So the 530d, as blue as the mesosphere and uncommonly big in the wheels, is very decent indeed – perhaps even great – but it cannot yet claim to be best. For that, its ascent must overcome two spectacular overhangs: the W213- series Mercedes-Benz E-Class and second-generation Jaguar XF. The first, as grey as a monsoon and wearing an E350d badge, is the oldschool benchmark of taste, albeit one now with enough circuit boards to model climate change. The second, plum red and from our long-term test fleet, is along for an even more obvious reason: it drives with the full-fat sweetness of yesterday’s lardy cake. The BMW, replete with xDrive in this case, must marmalise both the silicone and the sugar if it is to march onto the podium’s top step. Moreover, it must do so in the coalface ugliness of Monday-morning Britain, where it is raining and exasperating. The BMW is 245 miles away from where it needs to be, which is Yorkshire. Where it is snowing.
The quickest way for any car to assuage real-world awfulness is with the escapism of a lovely interior – and with £775 worth of white nappa leather stitched into the new 7 Series-derived cabin, the 530d cushions the thought of a four-hour commute well. Big-skinned but not overtly big, it is credibly, caddishly handsome and, although digital in its numerous displays, it remains gratifyingly analogue in the right places.
Unlike its rivals, it has knobs for both temperature and volume, plus a dirty great obelisk with which to select gears. The E350d, bolstered by a £3895 Premium Pack, has a deeper lustre and possibly more visual imagination, although with almost a metre of floating black fascia dominating the dashboard, it doesn’t properly segregate the driver from other distractions; a failure underlined by the irksome placement of the controls for its Dynamic functions on the wrong side of the centre console. Jaguar, sticking resolutely to its touchscreen doctrine, has the room to make such fun-orientated dynamic features pleasingly accessible, but there’s a screen-stabbing sacrifice to go with everything else and a studied sombreness to the XF’s layout.
The 530d nails its BMW bullet points: the steering wheel is as fat as a full-grown ferret; its seemingly huge, powered, heated front seats (part of the £2170 Premium Pack) are clouds of candy floss compared with either rival’s; the iDrive remains intuitive and unburdened by air-con controls, and there is no better head-up display – even if this, too, is part of a £1495 Technology Pack.
Rather too much about this particular 530d requires sticker price qualification, but not its 3.0-litre oil-burner – and it is the bi-turbo straight six that continues to fill out not only the nucleus of the car’s famous badge but also what it does well. Not dissimilar from the Mercedes or Jaguar, this is about convincing you that six cylinders are an unequivocal improvement over the modesty of four. Diesel may well be on the down slope of its popularity, but the tractability and accelerative largesse of a contemporary 3.0-litre lump isn’t likely to go out of fashion any time soon, especially when traversing the whole M40 and half of the M6 in the same morning.