2011 BMW 528i Long Term Road Test - Technology Audio

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2011 BMW 528i: Station Preview

September 08, 2011


When I got into our BMW 5 Series last night, somebody had already set this view on the display. I liked the partial audio info/map so I left it that way. I usually put on the detailed view of whatever channel I am listening to.

In this view, you can preview what is on the other nearby stations. I never noticed this before. So, when the Broadway station plays something I don't like, I can see who is singing on the Sinatra station. Yes, I'm old. I listen to this type of stuff.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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2011 BMW 528i: Montana and Back with Escort's Passport IQ

July 27, 2011


Of course, I'm still replaying the events of 2,900 Montana-and-back road trip in my head, remembering little details here and there. And I remember that the car's orange ambient lighting made the cabin more inviting when driving on empty stretches of Interstate 15 at night. I also remember that I missed being able to stream All Things Considered in remote areas, because unlike our TSX wagon, the 5 Series doesn't have Bluetooth streaming audio capability.

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2011 BMW 528i: We Went to Montana, Part 1

July 15, 2011


About a year ago, I told you I was headed to Montana with our long-term 2011 BMW 528i. I'd planned to blog in semi-real-time, but except for some scattered Facebook updates, I've been on radio silence since leaving town last Sunday. Turns out I had to spend pretty much all my waking hours at the wheel, stopping only to sleep, eat and refuel.

Well, I'm back now and I feel kind of rejuvenated in spite of the near-nonstop driving. That means you can expect a bunch more posts with various thoughts (some interesting, some boring) I had during all those hours alone in the car.

Of course, you can't help but grow attached to a car on a trip like this, and as a couple of you predicted, I never thought about our 528i's jerky throttle response, except when pulling out of my motel in the mornings.

Meanwhile, I became an even bigger, even more annoying fan of BMW's normally aspirated inline six-cylinder engine. (Just how annoying? Well, I attended a media event for a rival automaker, and I took over the dinnertable conversation talking about this engine, until finally an employee of said rival automaker leaned over and said, "OK, we get it. Can we please talk about [X vehicle] that you've come here to drive?!" "Sure," I replied, "as soon as you acknowledge that this inline-6 is better than any of the comparable Vee engines your company builds." Wow, I'm kind of a jerk.)

Note the elevation posted on the sign, which appeared 997 miles into the trip. On this whole drive, we never saw anything higher than 8,000 feet, and most of the driving was at 4,000-5,000 feet. By about 6,000 feet, the N52N engine showed subtle altitude-related fatigue, so merging and passing required a few more revs -- a situation I actually enjoyed, because this engine makes some great sounds when it's working.

Before I left town, I was wondering how I was going to keep track of trip mileage since like all other BMWs, the 528i doesn't have the conventional Trip A/B counter -- there's just one trip counter in the cluster. Then, I found this page within the iDrive menus. Turns out we've always had the "automatic reset" box checked, so the data on this page is zeroed out whenever we clear the trip counter.

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2011 BMW 528i: Personalization

June 22, 2011


I know you'll all be shocked to hear this from me, but I'm a slightly finicky consumer. I like things to be EXACTLY how I want them or I'm simply not interested. I don't adapt well and I don't get used to things. I get grumpy and upset and then stop using it completely (see: my Nintendo Wii -- wouldn't stop asking me to reposition the remotes) or I yell every time I use it (See: my TV which makes a ding every time I turn it on / off) until I eventually sell/destroy it.

Things don't get any better with cars. I simply don't like to adapt to things that don't work the way I want them to. Thankfully, the BMW 528i wants to make me happy.

One of my biggest gripes -- and this is going to sound petty, and it might be, but my god I hate it -- is when cars automatically lock the doors when the vehicle is in motion. I don't find this helpful nor do I feel safer. I've never met anyone who does, but that doesn't mean it's not a valid feature. But I don't want it to be mandatory and if it is, well, that's close to a deal breaker. Honestly.

BMW lets you configure that setting.

Next on this screen is the "Unlock Button" setting. Some cars only unlock the driver door when you push the button or, in the case of the 5er, grab the handle letting the system realize you have a key and are allowed access. This drives me nuts. I don't know why you wouldn't want your passengers to have access to the car, or to unlock the rear (don't you people have groceries or a briefcase?) or to simply open all of the doors all the time. Maybe there's some paranoid delusion that you'll be running from a baddie when you get to the car, escaping only by sliding into the unlocked driver door while he paws helplessly at the passenger handle. But that's crazy. Again, not paranoid enough to require this and I don't know anyone who is. Again, that doesn't mean it isn't valid.

Thankfully, BMW lets you configure that setting, too.

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2011 BMW 528i: Which View Do You Prefer?

June 13, 2011


When I took over the BMW 528i for the weekend, the rear-view camera was defaulting to the overhead view you see above. I found this less helpful than the more traditional view behind the car seen in this second photo:

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2011 BMW 528i: Down to Details

June 09, 2011

BMW 528-EQ.jpg

There's plenty to moan about with our 528i, but there's also plenty to praise. Here are a few details worth noting:

The 7-band EQ: You have better odds of finding typewriter ribbon at an Apple Store than seeing anything more than a three-band equalizer in most of today's cars, even sport-lux models like the 528. But only a few screens deep within the iDrive menu is a seven-band EQ control.

It's a little cumbersome.

Twist the iDrive knob to hover over the frequency band you want to change, push the button to select, twist the knob again for increase/decrease, the press again to exit.

The iDrive's twist-push-press makes you miss tactile faders or knobs from something like an old AudioControl unit, where you can reach out and make snap adjustments. But I imagine it becomes a pretty seamless sequence with practice, and really applicable for those with audio OCD. As Doug Newcomb noted though, all the EQ in the world can't save crummy tone at the source, and the 528 stock audio set flat does sound a little fuzzy and ill-defined.

The Handshake: Ed mentioned that both the M56 and the 528i's door handles felt somewhat hollow and plastic. Can't disagree on the 528 observation; you expect something with more mass. Every ounce counts I guess, but the 528 handles are at least thick enough not to feel fragile and they have a nice, damped pull. I can't believe I've spent this much thought on a door handle, but I'll give it up to the product planners who probably end up at the dinner table across from their wives, talking about Susie's day at school, all the while lost in thought about the proper damping rate for the rear passenger door handles.

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2011 BMW 528i: Split Screen Radio/Navi

May 13, 2011

BMW Radio and Navi.JPG

Our long-term 2011 BMW 528i has an available split Radio and Navi screen. This is the screen I prefer to use during everyday driving: radio as the primary display and the Navi heading my secondary display, even if I have not targeted a destination.

A few other companies have this type of display available, but BMW does it best with their 60/40 ratio of the split, clear graphics, and fairly easy to re-configure split portions of the display.

Can your vehicle present a split display, and what do you show on each side?

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 11,900 miles

Friday bonus! Rare LA car sighting on the jump.

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2011 BMW 528i: Radio On

May 12, 2011

BMW 528 Radio.jpg

The radio is on. And it doesn't want to shut off in our long-term 2011 BMW 528i, even after you cut the ignition. The radio doesn't die til you lock the doors. And because of this, I can't even tell if the ignition is off unless I look at the tach.

Now I understand this feature may come in handy when you bring that superfox to Make-Out Point. But for me it's a bit annoying for everyday use, such as when you have to retrieve your gear from the backseat before you go inside.

At least I got to share JLo with my neighbors.

Re-enactment vid on the jump.

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 11,800 miles

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2011 BMW 528i: Thank Goodness for Sideview Cameras

May 09, 2011


Every morning when I head to work, leaving my garage and driving down a narrowish alley to the main street, I always hold my breath and tense up before pulling out into the street. Cyclists and skateboarders sometimes just fly down the sidewalk. And of course the pedestrians here just step out onto the driveway without first checking for oncoming cars.

