2011 BMW 528i: I Don't Like This Car, Either
May 25, 2011
"'This might be the perfect car,' exclaimed one of our road test editors after putting the BMW 550i through its paces at our test track. 'It's the perfect size, looks great, it's fast, it handles. Does everything well.' You could throw in supremely comfortable, quiet on the highway, luxuriously appointed and beautifully built. We would never go so far as to declare it 'the perfect car' there are always going to be a few areas of contention but the BMW 550i would most certainly be among the nominees with Vegas odds in its favor."
I wrote that back in 2008 about the previous-generation BMW 5 Series. While I always thought it looked silly and not like a proper BMW, I begrudgingly had to admit that it was sensational for all that stuff up there and that it still drove like a proper BMW.
This new 5 Series, however, does not get that same endorsement. It may look more like a proper BMW, but now it drives silly.
It starts the second I dip into the throttle and nothing happens. I have absolutely no idea why people supposedly like this lazy throttle response or why BMW thought it was a good idea, but it's infuriating. Alas, I am in "Normal" mode because the car defaults to that every time I start the car. Press "Sport" and now the throttle response still has a brief delay, but it's immediately followed by this manic, hyper sensitive reaction that makes you feel like you dumped a gallon of Monster Assault into the gas tank. Great on a canyon road I suppose, but nutty everywhere else.
Hey, I have an idea. What about a "BMW" mode that feels like, you know, what the 5 and all the old BMWs felt like. My Z3 may be old, flaccid and thrown together Frankenstein-style with parts from two different 3 Series, but at least it doesn't feel like it's A) Asleep or B) Controlled by a caffeinated squirrel.
Once I move beyond the throttle, the rest of the new 5 begins to sink in. Yes, it's very big now, but that's not my biggest beef. The last generation was pretty big, too. It just feels too soft and too isolating, almost (gulp) Volvo-like. The electric steering is a great approximation, but again, neither of the two driving modes successfully achieve the outgoing engineering artistry. It doesn't encourage you to drive; it feels like a limo now.
Now, I understand that typical midsize luxury sedan buyers aren't taking their cars to track days, probably don't live within 1,000 miles of a canyon and will rely on their car principally for commuting, errands and road trips. Yet the stereotypical BMW driver (and I've talked to a few about this very topic), want a car that makes them excited to drive regardless of where they're going. I count myself in that group. The old 5 Series begged me to drive it, the new car doesn't and I think that's sad.
Frankly, I think BMW is losing the plot and risks losing its core clientele while attempting to suck in Lexus drivers or whoever will supposedly benefit from "Normal" modes and all that isolation. One 5 Series owner I talked to said the new car doesn't interest him, coming to a similar conclusion I did after a test drive. I can't be certain, but I'd wager that could be a common response.
One thing I am certain about, however: BMW 5 Series is no longer in my running for perfect car.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 12,199 miles