BF First Drive: 2011 BMW F11 520d

When in Germany do as the German ‘s do; drive a diesel wagon! For the foreseeable future we ‘ll be driving and reviewing BMW ‘s from both sides of the Atlantic, that includes those that have been banished from the states or those that have never even made it to BMW ‘s largest market.

Touching down in Deutschland with enough clothes for three and baby gear to last a summer (before the container of the rest of the belongings makes it over) is a sight to be seen in European airports let alone packing it all into one vehicle for the road trip. Realistically, there are few cars that roam the German straßes that would even fit the bill of carry an American dosage of “stuff “. The BMW 5 Series sportwagon is one of those that does.

As you probably are well aware of, BMWNA has passed on bringing the F11 to the US in any form (let alone a diesel). The much maligned 5 Series Gran Tourismo has replaced it- with its controversial rear and increased size/ loss of practicality compared to the wagon. Truth be told we have a soft spot for wagons, the fact they offer the driving dynamics of a car and most of the functionality of an SAV is something that is hard to beat; although the average US consumer doesn ‘t tend to agree with our view on this.

Having logged a LOT of miles in an E60 530xi Touring (it was parked in the garage prior to the E90 M3), the F11 experience was not all that different in terms of functionality. For starters it has more room in the luggage area than the X5. It gobbles up nearly everything you could want and does it with grace. It is an attractive, albeit conservative, package and may just be one of BMW ‘s best looking offerings to date (even though it is a wagon).

The 520d tested was equipped with almost every box ticked (night vision, all the cameras, dynamic driving control, integral active steering, four zone climate, active cruise and so on and so on), it stickered north of €74k (including VAT).

The 520d features a new 4 cylinder turbo charged diesel engine that produces 380 Nm (280 lb-ft) and 135 kW (184 hp). While it is not quick by any stretch of the imagination, around 8 seconds to 60 mph, it does the job of moving the significant mass of this people hauler admirably. Torque and gearing are what matter with this little engine that could and it is quite efficient thanks to some serious engineering on BMW ‘s part. Our mixed driving jaunt over several days (including right foot smashes) and 400 miles was just north of 41 mpg (only using about 1/2 a tank of fuel). Not bad at all considering how much heft it moved for the first half of the journey.

Hating to repeat numerous reviews ‘ stance that the 8 speed auto is sublime, it is worth noting once more. In many ways the 8 speed is the best match for this engine, simply because shifting would be frequent and jerky even on the best of days thanks to the feisty diesel under the hood. Fuel economy reportedly is aided by passing on the third pedal. As a three pedal pusher, it is tough to argue for one in this situation.

The interior is carried over from the sedan, and it remains luxurious and attractive in this application. It is more spacious and ergonomic than the outgoing model and comfort has been improved in all areas. The rear luggage area is much like the prior generation, the engineers have made sure the rear suspension does not impede into the carrying capacity; yielding smooth squared sides. Rear seats fold flat with a three way split and can be equipped with a pass through if so desired.

The load space can be covered (to hide your stash) by a motorized fabric cover that plays double duty when removed from its normal position, it can be attached to the folded down seat backs and used as a net to prevent stowed items from launching into the backs of the front seat passengers ‘ heads during braking. The hatch or rear window can be opened for loading purposes- the rear window being separate is great when the trunk is packed to the max (thanks to Max ‘s stuff) and you have to get at something but don ‘t want everything to fall out!

The panoramic sunroof is huge and the hard cover can be retracted fully to allow full sky viewing for all passengers. With the glass in the fully open position (front panel moves while the rear remains stationary) there are significant amounts of buffeting requiring windows to be opened (to be expected). With all the windows and glass roof, the car feels very open and bright making the overall experience even more pleasant to passengers. As if the supple leather comfort seats (not available in the US on the 5 sedan) were not enough.

The steering is electric and it is a blessing when equipped with the park assist feature. Trying to navigate German parking garages with a car stuffed to the gills and mirrors folded in due to the narrow width of the structure you ‘d be hard pressed to do it alone.This system continues to impress! Some find the steering feedback to be numb, but when pushed the car communicates nicely- like when taking an autobahn exit a little too hot and the understeer makes itself known loud and clear.

In the end, if it made it to the US, the F11 5 Series wagon with any engine would make it to our short list of family cars for everyday driving. The base model would be more than adequate, with some light options- if the latest technology is your thing pick and choose wisely as the options get costly and add up quick! The new 5 Series continues the great tradition of BMW sport wagons; it is just a shame that those that would have purchased one stateside are missing out on such a great vehicle. That being said, it is hard to argue for such a car when sales for the previous two generations were so poor. When will American ‘s buy into the fact that wagons are the best option out there? We hope soon so that the 3 series wagon does not face the guillotine as well.

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Images: BMW AG

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  • This likely would have been on the short list for my next family car. I just hope the F31 makes it over here as a replacement. 

  • This likely would have been on the short list for my next family car. I just hope the F31 makes it over here as a replacement. 

    • Anonymous

      The F31 is coming if you ask me- they are scared to lose the customer following they already have. They just learned that with the F11 debacle. 

      • goat

        I really hope you guys are right about the F31 coming to Canada/US. And I mean in non-xDrive (unless we see xDrive reworked for the F30 to deliver a more sporting driving feel), six-speed manual form (or at very least DCT)… and with a brawny I6 motor as well please!  🙂

  • Les

    Great review and what a beautiful car! Do you think the 2.0 liter diesel will jump the pond eventually?

    • Anonymous

      Les, I am currently driving another BMW powered by that same 2.0l turbo diesel and I am getting 40+mpg  without any highway driving.; can’t beat it in my opinion. Still lots of fun as well but more on that in the coming week.

      As for the US getting more diesels- yes they are coming BUT the caveat is they will need to use the same engine in multiple vehicles. with the new 2 liter 4 cylinder petrol coming in the fall it is obvious BMW is gradually introducing smaller power plants.

      The EU market will see a 3 cylinder in the not so distant future and how that is accepted may tip the cards towards smaller diesels in the states. 

      • Les

        Thanks for extra bit. If BMWNA does bring the 2.0 diesel here, I will on it faster than Gabe was on the 1M. I’ll even write a long-term review for the site.

  • BMWWagonFred

    Drove a 520d Sedan (E61) a few years ago in Germany and Austria and I still get misty thinking about it.  I calculate 39 mpg for the trip, which wasn’t bad considering a full car.  The engine was great in and around town, but passing on the Autobahn required some forethought.

    This would be my dream car if it came stateside.

    • Anonymous

      The new 20d engine is even better!