You see, I have to basically pull out onto the sidewalk/driveway to check and see if anyone is coming. Hit the jump for my POVs from the front seat. With the above vantage point afforded by the side cameras mounted to the front end of the car, I can actually see down to the end of the sidewalk! Pfew! Still cautious exiting the alley but now at least I don't hold my breath.

Anyone coming? I can't see! Aaaahhhhh!

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2011 BMW 528i vs. 2011 Infiniti M56: The Mirrors

March 24, 2011

bmw_mirror_up_1600.jpg bmw_mirror_down_1600.jpg
m56_mirror_up_1600.jpg m56_mirror_down_1600.jpg

I have a pet peeve. I can't stand it when I shift a car into reverse and the side mirrors tilt down so far that they become useless. In this example, our 2011 BMW 528i plays the role of most vehicles. Our 2011 Infiniti M56 shows how it should be done.

First, take a look at the BMW on the top/left. This is the mirror in park. The picture on the top/right is the mirror in reverse. See how far the line perpendicular to the car shifts? It moves from the very bottom of our view to the very top of our view. There is no in-between. That doesn't do me much good when I'm backing into a parking space.

Now the Infiniti takes a more conservative approach, which is actually useful. This time the bottom/left picture is the mirror in park. The bottom/right is in reverse. Again, watch the perpendicular line. See that the mirror only pivots half as far as the BMW? That is what I'm talking about. Unlike most other cars and trucks, this is helpful when backing into a parking space. Thank you, M56.

Am I alone on this?

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

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2011 BMW 528i: Audio Review

March 12, 2011


BMW's 5 Series is a benchmark midsize sedan for most luxury automakers, and a vehicle to aspire to for performance-oriented drivers as well as certain image-conscious consumers. So it's surprising that BMW wouldn't offer a branded premium audio system, particularly when most competitors have aligned themselves with high-end audio imprints.

As with every current 5 Series model, the best we could get in our long-term 2011 528i is the "Premium hi-fi system" that's part of the pricey $4,500 Premium Package 2. And while an impressive logo doesn't guarantee great audio performance and in some cases only serves as interior eye candy, the generic system in our 528i also doesn't come close to setting a benchmark in sound.

The Setup
The Premium hi-fi system in our 2011 BMW 528i consists of 16 speakers powered by 600 watts directed into nine channels. BMW couldn’t provide exact speaker sizes, but the locations include a tweeter and midrange in the center of the dash, a tweeter in each "mirror triangle" in the front doors, a midrange in each front door, a tweeter and midrange in each rear door, another mid-tweet combo in the rear deck and two woofers underneath the front seats.

The Sound
As with every system I test, I listened to over a dozen musical tracks that I've heard in literally hundreds of vehicles to gauge clarity/lack of distortion, tonal balance, timbre, tonal accuracy, soundstaging, imaging and dynamics. I also used non-musical tracks to test soundstaging, imaging, linearity and absence of noise. For more details on this testing process and the tracks used, check out on the Edmunds.com article Sound Advice.

The 5 Series occupies the middle ground in the BMW lineup, above the traditional entry-level 3 Series (that's since been ceded to the 1 Series) but below the corner-office status of the 7 Series. Similarly, the performance of the 528i's Premium hi-fi system straddles the line between good and great -- but never crossing into exceptional territory.

The system had sufficient clarity, with only a bit of the typical midbass distortion and thickness, which also skewed tonal balance. Timbre and tonal accuracy were above average, although I could clearly hear coloration on certain instruments. The system also lacked sufficient dynamics, so that drums, for example, didn't have the visceral impact that gives recorded music a lifelike quality. The woofers under the front seats couldn't muster butt-shaking low bass -- but did induced a bit of annoying panel rattle on some of the deepest notes.

