September 28, 2010
BMW built the first 5 Series almost 40 years ago. Since its inception BMW has used the 5 to bridge the gap between the small, nimble 3 Series and the stately, luxurious 7 Series. For years the 5 did so gracefully, all the while maintaining its status as a true driver's car. Meanwhile, priorities were changing.
Over time the BMW brand and model lines evolved. In 1999 it entered the SUV market with the X5. In 2008 the 1 Series was launched in the U.S. as the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series sedans gradually grew in proportion. But with increased dimensions comes increased weight. Weight puts a strain on maneuverability and acceleration. After five generations of this process BMW has arrived at the 2011 BMW 5 Series. Does its size now move it out of the niche it held for so long? Is this the year the 5 Series falls from its perch upon the luxury-sport fence and has to choose a side?
In the past we've tested a long-term 1 Series, 3 Series and 7 Series. We've yet to send a 5 Series through our 12-month test gauntlet. With the changes to the 2011 BMW 5 Series, it seems the time has come.
What We Got
Our decision to add a 5 Series to the long-term fleet was easy. It was more difficult to choose which variation of the sedan to test. Eight cylinders built a strong case for the 550i and under normal circumstances would seal the deal. But we were looking for something different. The turbocharged inline-6 of the 535i ranks among the best engines on the market. But again, that would be the obvious choice. We instead opted for the normally aspirated, direct-injected 240-horsepower inline-6 of the 2011 BMW 528i.
Base MSRP on the entry-level 528i was just over $45,000. We loaded it with every option under the sun, inflating the price to $60,050 and essentially equaling the starting MSRP of a 550i. Comfort is important to us. Our Deep Sea Blue Metallic 5 has it all: keyless entry, heated seats and steering wheel, rearview camera, side- and top-view cameras, split-fold rear seat, navigation, eight-speed automatic and Sport package, including 18-inch Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT tires.
For 2011 the 5 Series is significantly redesigned. This is our primary motivation for adding a 2011 BMW 528i to the fleet. But we question whether these updates are all for the better.
Why We Got It
BMW overhauled the 5 Series for this, its sixth generation. Over the years we watched the 5 grow like a healthy American waistline and there is no hiding it now. For 2011 it is longer, wider and heavier than those before it. It's large enough to be confused with a 7 Series, and for good reason. To support its new dimensions the 5 now sits atop a platform derived from the 7. At some point the added size is going to tip the previously held balance between luxury and performance. Is this the year? Does the luxury of the 5 outweigh its dynamic attributes? Or is it still a driver's car?
The eight-speed automatic transmission is also new for 2011. Our full test of the 535i only scratched the surface. Senior Editor Josh Jacquot noted, "That the 535i is available with an eight-speed automatic transmission — about three too many speeds in some situations — is emblematic of the newest generation of the company's core midsize sport-luxury sedan. This is an exponentially more complex thing than the car you first met as the 5 Series." To uncover the true character of the new 5, we are going to need more time.
BMW spends almost as much time fine-tuning the driving dynamics of each vehicle as it does inside the cabin. There is a reason we didn't skimp on the options for our 528i. We want to test all of the extras. In addition to offering an array of powertrain and chassis adjustments at the push of a button, BMW also tweaked the interior to accommodate the drive more comfortably. A slight reorientation of the controls toward the driver was thoughtful. Will we notice? And the fourth generation of iDrive promises more ease of use than prior iterations. Will the electronic gadgetry win us over or leave us wanting more? There is only one way to find out.
We ordered our 2011 BMW 528i and reserved a space for it in our long-term test garage. Next up, we drive it for 12 months and 20,000 miles.
Current Odometer: 1,035
Best Fuel Economy: 29.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 19.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 24.0 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.