When an automobile manufacturer is to replace a model that accounts for nearly fifty-percent of its profits and was the best selling product in its class, it better do its homework. BMW did just that with the new 2011 5 series, known internally and by enthusiasts the world over as F10. The 5 Series has always been the middle of the road car in BMWs lineup, it is one step up in terms of size and luxury from the 3 while offering more driving dynamics in a smaller less luxurious package than the line topping 7 Series. This go around is not all that different.
Since our introduction to the new 5, we recently tested both the 535i and 550i equipped with a varying options both on and off the track to generate an accurate description of what the new 5 has to offer. The 535i provides its grunt by the new inline six cylinder twin power turbo (dual scroll/single housing) with variable valve timing that produces 300 hp and 300 ft-lbs of torque. The top of the line 550i features a twin turbo V8 amassing 400 hp and 450 ft-lbs of trailer pulling power. Both engines feature a myriad of Efficient Dynamics technologies such as direct injection to make them powerful while still showing constraint in the fuel use department. For those street racers out there; the most important numbers for you are that the 535i will get you to 60 from a stop in 5.7 seconds, with the 550i getting there in five flat, according to BMWs usually conservative numbers.
The new 5er has a chassis that is 55% stiffer than the outgoing model, and it shows as it is actually refreshingly precise for a car of its size. On the track the 535i felt more balanced than its V8 powered sibling with a bit less understeer, though both variants offered predictable handling and were surprising agile for a car that has grown in size and weight from the previous generation. Having driven cars with and without Integral Active Steering (4 wheel steering as seen in the 5 GT and 7 Series), there is a small learning curve in gaining trust for the greatly diminished turning radius but unlike the previous system in the outgoing model this one actually works as advertised; it improves both low speed handling and high speed stability. Driving Dynamics control and Adaptive Drive work marvels with the suspension to adjust the level of comfort and body roll but the base suspension offers a car with a more comfort oriented drive than we like here at Bimmerfile as it includes a good deal of body roll. On some portions of highway, with the adjustable suspension in “Comfort” our 550i test car would porpoise over the expansion joints becoming a bit irritating- problem solved by placing the car in “Normal” and feeling the road a bit (oh the horror!)
The 550i feels fast as it is driven thanks to all of that torque but it never played a sound track to mimic that feel, it remained a little too quiet to our liking. In other cars we love the N55 inline six turbo, in the 5 it doesn’t offer the same level of performance because of the size and weight of the vehicle. Where the 550i has gained a good deal of power versus the previous version the 535i output has remained the same. But that’s not the whole story. The 535i, on paper has the same output as the previous twin turbo offered but it now feels less powerful and the new motor is not the issue. It’s the added luxury and safety for which over 200 pounds is the by-product of. By no means is the 535i underpowered or feel slow, it just does not have that same feeling of speed as the E60 version did- the improved suspension, sound deadening, seats, and chassis dynamics can also be blamed for the decrease in sense of speed. Braking, like all other BMWs, is firm and should be best in class.
The steering now utilizes an electric system for power to improve efficiency and also allow for the Parking Aid. It has more weight and about the same feel as its over boosted and light feeling predecessor. We were skeptics towards what we are calling the “park-o-matic” system but in a variety of test situations from hills, to curves and on to obstructed spots the system was solid gold, actually if we did not test it we would not have believed how well the darned thing works. If you live in the city and need to parallel park the option is worth every penny as you can park at higher speeds than normal and alleviate that awkward situation when somebody tries to steal your spot.
We are not going to delve into the battle of the manual transmission versus the 8 speed automatic here, but BMW is continuing on by offering the 535i and 550i with a manual so that battle will continue on. What we can say is that the new gear shifter knob of the manual has more leather and is more ergonomically designed. The clutch pedal is light, while the 8 speed allows gear skips and is offered with paddles and different software for quicker shifts in the sport automatic option. The choice remains yours and we respect BMW a great deal for that.
Where do we start? Let’s start with the fact the 5 now offers up an interior that surpasses the competition in fit, finish and design. The interior is welcoming and is very familiar with design cues from the E39 in “pistol grip” door pulls and elements from the 5 GT and 7 Series. Everything is ergonomically placed and has a nice tactile feel to the touch. The seats provide excellent support while still being supple. No longer are adjustable side bolsters offered with the Comfort Seats. While we miss the adjustable bolsters, we believe that making the car as safe as possible was the reason for this and even though we are performance snobs safety comes first.
The overall luxury nearly rivals the 7 series, with black panel LCD screens located in the center stack, an enormous wide screen display for the iDrive and countless other items. There are numerous options that can be added to make the car more luxurious, such as ventilated seats and a 4 zone climate control system that also gives the front air vents a metallic trim piece for added luxury.
Back seat passengers will welcome the increased rear leg room and seats that offer up improved support and padding compared to the prior model. The sunroof size has been increased, as has the trunk. All in all, the 5 series is a real contender in the mid-size segment when only considering luxury and nothing else (add in the drive and there is no competition).
The new 5 simply put, is rejuvenated. The dated Bangle era design is gone, the chassis is much improved, the car exudes luxury and has improved performance and efficiency. Is the 5 as sporty as the 3? No, and that is not the intention nor is it as luxurious as the 7. If you want an ultra sporty car get a 3 series or wait for the ///M5 due next Spring. If you want more comfort and luxury get the 7. The 5 is the happy medium in the BMW lineup, for a more mature buyer that has some responsibilities- like a family or a career that requires transporting people in style. The car looks and drives the part it has been cast as, and it does as it is directed to well.
It has grown in size and weight, which we are not fans of but BMW was able to improve the model in every other way, including driving dynamics and operating efficiency- things we really can’t argue with.
Pricing starts for the new 535i Sedan at $50,475, and the V-8 powered 550i at $60,575. Options are a many and can easily tack on an extra $5-$8,000 within a blink of an eye, get what you need and not what you want to keep pricing within reason and you will have a vehicle that has a much improved value over the previous generation.