goes, horses for courses.

Buying and Owning

Good : Ticks the safety box thanks to a five star ANCAP safety crash rating – all grades comes standard with a host of safety features and the optional birds-eye view camera gets a wow from all passengers.

Our pick of the range is out of the two diesels. Value for money goes to the xDrive 30d, however if you can afford the xDrive 40d we say go for it, as it’s just as frugal yet significantly more powerful.

The X5 would make a great tow vehicle and with the optional third row seats, seven people can travel inside.

Not so good : As with all European luxury brands, the options list is long and extremely tempting, so the vehicles Recommend Retail Price is a mere entry point of what you’ll likely end up paying.

BMW X6 Large SUV

Price range

$109,900 – $190,900

Overall

Good: Refined diesel power plant; Great amounts of power and torque; Handling capabilities; Braking performance.

Not so Good: Limited rear seat headroom; Stiff suspension; Rearward visibility; Tyre roar and wind noise.

Design and Engineering

Good : The BMW X6 arrived in Australia in June 2008 with two models to choose from – BMW X6 xDrive35i and BMW X6 xDrive35d.

Along the way the model line-up grew to six vehicles in total with both diesel and petrol engines on offer.

In June 2012 the entire range received a midlife facelift that that saw BMW do away with its sporty 2 + 2 seating arrangement and adopt a new three seater bench in the back. The reasoning for this was that the 2 + 2 seat layout limited its sales to family buyers.

The mid-life facelift also included a revised front bumper that gave that X6 a more angular and bold design. While the X6 M received active LED lamps as standard (optional extra on other X6 variants).

The X6 M50d and X6 M both received a “power dome” bonnet that beefs up the appearance of the front – also an added option for other X6 customers that are after that masculine look.

Not so good : The BMW X6 has always been a tricky one for us; is it a sports saloon with coupe styling or is it a large SUV? However, after our time with the vehicle the styling has grown on us.

Interior and Styling

Good : Inside, the X6 features the usual BMW standard of superb fit & finish and high quality materials. The huge leather seats are very comfortable and the driver’s seat is fully adjustable so there isn’t any trouble in getting the right driving position for your needs.

The centre stack is fully intergraded into the dash; this gives a sleek design. Not only does the front dash look good it feels good too, BMW has used soft touch plastics.

The cabin is dominated mostly by Nevada leather that comprises of leather front panels of seats, front panels of headrests and centre and outer armrests in front and rear, while aluminium or wood grain is added for the finishing highlights that are a nice little touch for the interior.

Meanwhile, M variants get an Alcantara/leather combination that covers the head supports, armrest front and side armrests in ‘Nappa’ leather and seat centre panels in Alcantara. The seats also come with contrasting stitching in white and M lettering. Meanwhile, the interior is finished in brushed aluminium highlights.

As mentioned before the BMW X6 range received a mid-life facelift that added a little more practicality to the range – the new rear bench seat offers up another seat to fit five occupants.

Not so good : Because the BMW X6 features such a sleek design, the sharply raked roofline sacrifices rear passenger headroom.

Performance

Good : The BMW X6 range includes six engines in total both petrol and diesel. Powering the X6 xDrive30d is a TwinPower Turbo 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine with common rail direct injection and a turbocharger with variable turbine geometry. This combination produces 180kW of power and 540Nm of torque.

Next up is the X6 xDrive35i powered by a TwinPower Turbo 6-cylinder in-line petrol engine combined with a twin-scroll turbocharger with Valvetronic, DoubleVANOS and High Precision Injection delivering 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque.

The X6 xDrive40d is powered by a TwinPower Turbo 6-cylinder in-line diesel engine with common rail direct injection and two-stage turbocharging with variable turbine geometry this combination produces 225kW of power and 600Nm of torque.

Powering the X6 xDrive50i is a TwinPower Turbo V8 petrol engine combined with two turbochargers with Double-VANOS and High Precision Injection, this setup produces 300kW of power and 600Nm of torque.

Rounding out the model line-up is the X6 M50d powered by the M Performance TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cylinder diesel engine combined with common rail direct injection and triple turbocharging this produces 408kW of power and 680Nm of torque.

All models come with an 8-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic and all-wheel-drive.

The X6 range has got all bases covered in the power and torque departments, there is plenty on offer no matter what variant you choose. The diesel engines are also quite refined with minimal engine vibration felt in the cabin – you’d almost forget it was a diesel.

Not so good : Because of the massive amounts of torque on offer it’s hard to drive an X6 sensibly day-to-day – it takes a little discipline but it is possible…..just.

Ride and Handling

Good : The X6 range is one bunch of crisp handling SUVs. Although the ride height is raised the X6 feels quite nimble and can be chucked around twisted roads with some level of confidence.

The suspension set-up feels like it is geared towards the more ‘sporty’ end of the spectrum, it’s just the sheer weight and size of the vehicle limits how hard you can drive this beast.

Not so good : The raised ride height of the vehicle would have you expecting a very cushy ride – wrong.

Because of the stiff suspension set-up you tend to feel a lot more bumps and humps in the road than you would expect from a vehicle of this nature. However, on the plus side because of the sporty ride tune the X6 does feel a lot smaller on the road in terms of handling dynamics.

Buying and Owning

Good : The BMW X6 has some serious on-road presence with its bold front end, flared wheel arches and massive 19-inch or 20-inch alloy wheels depending on which variant you choose.

The X6 is the kind of vehicle that makes a statement, it says “kindly get out of my way or I’ll crush you” – it truly is a beast of a machine.

Not so good : Because of its niche styling and design you probably sit in one of the two categories – you either love it or hate.

