2011 BMW 528i: The Eight-Speed Automatic
February 18, 2011
You might think that having eight speeds in a transmission is just a few too many. But the eight-speed automatic in our 528i (it's made by ZF; you can watch a nifty cutaway video here) does work exceptionally well. If you're just driving the car normally, you'll never notice that the car has so many gears. Each shift is smooth and quick. And as Jay noted before, it makes a big difference in helping the 3.0-liter engine (just 240 hp for a 3,910-pound curb weight) seem perfectly adequate.
A video of the tachometer in motion with each gear shift follows after the jump, along with more transmission observations.
You have to watch carefully to see each shift, but it does go into eighth gear right at the end of the video, which was about 50 mph. This was in the car's Normal drive setting with light throttle applied.
Ah yes, Normal mode, which Magrath described as the car's "Lexus Mode." True, that sluggish throttle is annoying. But I found that after driving our 528i for multiple days in a row, I got used to the soft response. I'm going to stick my neck out here and say that hopping into different cars each night as we do as editors makes us more sensitive to the issue than it'll likely be for the typical owner.
Interestingly, I'm not particularly fond of the alternative -- setting the drive mode to Sport or just moving the transmission lever into the sport setting. (Near as I can tell, they have the same affect on throttle calibration and shift points.) True, the car's behavior is much snappier this way, but it also doesn't shift into top gear when cruising, instead staying in sixth or seventh. But if I'm cruising, I want maximum fuel economy.
I found the best workaround for me was to have the drive mode in either Normal or set to Sport, but only with the suspension selected. If the throttle was annoying at stoplights, I'd put the transmission lever into sport, but then go back into regular drive once I'd get up to speed.
Now, isn't this all a bit silly? Yes.
One final note: our car is equipped with the optional ($500) sport transmission. Other than shift paddles, I'm not sure what this gets you. But having the paddles is definitely worth paying $500. If you're in manual mode, using the paddles and taking full advantage of higher revs greatly enhances the 528i's sportiness. The shifts are shockingly quick when using the paddles -- quick enough that you just might think it's a dual-clutch automated manual transmission -- and driving around with the revs up does make the 528i seem more like a BMW sport sedan than a small 7 Series.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor