2011 BMW 528i: Two Steering Wheels
February 02, 2011
On the left, the steering wheel from a 2009 BMW 550i we tested. On the right, the steering wheel from our long-term 2011 BMW 528i. It's a little tough to make out in these photos, but if you've been in the cockpit of both the E60 and F10 generations of the 5 Series, you know there's a difference. Save for the raised portions at 10 and 2, the steering wheel rim in our long-term 528i is slightly thinner.
Is this a big deal? Probably not. But I think it gets to the heart of the subtle shift in the 5 Series' personality over the last decade.
Mind you, the steering wheel in the previous-generation 5 Series was downright fat, almost a caricature of what a steering wheel should be, and a bit much for average-size human hands to hold. But it primed you for the actual driving experience, which was that of a bona fide sport sedan, maybe the best midsize sport sedan there was, save for the even more beloved E39 generation.
But as you take up the more slender rim in our 528i, you have a feeling it's going to be a bit different now. There's no manual transmission for starters -- in fact, you can't get a three-pedal setup in the U.S.-spec 528i. You have to move up to the 535i or 550i to get that unpopular configuration.
Then, there's the throttle response and the suspension damping. Neither feels quite right to me in Normal (too soft and too soft, respectively), not even for a short drive home, so I switch to the Sport setting and that doesn't feel quite right, either (too agressive and still a little too gelatinous, respectively). So I switch back to Normal.
I'm sure I'll eventually sort things out with the 528i's settings like I did in our long-term 750i. But part of the appeal of the previous two generations of the 5 Series was that they felt pretty much perfect with no fiddling at all.