At BMW, the midsize 5 Series makes up 20 percent of the company's automobile sales. But it accounts for about 40 percent of the profit. The 5 Series was last redone for the 2004 model year, and as the leader in the premium midsize sedan segment, BMW couldn't afford to let it get old. With so much riding on the car, BMW has redesigned it for 2011, adding more than a little DNA from its top-of-the-line full-size 7 Series. The result is a car that retains its signature dynamic character, while also adding a measure of refinement. Let's take a look at what you should know when considering a 2011 BMW 5 Series as your next family car.
10. BMW is rolling out the new models gradually
The first 2011 BMW 5 Series models are the rear-wheel-drive 535i and 550i sedans. These models hit the market in June. The 528i is due soon thereafter and all-wheel-drive 535xi and 550xi models are scheduled for September. An all-wheel-drive 528xi will come a year after that. The high-performance M5 should arrive six months to a year after the 528xi. Unlike the current M5, which uses a 500-horsepower V10 engine, the next ultimate performance edition of the 5 should get a version of the twin-turbocharged 555-horsepower V8 that powers the current X5 M and X6 M. A diesel model is rumored as well.
The 2011 5 Series returns only as a sedan. The wagon is likely dead, having been replaced by the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, which made its debut last December. The 5 GT has a hatchback body style with a unique bi-modal trunk that can act as a hatch or a trunk. It's not as good-looking or as simple as a wagon, but Americans just can't bring themselves to buy wagons.
9. It benefits from 7 Series technology
The 2011 BMW 5 Series shares platform technology with the full-size 7 Series. The architecture is similar, but it is tailored to the handling needs of the smaller 5 Series. Overall, the car is almost two inches longer than the outgoing model, with a wheelbase that is more than three inches longer at 116.9 inches. By comparison, the 7 Series rides a 120.9- or 126.4-inch wheelbase for the L model. The 5 Series' traditionally short front and rear overhangs are shorter still, lending a sporty character. The car is a half inch wider, and the front and rear track are both 1.65 inches wider, giving the 5 Series a more stable base. BMW 7 Series components can also be found under the skin in the form of electronics and control systems. It never hurts to use high-end components.
8. Plenty of power, better mileage
The 2011 BMW 5 Series is offered with three engines. The base 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder in the 528i puts out 240 horsepower, 10 more than last year. BMW quotes a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.6 seconds, a half-second quicker than last year. The next step up is the 535i's turbocharged 3.0-liter. It changes from a twin to a single turbo this year while maintaining the same 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph takes only 5.7 seconds, and V8-like power is readily available at any speed. BMW says this engine provides more immediate throttle response while also delivering 11 percent better fuel economy when paired with the new eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ratings are 20 mpg city/29 highway with the automatic and 19/28 with the six-speed manual transmission. The top engine is the carryover twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 in the 550i. It is EPA rated at 17/25 with the automatic and 15/22 with the manual, and it rockets the 550i to 60 mph in just 5.0 seconds.
7. It offers several features to improve handling and stability
The available Dynamic Handling package adds some technology to enhance the 2011 5 Series' inherent competence. It includes Dynamic Damping Control, which electronically adjusts the shock absorbers, and Active Roll Stabilization, which firms up the anti-roll bars to keep the car flat in turns. BMW's Integral Active Steering is available as well. It quickens the steering ratio at low speeds to make the car easier to maneuver and slows the ratio at high speeds for increased stability. This year, the system adds active rear steering, which turns the rear wheels up to three degrees in the opposite direction of the fronts at low speeds to shorten the turning circle and turns them in the same direction as the fronts at highway speeds to further increase stability. A Sport package also offers staggered 19-inch tires.
6. It has an impressive ride and handling balance
The 2011 BMW 5 Series is a midsize car like a Toyota Camry or Chevrolet Malibu, but it handles like a much smaller car. Even base models are highly capable handlers, thanks to a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance, a 55 percent stiffer structure, and BMW's years of experience tuning suspensions. For 2011, BMW switches the front suspension from a strut-type setup to an upper and lower A-arm geometry. BMW says the new design improves steering feel, makes room for larger brakes, enhances both ride and handling, and reduces body lean.
