What's New for 2011
For 2011, the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo gains an all-wheel-drive version ("xDrive") of the 535i trim level.
In the animal kingdom, the look of certain animals can make one ponder how the animal came about in the first place. Consider the platypus, for instance, or the double-humped camel. Looking at the 2011 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, you might have similar questions: What is it? Who's it for?
With its sloping fastback roof line, the 5 Series Gran Turismo isn't really a wagon (lacks a cargo-friendly, squared-off roof) or an SUV (lacks abundant passenger and cargo capacities). You could say it's a cross between the two. Maybe it's just a large luxury hatchback. We imagine BMW hopes to attract luxury sport sedan owners looking for something sporty but with enhanced cargo capacity.
Scrutinizing the spec chart won't tell you much about the 5 GT's bloodlines. The Gran Turismo is about 2 inches taller than a 5 Series sedan but 4 inches lower than an X5 crossover SUV. Even this Bimmer's name is murky. It's called the "5 Series" GT, but actually uses many of the 7 Series chassis components and offers a cabin about as roomy as the flagship sedan. Unfortunately, the GT offers neither the luxurious ride of the 7 Series nor the 5 Series sedan's sharp handling.
The 5 Series Gran Turismo's dual-mode hatchback -- its distinguishing feature -- is pretty cool, though. You can open just the lower part (similar to a sedan's trunk lid) or you can lift the whole hatch upward. Fold down the split rear seats and there's 60 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, less than most compact crossovers but four times the trunk space of a 5 Series sedan. A choice between twin-turbo V8 and turbocharged inline-6 ensures plenty of performance, while optional all-wheel drive (xDrive) offers steady footing in inclement weather.
The 2011 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo is a niche unto itself, at least until the similar Audi A7 debuts next year. If that niche proves popular, the Gran Turismo will no doubt work out well. But for most folks, you're better served by conventional wagons like the Audi A6 Avant or Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, or crossover SUVs including the Acura MDX or BMW's own X5.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo is a luxury sedan that seats five with a large, fastback-style rear hatch that can be opened like a traditional trunk or as a large tailgate. It's offered in 535i and 550i trim levels that correspond to the two engine choices.
Standard features on the 535i include 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, heated exterior mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, wood interior trim, leather upholstery, full power accessories, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, 10-way power front seats, driver memory settings, and sliding and reclining rear seats. Also standard are Bluetooth, BMW's iDrive electronics interface and a 12-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player and auxiliary audio jack. Besides the upgrade to the V8 engine, the 550i adds navigation with voice recognition and real-time traffic and auto-dimming mirrors.
Most Gran Turismo options are grouped into packages. The Sport package adds 19-inch wheels or 20-inch alloy wheels with performance tires (for the 550i only), multicontour front seats and a sport steering wheel. The Dynamic Handling package adds an adaptive suspension. The Driver Assistance package gets you a blind-spot monitoring system, lane-departure warning and automatic high beams. The Premium Sound package adds a 16-speaker surround-sound audio system and USB/iPod integration. The Convenience package adds a power liftgate, soft-close doors and keyless ignition/entry.
There are also plenty of options related to seating upgrades. The Cold Weather package keeps passengers cozy with heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel. The Active Ventilation Seat package adds heated and ventilated multicontour seats, while the Luxury Rear Seating package includes heated and ventilated rear seats, four-zone climate control and rear and side window sunshades. In addition, this package replaces the rear middle seat with a permanent center console and makes the GT a four-seater.
Stand-alone options include many of the above-listed items, plus four-wheel active steering, a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, navigation for the 535i, a rearview camera, side- and top-view cameras, advanced Bluetooth phone connectivity, a ski bag, satellite radio, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and night vision with pedestrian detection.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 BMW 535i Gran Turismo comes with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. The 550i bumps it up with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 cranking out 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission available. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but buyers can opt for xDrive models with all-wheel drive.
In Edmunds performance testing, a 550i GT accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 5.4 seconds. We'd expect the 535i to trail by about a second. The EPA estimates 535i fuel economy at an impressive 20 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 24 mpg in combined driving. The 550i is rated at 15/22/18 mpg. Expect xDrive models to net 1 or 2 mpg less.
Standard safety equipment for the 2011 BMW 5 Series GT includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. The brakes also feature brake fade compensation, hill-hold and brake-drying functions. Optional blind-spot detection, head-up display, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, rearview and sideview cameras and night vision with pedestrian detection are also available.
In Edmunds brake testing, a 550i GT decelerated from 60 mph to zero in 112 feet, an impressive result for a vehicle topping the scale at more than 4,800 pounds.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 5 Series GT's cabin is up to 7 Series standards, with nearly every surface adorned with supple leather, rich wood trim and textured plastic. BMW's latest-generation (and greatly improved) iDrive interface is standard, simplifying control of the navigation and entertainment functions.
The front seats easily accommodate larger folk and offer seemingly endless seat adjustments, while the rears are just as comfortable and can be optioned with many of the same amenities as the fronts.
The GT's distinctive rear hatch offers functionality beyond mere styling flourish. The dual-access tailgate consists of two sections that allow for a traditional trunklike opening or a full hatch. The smaller trunk section holds up to 15 cubic feet and allows for speedier loading. A removable rear package tray creates a substantial partition between the trunk and cabin and stores neatly under the trunk floor when not in use. With the rear seats folded and package tray stowed, the GT can handle much bulkier loads of up to 60 cubic feet.
On the road, the 2011 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo rides more firmly than the 7 Series on which it is based. Ruts and bumps transmit more freely into the cabin, but this also adds a stronger feeling of connection with the road. The turbo V8 pulls strong and the eight-speed automatic seems well matched to this engine, providing quick, almost seamless shifts when driven conservatively. The steering is well-weighted and lightens up considerably at lower speeds. When combined with optional four-wheel active steering, the GT feels much more maneuverable in parking lots thanks to a smaller turning circle.
Around town, the 5 Series GT remains calm and composed, insulating passengers from the harshness of the world, much like any 5 Series. Wind and road noise go largely unnoticed. Driven on winding mountain passes, the GT feels confident and nimble. Taken closer to its limits, though, the taller ride height and additional weight contribute to more pronounced body roll than a 5 or 7 Series sedan, although advanced suspension components and electronic aids compensate enough to please all but the most demanding of drivers.