2007 BMW 535d M Sport E60
Resplendent in Velvet Blue Metallic, this E60 535d M Sport is something of a smiling assassin… Words: Dan Bevis. Photography: Jason Dodd.
E60 535d Diesel milemuncher
According to the abridged Seven Commandments of Animalism, we know that ‘All animals are equal… but some animals are more equal than others’. Such it is that in the realm of diesel-powered saloon cars, all sit on a conceptually level pegging – but a 5 Series with some well-chosen options from the Individual menu and as much power as a De Tomaso Pantera GT5 or a Ferrari 365GTB/4 Daytona is clearly acting as a leveller within the oeuvre. Yes, some might say that an E60 535d is a solid choice for reps or commuters in the same way that a Vauxhall Insignia might be, but we know that it’s really a different kettle of fish entirely.
The E60 as a model range sits in an interesting position these days. Brickbats were levelled at Chris Bangle’s team in period for what was perceived to be some pretty controversial styling, but the early-2000s 5er has mellowed superbly over the years, its striking lines seeming almost sober in an era of gawping automotive faces and uncompromising SUV hulks. A conventional three-box saloon with some jewel-like detailing here and there? Why, it’s just the breath of fresh air we’ve been craving. Look at the BMW’s wonderful taillights, that radiate rays like a Nippon flag when illuminated; the gentle but significant curves from the wheelarches imbuing the otherwise flat panels with an imposing muscularity; the manner in which the headlights sweep back into the wings to create the impression of speed even when standing still. And set apart from the intelligent design, perhaps the biggest talking point was the fact that the M5 version came equipped with a mighty V10 engine. A highly improbable move, but one that had a certain logic to it (if you’re willing to stretch the definition of ‘logic’ to its very extremes): the BMW Sauber F1 Team was active at the time, and BMW had been building V10 engines for the Williams F1 team since 2002 – so having a V10 in the M5 formed a natural mental bridge for consumers between the road-racers and the F1 racers. Was it the same V10 engine? No, not even close. But it was a formidable power unit by any standards – a naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre with DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder and double-VANOS; the block and heads were aluminium, it had individual electronically-actuated throttle bodies, aluminium oil-cooled pistons and a forged crank along with a quasi-dry-sump setup. It delivered 500hp and 384lb ft – and, crucially, revved to 8,250rpm. An absolute hooligan of a motor, more supercar than saloon car.
Of course, there was more to the E60 than the in-your-face M5. With an approximately 50:50 weight distribution across all the models in the range, this generation slotted neatly into the age-old Bavarian mantra of being the ‘ultimate driving machine’, with sure-footed roadholding and keen handling fused with superlative comfort even in the basest specs of the option list. There was a whole host of innovations too, including the iDrive system (itself as controversial as Bangle’s flame-surfacing at the time, and something else which has matured into something respected and sound), head-up display, active cruise control, adaptive headlights and lane departure warning. There was voice recognition too, although it wasn’t exactly like Knight Rider – some users got on with it OK, others ended up yelling at it in exasperation. Still, it existed way before anyone expected, and that’s the main thing.
There were boisterous petrol engines in spades – the 540i and 550i got bullish V8s – and naturally the choices dipped right down to a 168hp 2.2-litre six in the 520i (the nomenclature conventions having long since gone haywire). And then, inevitably, there were the diesels. Brawny, rugged, stump-pulling torque-monsters all, and supremely well suited to a luxury car designed to spend 90 percent of its time wafting. Proper autobahn bruisers with economy in spades and rapidity on demand. There were 2.0 and 2.5 diesels, but the really interesting stuff happened around the 3.0-litre displacement mark: in the single-turbo 530d this equated to well over 200hp; the same three-litre M57 treated to a brace of turbos and one or two other tweaks in 535d spec meant a full-fat 268hp in early cars, rising to a near-improbable 282hp when the LCI updates kicked in. And, as you’re no doubt aware, a hysterical top end is not a diesel engine’s forte – they’re all about the torque. So with these early 535ds, the figure was 413lb ft; later cars like the one we have before the lens today boasted an astounding 428lb.ft from the factory. Which is enough to knock the planet itself slightly off its axis.
The 535d, then, was arguably the ultimate E60. Sure, the M5 was a formidable performance machine that continued the revered M bloodline in devastating style, but the 535d was a whole other thing. A more everyday-usable entity, combining enough performance to keep your palms sweaty with the sort of economy that wouldn’t see you having to renounce all of your worldly possessions and sign the deeds to your house over to Shell. And being top-tier in terms of diesel options, it came fully loaded with every conceivable toy a reasonable buyer could wish for. These cars ruled the fast lane of the motorway in the 2000s, elbowing lesser Mondeos and Vectras out of the way as they went about the business of just being really bloody good at everything they needed to do. The fact that you can pick up a usable E60 535d today for around six grand (and with even the really nice examples rarely breaking the £9k mark) seems almost obscene. It’s so much machine for the money, it almost makes a brand new saloon car look like a pointless frivolity. Yes, you’ll have to pay the ULEZ with a 535d and the price of diesel isn’t exactly the bargain it once was, but buy well and the overall savings from initial purchase point really do start to make sense. Particularly given that, as we’re about to discover, a well looked after E60 can represent a phenomenally reliable and trouble-free ownership proposition.
