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The BMW 528i is, in my opinion, the best all-round luxury car in the World. It combines style, build quality, practicality and refinement to produce a simply magnificent car. My 528i is a 2000 model, so it's one of the last cars before the facelift. It has a lot of optional extras, and the mileage is currently 59992. I purchased it about a year ago for less than £9000, so it was excellent value for money. I also have a Mercedes E240 (2001 model) which is a direct rival for the 5 series.
Exterior The BMW is a very, very attractive car. It looks sleek and understated, whereas the E-class looks a lot more bulky and imposing. In a way, the E-class has the advantage when it comes to real world driving. It's probably due to the Mercedes badge, but people will always move out of your way on the motorway and they will almost always give way for you in town. I have noticed that not as many people respect the BMW in that way.
This is maybe irrelevant, but when I washed the BMW for the first time, it felt solid and well put together. In comparison, the E-class felt 'normal'. (I can't explain it!!)
Interior The E-class is definetely a more spacious car and the cabin feels light and airy. The 528i is by no means cramped, but it could do with extra room in the rear. Legroom all around is fine, as is headroom. It's just the narrower build of the car which makes it feel slightly tight compared to the E240. Quality is simiar in both vehicles, but I think the BMW is put together better. The switches in the BMW operate with typical German precision, and they have a real quality feel to them. The Mercedes switches don't have quite the same quality.
The BMW's dashboard is more attractive than the Mercedes' and again, it feels better put together. The steering wheel of the E240 is a bit bigger than that of the 528i, but this does make it easier to drive on the motorway.
On the subject of motorway driving, I find that the E-class' cruise control lever is much easier to use than BMW's steering wheel mounted controls.
The seats in the BMW are softer and more comfortable than those in the Mercedes, which makes it better for longer journeys. That's not to say the Mercedes is uncomfortable - far from it!
Rear seat passengers get more room in the E-class, and perhaps a more pleasant experience when only two people are seated in the back. This is because there are cupholders in the armrest of the E-class. The BMW has a nice, comfortable armrest but it contains no cupholders in it. Instead, there are two flimsy cupholders underneath the air conditioning vents at the end of the centre console. That said, the BMW's cupholders are more thoughtfully placed in the front. They are ahead of the gear lever, so in an ideal position. In the Mercedes, they are in the glove compartment which almost renders them useless. If you have a passenger in the front seat, it is obviously extremely unpleasant for them to have to endure a journey with the glove compartment open.
The boot of the BMW is quite a bit bigger than that of the Mercedes, even though the official figures suggest that this is the other way around.
Performance The 2.8 litre engine in the BMW is a brilliant performer. It propels the car smoothly from 0-60 in around 8.8 seconds, while the 2.6 litre in the Mercedes takes 10 seconds and rather a lot more effort to do the same.
On the motorway at 80mph, the Mercedes engine is spinning at 3600rpm. At the same speed, the BMW engine is spinning at 2400rpm. This makes for a more refined ride in the BMW. It is quieter than the Mercedes at speed and I think the gearbox slurs changes better than the Mercedes one.
The BMW's automatic gearbox has a Sport mode which makes the car accelerate faster. It is very effective at town speeds, and just the other day I tried it on the motorway. I was astonished at the difference it made to acceleration! I was doing 75mph and the motorway was clear, so I slipped it into Sport mode, and applied full throttle. The turn of speed was simply amazing! I wasn't expecting it to pick up speed so quickly, especially since I was already doing 75mph! I took it up to a very high speed which I shall not say here, and it was still asking for more! Brilliant!
At normal motorway speeds, the BMW feels composed and comfortable. It actually feels glued to the road, whereas the Mercedes tends to 'bounce' if there are dips in the road. This is due to the softer suspension. The BMW uses firmer suspension but the car's ride is still just as comfortable as the Mercedes'. The reason for this is that the BMW chassis is stiffer, so it allows the suspension to work more effectively than the Mercedes.
