BMW 2500 SALOON

(Country Life, 18th April 1974. By John Taylor. UK.)

With the recent relaxation of the 50mph speed limit on motorways to the previous 70mph (though at the time of writing other roads are kept to 50mph), one can begin to enjoy motoring in cars built to cruise safely and comfortably at speeds far in excess of that figure. In Germany, the speed limit has been removed entirely on their autobahns with a recommendation to keep to about 80mph maximum, and those of us travelling through that country this summer will really be able to give our cars a good work out. Undoubtedly the Germans will be cruising at nearer the 100mph mark, and those drivers in BMW cars will be among the pace-setters.

   German car sales in Britain have taken a step backwards in recent months simply because of the exchange rate making their prices uncompetitive against the domestic product. BMW have certainly had their share of the setback, but I imagine that with the upswing of trading looked for in the spring, their fortunes may take a turn for the better. I have recently been renewing acquaintance with their large six-cylinder saloons by testing the 2500 and, if one can afford it, this car provides excellent transportation for five adults in high comfort and with all the driver enjoyment that one has come to expect of the cars from Munich. The only bugbear is the price, which now stands at 4,349 inclusive, compared with the price on its introduction to Britain some five years ago of under 3,000, including purchase tax.

   This is not to infer that the only changes in the intervening period concern the price. The rear suspension has been modified to improve the ride, and the fuel-tank capacity has been increased from 16.5 to 17.2 gallons. Inside the car, driver comfort has been further improved by the use of an adjustable-length steering column and a seat height that can be varied. In addition, the rear seats have been redesigned and the instrumentation further improved. Limited-slip differential is now standard instead of optional equipment, but power-assisted steering as fitted to the test car, is still an extra (151 inclusive) while automatic transmission is also available.

   It will be recalled that the large BMW saloons were originally introduced in 2.5 and 2.8-litre forms of which the latter has subsequently been up-rated to 3-litres. More recently, a further permutation has appeared in the shape of the 525, being the smaller 520 body with the engine from the 2500.

   The power unit is a 6-cylinder overhead-camshaft design with seven main bearings, light-alloy cylinder head and twin Zenith carburettors. The design of the combustion chambers has received careful attention, which has resulted in high efficiency and undoubtedly contributed to the smoothness of the unit. This efficiency is also borne out by the net power output of 150bhp, which for a 2.5-litre car is quite remarkable and compares favourably with many 3-litre units.

   No concessions are made by the body of the big BMW to passing fads and fancies. Instead, it is a solidly styled three-box shape which is completely practical. A low waistline materially assists the good all-round visibility and also accentuates the wide, solid appearance. It was styled by Michelotti, and BMW have wisely refrained from trying to gild the lily over the years; there are too many examples one can cite of cars that started nicely and finished up looking an absolute mess in an attempt to meet the whims of the sales experts.

   The body exterior has a four-headlamp system with halogen lights, solid front and rear bumpers with rubber inserts and overriders, a waistline rubbing strake, recessed door handles, black windscreen-wiper arms and stainless-steel trim for contrast.

   Wide doors make for easy entry and exit to the front and rear compartments, the rear doors having only minimal intrusion from the wheelarch. The interior layout and styling is interesting in that it is restrained yet very comfortable. BMW proved with this series that interior comforts have no need for visible ostentation. The same goes for the instruments and controls; nothing immediately eye catching or outstanding, yet everything singularly well planned and placed for maximum efficiency and minimum effort. Few cars manage to combine comfort for the passengers with sheer driving pleasure so effectively.

   Seats are broad and firm with adjustable backrests, detachable headrests and a very comfortable velvet-cloth finish toning in with the carpet. The rear seats have a folding armrest and are well endowed for head and legroom, the seats themselves bringing praise from the occupants on a long run. Instrument layout is notable for its clarity, with large speedometer with trip and a matching rev counter. Smaller gauges for fuel level and water temperature are equally clear, and a batch of warning lights is easily read.

   The gear lever is comfortably placed in a centre console which incorporates a very deep cubby hole which was capable of holding my reflex camera in safety. Steering-wheel diameter seems a mite smaller than originally and now has a padded centre. Stalks cover the two-speed and intermittent windscreen washer with wiper, and flasher, dip and direction indicators. The actual light control is on the fascia, but easy to reach. Heating and ventilation is well taken care of with a three-speed blower and central fresh-air outlets.

   In keeping with the passenger capacity, the luggage boot is both vast and well shaped, as well as being carpeted and lit. The toolkit neatly housed in the lid is notably comprehensive, while the spare wheel is beneath the floor. The engine compartment is well filled with a large air filter hiding the twin carburettors; even so, accessibility for routine attention is quite good.

   Automatic choke starts the car without trouble from cold and the engine warms without a trace of initial clatter. In fact, the silence of the power unit is as remarkable as its output, and while one feels the surge of foot-down acceleration, the actual speed is deceptively high. Pedals are comfortably placed for heel and toe changes and the car responds equally well to urban crawling or open road high-speed cruising. The ride is well damped and rough roads are treated almost with disdain, while the suspension and big Michelin tyres hold the car in place superbly for a fairly bulky saloon. The power steering, as fitted on the test car, is one of the best of its kind and while light for parking is accurate on the move.