So when we recently had the BMW 530D M Sport in our garage once again for a review, the temptation of the Taj was impossible to resist. Driving one of the finest luxury performance sedan on the Yamuna Expressway, and timing it to see the Taj on a full moon night seemed like a perfect mid-week plan.
We started early on a clear November day, chasing the rising sun. With the climate control at a comfortable 23 degree C and the sunroof down, we were all set. And the early winter nip made for a fine start.
Now, we have driven to the Buddh International Circuit on several occasions to test vehicles, but hitting the Expressway on course to Agra is a completely different experience. It catapults you into another realm – a dimension that has time, speed, energy and thrill converging into one. And the 530D M Sport felt pretty much at home instantly.
The Expressway is quite impressive in terms of its design, safety, convenience and organisation. At par with any international highway, with several pit stops along the way – integrated clusters with a petrol pump, restaurant, food court, store, motel, first aid centre, clean washrooms and ample parking. Very convenient and well managed.
The 530D M Sport is by far one of the most dynamically capable sedans ever produced. With its feline flair and roguish power to match, it strikes a delicate balance between luxury and performance. It roars when it moves, and is elegant when still. With a range that never ceases to amaze, it is quite unlike any other we have driven. And though we have reviewed the vehicle comprehensively earlier (watch our video review: https://youtu.be/GWK826-VWWc), this drive along the 165 km 6-lane access controlled stretch really proved to us once again, what this sedan is truly capable of.
The powerful 3.0L V6 diesel in the 530D M Sport is unarguably amongst the finest ever made – responsive, lag free and utterly refined. It purrs like a petrol and churns out 258 BHP and a colossal 540 Nm of torque that can guarantee you all the thrill that you could legally seek. The responsive sport steering makes for a truly engaging drive and the 8-speed automatic transmission is near perfect with its shifts. You are never in doubt about those quick overtakes and sharp manoeuvres. Vehicles turn into a speck and disappear in a flash, as you survey the rear view mirror, but the Bimmer feels remarkably planted showing no signs of body roll or instability even at very high speeds. This is perhaps one of the finest examples of German automobile engineering wrapped in metal. Super solid & safe.
On long and fast drives like this one, the utility of the head-up display shines through. All basic driving information and navigation data shows up on the windscreen, and you don’t need to take your eyes off the road even for a split second. When you need more, the iDrive system with a 25.9 cm screen could be the centre of your universe inside the cabin. Calls, music, maps, nearby places, BMW Assist and all that you need on a road trip can be accessed in a breeze. The 2-zone automatic climate control keeps the inside nice and cool and with the rear AC vents each occupant can customize the settings to their requirements.
The all leather luxury seats are well suited for a long drive. The front ones are fully electronic with multiple height & recline settings, lumbar support, thigh support and air chambers. Rear offers limited legroom though, and is a bit tight for three adults or someone who is exceptionally tall. The massive transmission tunnel can also put the fifth passenger in a bit of a spot.
The peak speed limit of 100 km/h on the Yamuna Expressway was a downer. In a vehicle that does 0-100 km/h flat out in 5.8 seconds, cruising at that speed felt woefully under-utilised and unbelievably slow. For much of the journey, we switched to comfort mode, set the speed limit and engaged the cruise control for a relaxed stress free drive. But there were enough occasions to engage the Sport and Sport+ mode and flick the paddle shifts for a better grip of the proceedings in manual mode.
Agra was its usual self. Crowded, busy and dirty. It has all that it takes to be converted into a heritage city, but that would need a major shake up and some massive re-development. For the moment, it thrives in chaos. The area around Taj is full of touts who can smell tourists from a mile. Swooping like gladiators trying to make a fast buck. Everyone jostles and hustles through the streets and traffic remains a mess. That’s when you appreciate features like the Park Distance Control and Auto Hold in the 530D M Sport, which considerably takes the stress out of driving through stop & go city traffic.
We checked in at the Four Points by Sheraton, Agra. This is a relatively new property that was recently awarded the Best Debut Business Hotel (North and East) 2015 at the India Hospitality Awards. Away from the clutter of the main city and just 2 kms from the Taj Mahal, it had a vibrant buzz to it. We were greeted by the General Manager Vikas Ahluwalia, who was gracious as always. The friendly staff made us feel at home and in no time we had our Executive Taj View rooms which were surprisingly spacious and extremely well appointed. The hotel has an all day restaurant, a bar, a shopping arcade, a spa and a roof-top pool with an open air grill. You could spend the entire evening up there, admiring the Taj and watching the sun go down.
The night viewing of the Taj is an initiative by the Archeological Survey of India. Every month for five nights around the full moon, the viewing is open to limited batches of 50 each for half an hour, between 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 pm. While the thought of the Taj on a moonlit night is quite romantic, getting a clear view in winter is rare. The viewing distance is about 200 mtrs., smog levels are high and there are no artificial lights. We are told September is a better time to visit. The annoying bit of the experience is the never ending security drill at multiple points which takes more time than the actual tour. Mostly clumsy, rough and badly managed, it takes the romance away from the occasion. That notwithstanding, the mystery and beauty of the monument remains intact, and the night viewing experience is still pretty unique and worth the trouble at least once in a lifetime. Be sure to book tickets early (bookings open 24 hrs. in advance) as they sell out fast.
After a king’s breakfast and a swim the next morning, we headed out for a visit to a shoe maker en route to Delhi. Our secret hideout was a factory tucked away in the outskirts of the city that did remarkably lovely leather footwear for the UK & European markets. A specially arranged walk-about into their production unit (out of bounds for outsiders) gave us a glimpse of the entire shoe making process – from leather cutting, pattern making, sewing, shaping, edge treatments, molding, steaming, lasting, welting, trimming and final finishing. There were spiffy brogues and monk straps, tassel loafers and calf leather boots, derby and drivers. All made with remarkable finesse and craftsmanship. We were told they would eventually retail between GBP 100 to 250 in London. Worth every bit, we would say.
The drive back till Mathura was intense and one had to be deft behind the wheel. An odd cow sauntering lazily, or a tractor driven by a F1 enthusiast – trouble could come in any shape and form. But we managed well. From there on, getting back to the Yamuna Expressway onwards to Delhi wasn’t difficult, thanks to the turn by turn navigation in the car. The night drive on the Expressway was remarkably well behaved with the adaptive headlight and cornering light in the 530D M Sport providing more than optimum road illumination at all times. We maintained an average speed of 40.3 km/h over 600 kms, and the car returned a decent fuel efficiency of 12.2 km/l during the trip, which was quite impressive.
Reflecting back, one could say that more than the Taj, this journey had us fall in love with the BMW 530D M Sport all over again. For its sheer range of performance. For being poetry in motion one moment, and a dramatic devil in the next. Like it or love it, you just can’t get over it.
Till another day, another drive, another journey.
Photography: Team LTD