Seems only yesterday that the first-generation BMW 5 Series E12 came out and quietly started to revolutionize North America's outlook on the four-door sedan. But that was actually 37 years and 5.5 million worldwide sales ago. Now we're talking about the sixth-generation F10, the 2011 BMW 5 Series sedan model, and it looks about a half size larger than the old E12. Have we all gotten that big?
BMW just had us in to the FIZ projekt centre in Munich to gaze at every square inch of its new premium midsize executive sedan, up close and inside-out. We'll get to drive it in January 2010, but right now it's easy to say that this 5 Series is nowhere near as controversial to look at as the current E60 car with its Chris Bangle-era styling — those Dame Edna lights and flattened not-so-kidney grille we first beheld in 2003.
This all-new 2011 BMW 5 Series is back to being one stern and handsome German, meant to take on the other sternly handsome Germans like the Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class. Not forgetting, of course, the serious trio of Cadillac CTS, Jaguar XF and Lexus GS.
Turbos Are Go
When the F10 5 Series sedan comes to North America in June 2010, the first two setups will be the gas-slaking marquee cars, the 2011 BMW 535i with its 302-horsepower turbocharged direct-injected 3.0-liter inline-6 with intake-side Valvetronic, and the 2011 BMW 550i with its recently developed, 402-hp twin-turbo direct-injected 4.4-liter V8.
Meanwhile, North American BMW reps also tell us that "pricing still hasn't been finalized, but we may see little or no price hike at all on the 535i." Ahh, yes, there are some bright sides to a Great Recession and total market collapse, aren't there? So, that theoretically would still be $51,100 for the 2011 BMW 535i with its optional eight-speed automatic transmission. If all true, wow.
For the 2011 BMW 550i, the ZF-built eight-speed is standard equipment and it comes attached to the TwinPower turbo V8 that replaces the last-gen car's 362-hp 4.8-liter naturally aspirated unit, and following the 8.6 percent price hike promised in Germany, we're looking at $65,600, more or less. Comparing the power and fuel usage between the current 550i's 4.8-liter V8 and new twin-turbo 4.4-liter, horsepower is up by 11 percent while fuel use drops by 5 percent. Acceleration to 60 mph for the 550i is pretty much as it was before at just under 5 seconds, and top speed on all cars in North America is limited to 130 mph, extendable up to 150 mph with the Sport package.
Once again BMW will be the only manufacturer in this segment to offer a manual transmission, so buyers of the 2011 BMW 535i can choose a newly designed, dry-sump six-speed manual, but so far this has represented just over 5 percent of 5 Series buyers in North America.
Cooler, Less Flame
As far as looks go, the controversial Chris Bangle influence is now completely gone. Now, with a cuddlier but just as creative Adrian van Hooydonk leading the sketch sessions, we're back to Bimmer essentials (although better off for having gone through the Bangle era).
Versus the E60 generation of the 5 Series, the new car's dimensions are almost all bigger, of course. The F10's overall length of 192.9 inches is up by 2.3 inches, while width is increased by half an inch and the height actually comes down just a wee bit. The new 5's wheelbase is the longest in this market segment at 116.9 inches, or 3.2 inches greater than the current car. The well-haunched wheel arches tell no lies either, as the front track is up by 1.7 inches at 63.0 inches total, and the rear is now at 64.1 inches for an increase of 1.8 inches.
Though the hood, front fender and door panels are all aluminum to save weight (the doors alone purportedly saving 51 pounds versus steel), the 550i takes on 375 pounds by our math and BMW's specifications sheet, weighing in at 4,035 pounds at the curb with no passengers. This is the price to pay for larger cars where many items on the chassis must grow to fit, plus the standard eight-speed automatic adds weight over the outgoing six-speed unit. As 5 Series Project Director Josef Wüst tells us, "It is easy to track down weight issues and comment, yes, but we were focused on efficiencies and improved structural issues."
Aesthetically we like what we see, as this new 5 Series falls visually between the current 3 and 7 Series. Is it too soft-edged in the front, or just finally all cleaned up? You decide. The visual tricks to make it seem more imposing — bigger, wider triple intakes at the chin, liberal use of horizontal lines front and back, stretched lighting units — match well with the slightly lower height, wider track with pronounced haunches, and greater overall width. The rear end has been bulked up a touch to differentiate itself from the stretched look of the 7 Series, while the thinner C-pillar wrapping the "Hofmeisterknick" nicely sports up the rear half of the profile. And we're happy to see loud and proud kidney grilles come back to the 5 Series. The standard tires for the 535i and 550i will be 245/45R18s, while the Sport package offers hotter 19-inch wheels and tires.
When it comes to the interior, the biggest gain in passenger room is to front-seat head and shoulder room, both up by 1.4 inches. The other bit worth mentioning is a meager benefit of the stretched wheelbase, as rear knee room grows by only a half inch.
