2006 BMW 530xi Sport Wagon

By Scott Corlett

BMW’s 5-series wagon is a thing of beauty. We liked the last iteration of this sport wagon so much that we traded a Mercedes M-class SUV for one and never looked back. That transaction cuts to the heart of this wagon’s utility: the 5-series wagon functions like an SUV but drives like a BMW 5-series sedan – in other words, incredibly well.

In the summer of ’04, we loaded our then boyfriend and best bitch (two separate entities, mind you) in our 2003 Toledo-blue 2.5-liter in-line-six-cylinder 5-series wagon and looped nearly 6000 miles from San Francisco north to Calgary-Banff, then across Canada to Eastern Ontario, back into the USA via its car capital, and finally across the heartland to home by the Bay. Three solid, fun-driving weeks spent in a 5-series wagon and nary a complaint. The point of that travelogue is not to illustrate our insanity but to show our admiration for 5-series wagons.

2006 BMW 530xi Sport Wagon

We recently spent a long weekend in the 2006 BMW 530xi Sport Wagon on home turf in San Francisco. People seem to either love or hate the latest generation of ultimate driving machines, which were designed by BMW wunderkind, Chris Bangle (no relation, as far as we know, to the pop quartet that sung “Just Another Manic Monday … ”). We had no qualms with the 7- and 5-series sedans, the first models to receive Bangle’s ministrations; but, the sport wagon—finally touched by Bangle’s brush for ’06—is just plain hot. The sheet metal bends and curves in an oh-so-right way and thrusts the wagon into the twenty-first century with a distinctly BMW flair. The design teams at Mercedes, Lexus, and Audi seem to work from the same stylebook, while designers at BMW cut their own path.

2006 BMW 530xi Sport Wagon

Inside, the 530xi is duly luxe in its Germanic simplicity. In the sport wagon, you cannot opt out of BMW’s iDrive system – the justly derided, center-console, knob-shaped overlord that controls many vehicle functions. That fact results in tired wrists, frustrated drivers, and a smooth, uncluttered, eye-pleasing control panel. Optional, well-bolstered sport seats, which BMW’s product designers thoughtfully improved from the previous version with the addition of adjustable lumbar support, kept our backs ache-free and our rears firmly in place as we pushed the 530xi around tight corners and down curving freeway onramps at high speed. While those maneuvers required our full attention, the optional Heads-Up Display kept us apprised of our speed at all times. This system projects a digital readout of the speed (as well as various warning messages) on the windshield in such a manner that orange characters appear to float in front of the vehicle’s nose. This futuristic option keeps your eyes up and on the road; the only downside is that if you are like us and normally don’t often check the speedo, you become much more aware of just how many miles per hour over the speed limit you are traveling.

The engineers at BMW kept on theme – things are just as simple under the hood as in the cabin. Unlike with the last generation 5-series wagon, only one engine is offered: BMW’s new aluminum and magnesium 3.0-liter in-line six, which packs a none-too-shabby 255 horsepower and 220 lb-ft of torque. This engine is mated to a full-time all-wheel powertrain by a six-speed transmission – your choice of manual or automatic. According to the folks at BMW, this setup with the manny tranny shoots the 530xi from zero to sixty mph in 6.8 seconds en route to an electronically limited top speed of 150 mph – not exactly what we remember from Mom’s grocery-getting wagon. Handling, steering, braking – all were definitely class-leading and even BMW-superb. However—and this is where our many miles and many hours in the last-generation 5-series wagon come into play—we found that the 2006 530xi was not only amazing, but also just a little less solid and just a little less substantial than the previous mold-breaking, pitch-perfect iteration of the wagon.

2006 BMW 530xi Sport Wagon

This dog-hauler does not come cheaply. The 530xi’s base price is $51,400, which the goodies on our test car pushed above $62,000. Given that this wagon sports ample room either for two adults, a seventy-pound dog, and baggage on a cross-continent trek or for four adults and ski gear on a long weekend up at the slopes—and does so while garnering, according to the EPA, 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway—why drive a clunky, fuel-wasting SUV? Especially when—and it doesn’t get much better than this—the alternative handles like a BMW 5-series sedan.

We are torn between owning the best-handling wagon on the road and the fact that BMW is not a gay-friendly company. Like a co-dependent enabler giving a recidivistic, spendthrift, two-timing, heart-breaking boyfriend yet another opportunity to cleanup his act, we are hopeful that the executives at BMW will have mended the company’s ways by time our wagon makes its last muddy run to the dog park. For now, we’ll keep our Toledo-blue 5-series wagon in our garage, and we’ll give the folks at BMW just one more chance.

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