The example we have before us today is an LCI 535d M Sport, meaning that it has the slightly more powerful and torquier version of the M57 along with the upgraded auto transmission. It belongs to Don Wearing, a man with more than a little keenness for the Bavarian propellor and, with a number of other notable Beemers in his stable, it exists within a unique niche: this is the keeper, the dependable runabout that also happens to be a low-mileage example of a truly obscure spec.
Don is very much a petrolhead, having worked in the motor industry for over fifty years and thoroughly enjoying himself throughout. From his early days piloting the likes of Ford Escorts and Capris, his affections shifted to BMWs in the late 1970s. “It was obvious that the quality was just on another level,” he enthuses. “A little more expensive, perhaps, but you got what you paid for. And from those days onward I became an avid fan of the marque, I’ve always had BMWs ever since.”
Indeed, Don’s owned a near-uncountable variety of desirable models over the years, from E39 M5s to manual 735is and beyond. “You get a better drive with a BMW,” he reasons, and it’s hard to argue. This is a man who really knows his stuff.
So among the current collection – and it is an impressive collection, including M5s of assorted generations, an M6 E63 and an 850 CSi E31 – how did the 535d M Sport come to be sitting on the Wearing driveway? “It all happened when the car was a little under three years old,” he recalls.
“I spotted it advertised with Sytner Sutton Coldfield, and the interior and exterior spec immediately jumped out at me as something different and interesting. However, it rapidly disappeared from the radar and I assumed it had been sold. But when I went into Sytner High Wycombe to mull over some options, the salesman there – Richard Kendall – asked at which dealer I’d seen that 535d; he rang Sutton Coldfield, found the car was still there, and had it brought down to High Wycombe. No obligation, as he knew he could easily sell it to another customer if I wasn’t into it. Turned out that I was though – it looked terrific!”
The key to this car’s allure isn’t just the fact that it’s a 535d M Sport, with the improved spec and more purposeful stance. No, it’s that whoever put in the original order from new was evidently a person of taste, going through the Individual programme to order Velvet Blue Metallic paint for the outside and Champagne leather within. A stylish and beguiling combo, that’s for sure. “I also had an E60 M5 in Silverstone II, and the colour scheme of this 535d made the M5 look almost bland,” Don laughs.
What’s particularly notable about the car today, aside from the unique colourway, is the fact that it’s a low-mileage example in all-original spec, which you just don’t see very often. Well, almost all-original spec – there is one entertaining deviation from BMW’s intentions. “My late brother had an E61 535d Touring, which he had chipped,” says Don. “He had everything chipped, that was very much his thing. And he said ‘You should give this a try, see how different it is to yours’. I couldn’t believe the difference! So he took my 535d down to Superchips in Buckingham to work their magic on it.” Peak power is now around 350hp; torque is unknown but presumably enough to haul out any troublesome tree stumps one might encounter. And for those who may be suspicious of the idea of remapping, rest assured that such a ones-and-zeroes upgrade is well within the tolerances of capability for a car like this, and it hasn’t affected reliability in any way whatsoever.
“This is, absolutely and without exception, the most reliable BMW I’ve ever owned,” says Don, and for a man who’s owned more than a few, that’s praise indeed. “It’s never had a single fault, we just keep it correctly maintained and it keeps on ticking.”
With so many years of ownership, the usage patterns have changed a little over time. In the early days Don would drive it pretty enthusiastically; it’s now in the hands of his wife who works locally and probably puts around fifty or sixty relaxed miles on it every week. Having paid £18,000 for the car all those years ago, any thoughts of depreciation have been and gone; these things command a certain consistent value today, but realistically are somewhat undervalued by the market. All of which is immaterial though, as the Wearings have no intention of ever letting it go. “It’s such an attractive spec, and it’s been so incredibly reliable over the years,” Don muses. “We’ll probably keep it forever.”
It’s this which really marks the 535d M Sport as being ‘more equal than others’. Can you imagine such familial fondness for a Vauxhall Insignia? No, the E60 has a frisson of specialness about it. A true all-rounder that really gets under your skin.
If Don’s tales of E60 success have got you clamouring to get a 535d into your life, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s plenty of them out there. The used car market has gone a bit peculiar in recent months with a combination of Covid and Brexit knocking everything out of whack, but values of these cars appear to be pretty stable right now. At time of writing, we found plenty of 535ds on sale; the entry point for an M Sport appears to be as little as £5,000 for a leggy Touring, with the sweet spot being around the £8,000-9,000 mark. In this bracket you’ll find examples with decent history and acceptable mileage, and there’s no shortage of choice. Few cars seem to be breaking through a £9,500 ceiling, and any examples you find over £10k will most likely either be collector-grade or simply overpriced.
TECHNICAL DATA 2007 BMW 535d M Sport E60
- ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M57 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo diesel, 6-speed auto
- CHASSIS: 19” M Sport alloy wheels, M Sport suspension
- EXTERIOR: Individual Velvet Blue Metallic
- INTERIOR: Individual Champagne leather
Those who may be suspicious of the idea of remapping, rest assured, it hasn’t affected reliability in any way
The fact that you can pick up a usable E60 535d today for around six grand is almost obscene