Both the BMW and the Mercedes are fine motorway cruisers, but the BMW's extra power and torque make it easier to overtake and quicker to pick up speed than the Mercedes.
Handling - the BMW handles excellently, and really does feel like a much smaller car when you drive it. As stated above, the suspension is firmer than that of the Mercedes, so it leans a lot less through corners. Braking performance is highly impressive, due to the soft compound brake pads which give much better feel and power than the pads on the Mercedes. Also, the Mercedes 'dives' a lot more than the BMW under hard braking.
One thing I should mention in this review is the fuel consumption of both cars. In town, I regularly achieve 19mpg in the BMW, while the Mercedes gets about 15mpg. On the motorway, I have reached 35mpg in the BMW, at an average speed of 80mph. The Mercedes gets a maximum of about 28mpg in the same situation.
(Update: I did a motorway journey in the BMW yesterday, and due to slow moving traffic on the M4, I was driving at 50mph. I decided to see what the fuel economy was at this speed. Therefore, I reset the on-board computer so that it would give me a real time figure. To my absolute astonishment, it read 62.7mpg and stayed there until I accelerated! I still can't believe this, so if anyone has an automatic 528i, could they possibly test this and tell me if I was getting a real reading? Above, I have said that at 80mph, the BMW gives 35mpg. This is including going out of a town, onto the motorway, then back into a town. Yesterday I set the computer to record fuel economy only for the motorway journey. I averaged 90mph at 43mpg!)
This surprised me, since the Mercedes E240 is actually lighter than the BMW 528i and it has a smaller engine aswell, so I was expecting the fuel consumption to be better than the BMW's.
The Mercedes engine is muted at all times, except under hard acceleration. In this situation, the car doesn't feel like it's straining, but the engine does sound like it is. When the BMW accelerates, it makes a beautiful, rich sound (which, in my opinion, is better than the facelifted car's sound) and the engine never sounds like it's straining, even under hard acceleration.
If you listen carefully, you can hear the BMW's engine at motorway speeds, but it's a very distant sound so is not intrusive at all. The Mercedes engine cannot be heard. Wind noise is low in both cars, but the BMW is definetely quieter. As for road noise, this depends largely on the tyres. The BMW is fitted with Continental ContiEcoContact CP tyres which are very quiet and give good grip and comfort. I shall be changing the tyres on my Mercedes to these also.
The Mercedes is fitted with Pirelli P6000 tyres which I don't like at all. The previous owner fitted these, and I must say that they give a slightly rough ride over poor road surfaces, and they generate a lot of road noise. I do not recommend these tyres!!
Creature Comforts The BMW has more equipment than the Mercedes which makes it a more enjoyable place to sit for gadget lovers like myself! I stated earlier in the review that my BMW has a lot of optional extras fitted. I believe it's probably one of the best equipped 528i's in the UK.
Optional extras include Xenon headlamps, Electric folding mirrors, M steering wheel, Classic style alloy wheels, Automatic gearbox, Leather upholstery, BMW 6 CD Changer, Servotronic steering, Tyre Pressure Control, Dynamic Stability Control, Rear electric blind, Parking Distance Control.
A particular must is the leather upholstery which adds to the desirability of the car, and therefore the resale value. Also, an automatic gearbox is recommended for the same reason.
Insurance isn't too bad for this car, I'm paying around £450 for fully comp insurance for 2 drivers. The Mercedes costs slightly more, probably because it's badge makes it more desirable for thieves?
Servicing costs are fine for me (about £100), as I am close friends with an independent BMW specialist. For this reason, I cannot comment on main dealer service!
That's pretty much everything covered I think. If I've missed anything out, please leave a comment and I'll get back to you!!
I highly recommend the 528i! By the way, if you're in to spirited driving, the V8 cars (535i, 540i. M5 not included!) are slightly nose heavy so they don't feel as good to drive as the straight-six cars sometimes!!
My final message is - Sorry to have bored you!! I realise that this is quite a long review and I'm not exactly the best reviewer!!