BMW Z4 Convertible

Price range:

$76,900 – $120,500

Overall

Good: Classic front engine roadster design; Luxurious interior; Smooth six cylinder twin turbo power in sDrive35i and 35is grades.

Not so Good : Weight gains over previous model; Steering feel doesn’t match the class leader, and poor roof down boot capacity.

Design and Engineering

Good : The second generation Z4 arrived in Australia in May 2009, and instead of making do with a soft top as the previous model convertible did, this high tech two piece aluminium roof opens or closes in twenty seconds. The range received a boost when the BMW Z4 sDrive35is joined the line-up in August 2010 and in September 2011 a new TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder petrol engine joined the range.

Coming in at 14cm longer and 1cm wider than its predecessor, the Z4 roadster is 4 meters and 24cm long, and a meter and 79cms wide. Kerb weight is well distributed 50/50 front/rear. The car looks brilliant from front to back, with a muscular yet still handsome exterior, menacing front end styling, an extra long bonnet and a pert rear end. The shark-like nose design also gets the thumbs up, and the rear lights look great at night.

Not so good : The car is heavier than the first generation Z4 and a number of current competitors, the hard-top adds 30kg to the overall weight gains. Kerb weights range between 1395kg and 1525kg, an increase of up to 195kg. Unlike the old Z4 however, weight is distributed evenly. Lower grades feature 17-inch alloys that appear slightly undersized and struggle to fill the Z4’s wheel arches.

Interior and Styling

Good : We think this could be the best interior from BMW in a number of years. BMW has managed to blend luxury with a slightly minimalist feel using high quality soft touch materials and well shaped steering wheel and seats. Over the previous Z4 this one offers 2cm more shoulder and 4cm more elbow room and the folding metal roof improves visibility, thanks to a 50 per cent bigger rear window and larger side glass areas. This car’s i-Drive is intuitive, and the sat-navigation system is one of the best.

Not so good : At highway speeds with the roof up, wind-noise is a little higher than optimum, but this can be expect from convertibles. The steering wheel shift buttons look like they’ve come off a mountain bike and feel overly chunky. Storage levels are acceptable but not impressive, the boot is a generous 310-litres with the roof up, which is 50-litres more than previously, but it drops to a minimal 180-litres with the roof down.

Performance

Good : As mentioned earlier the engine line-up received a shake up in September 2011 when BMW released a new TwinPower Turbo four-cylinder petrol engine. This sounded the demise of the sDrive30i and a new sDrive20i variant was born.

Kicking things off the sDrive20i features a 2.0-litre in-line turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that musters 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque when matched to a six-speed manual or eight-speed sports automatic (optional).

The sDrive28i features the same 2.0-litre in-line turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine found in the sDrive20i, but this time outputs have been increased to 180kW of power and 350Nm of torque when matched to a six-speed manual or eight-speed sports automatic (optional).

Next up is the sDrive35i featuring a 3.0-litre straight six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol engine that pumps out 225kW of power and 400Nm of torque while the sDrive35is produces 250kW of power and a massive 450Nm of torque. Both variants get are equipped with a seven-speed Sports Automatic transmission with double clutch operation.

The sDrive35is features an extremely flexible engine, with big amounts of torque readily on offer (and remember it’s a twin turbo!). It’s a brilliant overtaking machine at highway speeds. The superb engine is smooth and powerful – it’s a ripper that just loves to whip through its rev range. The power upgrade in the 35is over the already quick 35i is partly thanks to the free flowing exhaust which sounds deliciously tough, emitting an addictive ‘blurt- blurt’ as you change down gears on the excellent seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (the same gearbox available on the M3).

Not so good : An entry level 20i grade’s engine has to be pushed hard for it to feel quick. If you don’t wish to change gears yourself, the 20i and 23i grades are available with a smooth shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox – however for driving fun, we prefer the faster shifting, high tech seven-speed dual clutch transmissions on the 35i and 35is grades. The range topping sDrive35is grade is quick, however 0-100km/h freaks may find themselves struggling to match the official 0-100km/h time that BMW quotes as being 4.8secs. Why? It pauses for a fraction too long when asked to boogie from a standing start.

Ride and Handling

Good : This generation Z4’s ride and handling should appeal to a wider audience than the outgoing model which felt positioned towards a more focused, and niche, driving enthusiast owner profile. Open sweeping corners and high speed country roads suit the Z4’s capabilities well. It is now good in the old fashioned muscle car kind of way – slow into a corner and power out. The 35i and 35is grades are fun handling sports cars.

Not so good : When pushing hard through a twisty back road, it feels less poised than the class leading Porsche Boxster. Unfortunately the rear end handling feels less responsive than the almost super alert front-end in normal mode (one of the three suspension settings on the sDrive35is). Sport+ setting is far better, but the ride suffers on anything but smooth surfaces and is a touch firm if you opt for the big 19-inch alloys. We think 18″s are a smarter choice. Steering can feel overly quick at times and on narrow, twisty corners it lacks the pure communication and delicacy of our favourite steering sports cars (i.e. Lotus Evora, Porsche Boxster).

Buying and Owning

Good : This generation Z4 has moved away from the previous generations’ more niche enthusiast appeal, so a greater spectrum of buyers should now be happy to own BMW’s Roadster. It looks expensive with a hardtop roof that adds security and refinement, and to ensure safety, all new Z4s come with twin front and side/thorax airbags, an electronic stability (DSC) and traction (DTC) control system with anti-lock brakes (ABS) and cornering brake control (CBC). Fuel economy is pleasingly low considering all grades feature six cylinder petrol engines.

Not so good : Unlike the previous generation Z4, BMW no longer offer a range topping M grade, although the sDrive 35is comes very close.