We drove the 5 Series on city streets, the highway and a racetrack and found that it excelled in every venue. In base models, especially, the ride is smooth and stable. Add the 19-inch tires and the Dynamic Damping Control in the Sport Plus setting and the ride becomes firm but not punishing. On the track, the 5 handled very well, turning in willingly and staying impressively flat in turns. It wasn't quite as planted as a 3 Series in a long, steady-state turn, but it provided even more feedback in the form of tire squeal as it approached the limits of grip. In short, the 5 is a blast to drive fast and comfortable to drive slow.
5. It has a long list of safety options
If safety is a major factor in your buying decision, the 5 Series delivers. In addition to six standard airbags, electronic stability control and active head restraints, the 5 Series offers numerous optional safety features. The new Top View and Side View Cameras work with the rearview camera to show potential hazards all around the car. The new Frontal Collision Warning with Brake Activation system senses when the car is closing too quickly on traffic ahead and issues an optical warning. If a crash becomes imminent, it triggers an audio warning and applies the brakes to mitigate the severity of the crash. Active Blind Spot Detection illuminates lights in the mirrors and gently vibrates the steering wheel when vehicles are travelling in the car's blind spots, while Lane Departure Warning also vibrates the steering wheel if the car crosses a lane line without the use of a signal. Pedestrians are protected, too. Standard adaptive headlights point into turns, and optional Night Vision uses a thermal imaging camera to detect pedestrians along the road up to 900 feet ahead. Drivers can see their location in an image on the center screen or in the optional Head-Up Display.
4. It has an elegant, driver-oriented cockpit
BMW has canted the dashboard seven degrees toward the driver to make controls on the center stack easier to reach. The dash is also set low to provide a feeling of space. The materials are of high quality with attractive Dark Burl Ash, Ash Anthracite, or Fineline Matte wood trim. Front seat occupants have plenty of head and legroom and drivers will be comfortable thanks to a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel and plenty of seat adjustments. The front seats are also nicely bolstered to keep occupants from sliding around in fast turns. Unfortunately, leatherette upholstery is standard, while the available Dakota and Nappa leathers are more appropriate for a car in this class.
3. iDrive isn't that bad
Central control systems like BMW's iDrive are here to stay, especially in high-end cars like the 5 Series. If you haven't tried iDrive lately, it's much improved. It comes in two versions in the 5 Series. The base version has a 7-inch dashboard screen, while models with the optional navigation system have a 10.2-inch screen. Both versions have a series of buttons around the central controller that take you to submenus more quickly than in the past. The system also incorporates eight programmable memory buttons that can be used to store radio stations or commonly used functions such as navigation destinations or phone numbers. These buttons are touch sensitive, so drivers can hover over them to preview their functions. Buttons on the steering wheel can also be used to call up certain iDrive functions. While iDrive has a learning curve, frequent users will find themselves quickly accessing their favorite functions in no time.
2. It's the right size
Because of its price tag, we tend to think of the 5 Series as a bigger car. It's a true midsize sedan with space for a family of five. This year's longer wheelbase improves rear leg room, and the back seat offers plenty of room for three kids. You could put three adults back there, too, provided you're willing to listen to complaints from the middle seat occupant. The rear seats can fold down, expanding on the 5's generous 14 cubic feet of trunk space, and a center pass-through allows loading long objects like skis. If you're looking for a stylish family vehicle, the 5 Series is a fine choice.
1. It's a better value for 2011
Model for model, the 2011 BMW 5 Series is priced lower than the 2010 version while standard equipment levels increase slightly. The 528i starts at $44,550, which is $1400 less than last year. The 535i comes in at $49,600, $1650 less than last year, and the 550i begins at $59,700, $900 less than 2010 while also adding a standard navigation system. The price decrease makes the 2011 5 Series a better value than last year, while the car only gets better. Be aware, however, that BMW likes to load on the options and charge plenty for them, so be careful how you outfit your 5 Series. I'd recommend a conservatively optioned 535i. It has willing power at a reasonable price. Your family will love it and you'll love to drive it.