BMW 520d: Feeling tankful

Leow Ju-Len

bmw 520d review singapore

They gave us one tank of diesel, one BMW 520d and one night… At CarBuyer that’s a recipe for a thousand kilometre journey and most important of all, four food stops.

SINGAPORE — We’ve written about the new BMW 520d before, and whether it fulfils what’s expected of any new 5 Series (namely, long distance comfort, spaciousness, refinement and the ability to deliver fun on a fun road). To keep things short, it does.

But the ‘d’ part of its name gives us more to think about. Diesel passenger cars are still relatively small sellers, and in the 5 Series’ segment there’s never been a hit model that hasn’t been powered by good’ol petrol.

Why? It might just be that Singaporean car buyers, frankly, don’t know a good thing when they see one.

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On paper, at least, the 520d is ridiculously frugal. With a claimed consumption average of 4.3L/100km, it ought to cover 1,300km before you have to stop for fuel. At that rate the average driver here would have to fill it up maybe 15 times a year, instead of very week.

“But cars are never as efficient as they claim,” you say? True enough. Fuel economy tests are like school exams, in that you can game them if you know what the testers are looking for, and doing well in them doesn’t mean you’ll go on to perform well in real life.

bmw 520d review

So we thought we’d take a 520d and see how much distance we would get from one tank in real world conditions. Except we only had it for two days, which meant only one thing: a road trip. That would give us the chance to stretch the car’s legs properly and do a serious test of the 520d’s range. Also, BMW Asia offered to pay for a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur.

While we were at it we would look for diversions from the drudgery of the North-South Highway and sniff out some food stops along the way. Just because the car didn’t have to refuel doesn’t mean we didn’t.

DAY 1: Singapore – Yong Peng – Paloh – Kuala Lumpur – Petaling Jaya – Kuala Lumpur
So we collect the 520d from Performance Motors, and the trip computer shows we have 1,066km in the tank.

bmw 520 diesel singapore

That’s pretty conservative (a full tank is supposed to be good for 1,300km), but it’s still more than enough for KL and back, which is normally an 800km jaunt. But I’m not dong things normally, because highway travel is too easy on a car. We once drove a regular Volkswagen Passat 1.8T to Thailand and back on a single tank of petrol. It wasn’t easy, but it was simple: no air-con, stick to a steady speed of 90km/h, and let time do the rest.

With the BMW I wanted harsher conditions… and got my wish by starting off with a jam at the Tuas border. Crossing customs there always seems to entail a traffic snarl these days, for some reason. Maybe it’s to put people off the idea of working in Singapore but living in a big house in Johore?

Whatever it is, the first stretch of the North-South Highway isn’t much better. Trucks rule the expressway here, and seem to think it’s ok to crawl along the fast lane…

north south highway malaysia

… or, failing that, to drive six feet behind a car that’s stuck behind a behemoth doing 60 in the fast lane.

north south highway malaysia

It isn’t long before I make my first food stop of the day, at the small town of Yong Peng, just under 100km from the border.

Here you’ll find Anthony Fishball, which everyone seems to know, probably thanks to Wheels For Fun. The driving holiday specialist often uses it as a breakfast stop.

anthony fishball yongpeng

Grab a bowl of dry fishball noodles (they’re nice and springy, and coated in a light, slightly sweet sauce), and pick up some char siu pastry, which is baked on the premises.

anthony fishball yong peng

I might have trotted back onto the NSHW, which is five minutes from the restaurant, but here’s where the first little excursion awaits the keen driver. North of Yong Peng is the turn-off to a small town called Paloh (or “Paluh” on some maps), and the road there offers 28km of driving ecstasy.

jalan paloh johor

It’s a feast of mixed corners, many of them blind, and some feeding you over crests that unsettle a car’s suspension enough to unsettle a stout heart.