When it comes to style, the echoes of the new 7 Series are especially strong (the new 5 and the 7 are being built together at the factory in Dingolfing), and the driver benefits from a mild cockpit effect with the upper center stack angled 6 degrees toward him. We enjoy our Black Panel technology, so extraneous, unlit readouts are masked from view until required. Fourth-generation iDrive can be had not only with the standard 7.0-inch screen but also in optional Professional grade with a 10.2-inch screen.
The raft of optional software-driven safety enhancements seen in the 7 Series is also available to 5 Series buyers and is a what's-what of things we never imagined needing but some of which we do appreciate. Like the optional Parking Assistant, which steers the car for you into a parallel slot after determining (while passing along at speeds up to 22 mph) that there are at least 47 inches of wiggle room. And then there's the back-up camera with top and side views that work like those of the security bunker at the Pentagon. Really, your 5 Series can be covered in cameras and radars by the time you steer it off the sales lot.
Dynamic War Chest
If you'd like a bit more involvement with the new eight-speed automatic that's standard for the BMW 550i, you can always take the Sport version with steering wheel shift paddles and specific console lever for $500. And (hooray!) all flappers are now as in the M Logic setup, with the left paddle in charge of downshifts and the right paddle taking responsibility for upshifts. BMW says the ZF-designed eight-speed is "98 percent efficient," and you'll note that 7th and 8th gear are very tall for fuel efficiency. We also like the transmission's ability to declutch from 8th to 2nd gear in one snappy move, plus there's markedly less torque converter slip as you drive away from a standstill.
Then, naturally for any Bimmer, comes the discussion of the chassis, steering and suspension. BMW boasts that the F10 chassis is the sportiest, yet also the most comfortable, ever in this segment. Given how we've been blown away by essentially the same architecture under the 2010 750i F01, we have a feeling that the quality of the drive at this size should be finer yet. The BMW Driving Dynamics Control works in Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+, toying with throttle response, shift timing and steering assistance, with the DSC stability control switching automatically to looser drift thresholds in Sport+. Poke it all the way off and the virtually locked electronic limited-slip differential plays gently with the rear brakes to keep things fun yet not life-threatening. Get the optional active suspension damping control and DDC will take care of it as well. Once you match all this with the new car's active roll control like that of the 7 Series and the dynamics soufflé comes to a delectable point. These three features now get bundled together in a $5,000 Sport package under the name Dynamic Drive.
The front multilink suspension structure is executed largely in aluminum and uses wishbone-style track arms and negative camber to quicken reactions to input at the steering wheel. Then out back there is the five-joint multilink "Integral V" suspension design. BMW engineers are saying they've made certain to keep the dynamics of steering, ride and drive as discrete as possible without compromising in any area, and we'll see if that's true come our January drive.
The various steels and aluminums used in the new car make the chassis some 55 percent better at resisting twisting and bending forces. We expect the first cars available for driving to come with the optional four-wheel steering, which is called Integral Active Steering, technology introduced by the 7 Series. Up to 37 mph, the rear wheels turn 2.5 degrees in the opposite sense from the front wheels to quicken low-speed steering response and also shrink the turning circle by 1.7 feet. Above 37 mph, the rears turn in the same direction as the fronts to brisk up the handling. Meanwhile, electric-assist power steering is standard for all models of the 5 Series, and we'll be looking to see if this feels like way too much help.
More To Follow
Following the June 2010 launch in North America of the new 2011 BMW 550i and 2011 BMW 535i, the line will fill out when the 528i (the highest-volume model of the 5 Series in the U.S.) shows up later in 2010. At the same time, we'll also see the all-wheel-drive xDrive versions of the car (now made easier to engineer with the new suspension configuration), including the 528xi, 535xi and 550xi.
After this, we might be getting the latest F11-generation 535xi Sport Wagon at the start of 2011 with much sleeker styling, since the F07-generation BMW 5 Series GT has come along as the load-hauler and freed up the wagon to get less boxy. Nevertheless, total U.S. sales of the Sport Wagon continue to be so meager that Vice President of BMW Sales Ian Robertson tells us, "The bosses are still undecided about blessing your shores withal."
You should look for evidence of BMW's diesel initiative in the U.S. in mid-2011 when the BMW 535d will arrive with its 262-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 common-rail diesel.
Also in mid-2011 we can expect the fifth-generation BMW M5, which reportedly carries a 550-hp version of the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 with a new twin-clutch eight-speed automated manual transmission or (upon request) a six-speed manual. Spy videos of this future standard-setter at the Nürburgring show off a monster exhaust note and rapid-fire downshifts. The current 5.0-liter V10 apparently kills the planet, costs the company too much to redevelop and sort of lost its relevance anyway once Formula 1 went V8 and then BMW decided not to participate in F1 at all after this season.
Long and short, what we have here in the 2011 BMW 5 Series is essentially a downsized 7 Series. If it fulfills every lofty expectation, the 2011 BMW 5 Series sedan will remain the sales leader in this lucrative segment.
The manufacturer invited Edmunds to this viewing for the purposes of evaluation.