If not for the fact that it’s a public road, used by villagers and passing the odd school, the topography here is the closest a stretch of tarmac near Singapore could be to the Nordschliefe of the Nürburgring.

bmw 520d jalan paloh johor

The road to Paloh hooks left, right, up and down so rapidly in places that it favours a smaller, lighter car than the 520d, but the big BMW just soaks it all up gamely nonetheless. It’s a balanced car, and very hard to unsettle even at speed, so it’s still able to gallop from corner to corner with aplomb.

The diesel engine’s huge amount of torque makes overtaking the odd, lumbering lorry a piece of cake, too.

There’s nothing to see or do in Paloh itself, so we simply turn around and indulge in another 28km of rapid corners, before hopping back onto the NSHW.

The pretend-Nürburgring trip would have put a dent in the car’s fuel consumption, but there’s no time to nurse it on the highway if I’m to hit KL in time for a mid-afternoon snack, so I give it a bit of stick whenever it’s clear enough to reach speeds that are pretty much unprintable.

Top speed runs are usually pretty ruinous to a car’s fuel consumption, but the 520d has such long legs that even at 210km/h, the engine is humming along at just over 3,000rpm. Don’t ask me how I know.

It’s around 1630 when I hit KL, and the car suddenly suggests taking a coffee break. It’s probably detected a bit of driver fatigue somehow, but it’s a bit off the mark. What I want is food, not coffee.

bmw 520d singapore malaysia

I guide the BMW through heavy but manageable traffic out of KL and into Petaling Jaya, a western suburb that sprang up in the 1950s after the capital got a bit crowded.

The makan place I seek out might not be the best in the country, but since it’s near where my grandparents used to stay, I trot over for the comforting taste of childhood. 

restoran sun hin loong petaling jaya

Restoran Sun Hin Loong offers the standard array of kopitiam fare; there’s chicken rice, wantan mee, curry mee, assam laksa and claypot loh shee fun, the sort of stuff any sensible stomach would welcome. 

char koay teow malaysia

But my idea of comfort food involves a dry, peppery, slightly smoky plate of char koay teow, so that’s what I order. It comes with a surprise in the form of a hefty RM6.50 bill. A little over two bucks in our money, but still a lot to pay for a snack-sized portion.

penang char koay teow

Locals use the Federal Highway to get from PJ to KL, and it’s notoriously choked with traffic in the morning. But I figure that the evening should be different, so I aim the BMW onto that and, naturally enough, immediately become another piece of traffic choking the highway up.

It takes me over an hour to cover the 18km to my hotel, during which time the BMW is probably putting up its least efficient performance. Diesel engines run a bit slower and cooler at idle than petrol engines, but at 0km/h all combustion powered cars are wasteful.

kuala lumpur traffic

I sit in the jam listening to podcasts while trying to will my snack to digest quickly, because unlike the BMW, I want an empty tank. Come nightfall, I intend to refuel.

I won’t be doing it in KL itself, though. Locals know that the best hokkien mee (or fook kin chow if you can wrap your tongue around Cantonese) is no longer downtown, but out in PJ.

ahwa hokkien mee pj

If you’ve never had this dish, prepare yourself: when the first oily forkful hits your tongue, it’s like having your tastebuds kissed by the devil. Few do it better than Restoran Ahwa, where there’s such a greasy, moreish goodness to the noodles that whatever oil the chef uses could probably fuel the 520d without a hiccup.

restoran ahwa pj

The restaurant offers other goodies like stuffed taupok and Penang-style lor bak, so you should probably set aside some room in your stomach for those. Not being the man I was in my 20s, however, I call it good with the fried noodles and crawl back to the Trader’s Hotel to sleep off the meal.

traders hotel kuala lumpur

DAY 2: Kuala Lumpur – Seremban – Singapore
Breakfast in KL for me demands a visit to Petaling Jaya (yet again) for a bowl of prawn noodles, but having woken up late I decide to eat a plate of nasi lemak at the Trader’s.  It’s serviceable, but nothing worth putting on Instagram.

What I’m looking forward to more is a diversion up into the Titiwangsa mountain range, the hill system that runs along the spine of Peninsular Malaysia. Believe it or not, just half an hour out of KL the mountains offer fantastic roads to play on, with a scenic landscape that seems a world away from the drudgery of the North-South Highway.

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You should look for Jalan Kuala Klawang – Semenyih to take you to the town of Kuala Klawang, which you should use as an navigation waypoint.

kuala klawang titi

Practically deserted, the road here sweeps up to an elevation of over 400m, and feels like someone has transplanted a slice of European B-road into Malaysia. The makes it the perfect place for the 520d to strut its stuff, but the corners are tight enough here to emphasise the car’s size and weight.

bmw 520 review singapore price

Without the active dampers of the 540i M Sport, the 520d rolls surprisingly liberally, too, but it resists understeer pretty gamely even on the more demanding hairpins.

Attacking the mountain road takes a huge chunk out of the tank’s range, though, and for the first time in the journey I start to wonder if I’ll make it back. Oh well, misadventure makes for better reading anyway, so I press on and just enjoy being in a decently fun car on an indecently fun bit of road.

Heading into the hills means I’ve strayed far off the NSHW, but at some point I look for road N86, which conveniently funnels me down to Seremban, where Quinn Restaurant is a slurp-worthy stop.

quinn seremban beef noodle

The beef noodle served up here is slathered in a starchy gravy that doesn’t overwhelm the palate, and you can have your bowl with various bits of cow if beef balls are too one-dimensional for you.

Having opted for a sleep-inducing portion, I decide to take it easy for the rest of the way home, and the BMW’s satnav guides me to the NSHW in 10 minutes.

quinn restoran seremban beef noodle

Usefully, a mini-map flashes up to replace the rev counter whenever the system conveys upcoming instructions. It doesn’t keep me from missing the odd turn, because I’m a world-class fanny when it comes to taking directions, but I’d been trying to add mileage to my test drive, anyway. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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A few more hours on the NSHW (with our drive time padded by yet another jam) and I make it back with the fuel light on and 66km left in the tank according to the trip computer, having covered 1,001km — just 1km off its estimate at the start of the drive.

The trip computer says I averaged 6.5L/100km, which would make the fuel consumption over 50 percent worse than the claimed figure. Even so, at that rate you’d still have to fill up your 520d just 18 times a year.

More to the point, instead of blatting straight to KL and back (a meaningless exercise, if any), I reckon only 60 percent of my drive took place on the highway. The rest was devoted to mountain roads, diversions into quiet twisties, jaunts into the suburbs for food, and at least two-and-a-half hours in slow-moving or gridlocked traffic.

bmw 520d fuel consumption

My takeways? I couldn’t have wished for a better companion than the new 5 Series to spend a cumulative 16 hours behind the wheel of, ultimately. The plush seating, general air of quiet and, most of all, the entertaining way it drives turned what could have been a tiresome trek into a jolly trip I’d happily repeat, except maybe with a few more food stops thrown in.

In case you fancy doing some of the same excursions, there’s a list of the food stops I made. Just be sure to plan some fuel stops if you haven’t got a BMW 520d.

bmw 530i review singapore price

Stop in the name of love (for food)
We might not have stopped for fuel in the BMW 520d, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t stop to refuel. Here’s where our stomachs took us:

Ikan Bebola Anthony (Anthony Fishball)
18, Bawah, Jalan Bayan, Taman Semberong Barat, Johor, 83700 Yong Peng, Malaysia

Restoran Sun Hin Loong
65, Jalan SS 2/64, SS 2, 47300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Restoran Ahwa
66, Jalan 14/48, Seksyen 14, 46100, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, 46100, Malaysia

Quinn Seremban Beef Noodles
108, Jalan Toman 6, Kemayan Square, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia


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