Soundstaging and imaging were a diffferent story. The stage extended beyond the 528i's sizeable dash, with left and right boundaries past the A pillars, and imaging was pinpoint accurate. The expansive soundstage and precise imaging worked in tandem to give the music a tangible sense of space and a layered quality.

In addition to music, I check soundstaging and imaging with two test tracks -- one with voices mixed left, center and right and another with seven drum beats that are supposed to cross the dash at precise intervals. The BMW 528i's system easily passed both, and on my evaluation sheet next to the two checkboxes for the test I scribbled “Prefect.” Linearity, a measure of how well the sound holds together at low- and mid-volume levels, was also exceptional, with the system scoring good and excellent, respectively. It also nailed a zero-bits/absence-of-noise test.

One thing that sets this audio system apart from those of other automakers is it includes an old-school graphic equalizer, as opposed to only simple tone controls. The 7-band EQ can be used to tweak away some of the clarity issues and dial down the bass – or crank it up if that’s your preference, sound quality be damned. But such signal processing won’t do much to improve timbre and tonal accuracy if it doesn’t already exist with the controls set flat, and it becomes the equivalent of an audio Band-Aid. The system also includes Dolby Pro Logic and surround processing, which expands the soundstage but adds an artificial quality to the sound.

The Sources
The dash contains a CD/DVD player, and Sirius satellite radio and an AM/FM tuner with HD Radio capability are also onboard. iPod integration is via a USB port and aux-in jack and requires a two-pronged cable that plugs into both. Once an iPod is plugged in, the user has to wrangle with the vehicle's iDrive center-console controller to get to their tunes.

While overall the iDrive interface has improved, the process for getting to a specific track on an iPod is still frustrating. As you can see in this video from another post, it takes up to five clicks of the iDrive interface to simply play the track you want, requiring a lot of eyes-off-the-road time. Plus, the iPod menu doesn't contain top-line categories for podcasts and audiobooks, which is becoming more common. You can also use a USB drive instead of an iPod, as many of our commenter often suggest. But you still have to deal with the same overly complicated menu structure.

What We Say
Although most of BMW's competitors have now hooked up with name-brand high-end audio companies, it’s doubtful that most people will buy one car or the other in this class based solely on the stereo. But I would also bet that a large segment of BMW customers are hyper brand-aware and care about status if not sound. Too bad an exclusive with B&W is already taken.

But beyond audio branding, while BMW sets a benchmark in the luxury-sedan category with the 5 Series, the Premium hi-fi system in our long-term 528i simply doesn’t measure up.

The Scores
Sound: B-
Sources: B
iPod Integration: C-
Cost: C

Doug Newcomb, Senior Editor, Technology

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2011 BMW 528i: Rain-Sensing Wipers

February 16, 2011


It was raining this afternoon where I live. I was in the 528i, and at first I just had the wipers set to the first speed. But then I thought to myself: "Shouldn't this thing have automatic wipers?" Well, yes Brent, it does. In fact, they're standard.

As is the case with a lot of newer luxury convenience features, the value of having rain-sensing wipers is debatable. Is it really that much of a mental or physical challenge to adjust the wipers to the speed you want? But nonetheless, this is a luxury sedan, and having the wipers do their thing is kind of a neat feature. And yeah, it worked just fine for the 10 minutes or so I had the automatic mode on.

A description of how rain-sensing wipers work is here.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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2011 BMW 528i: Twisted

January 28, 2011


Touch screens, joysticks or twist knobs. Those are your basic choices in navi input these days. Normally I prefer to use touchscreens. I feel on average they're more precise and faster. Downside to that option is all the finger prints that build up on the screen. A handy microfiber rag in the glove box usually fixes that.

I've got to say though, the twist knob in our 528 makes a strong argument for me to change my preference. The positive feedback is pretty awesome. By feel you can tell what you're doing without looking. I do feel the inherit design isn't as precise for my tastes because you have to scroll through all the letters to select the letter you want. Granted it's predictive and will drop letters as you spell something out, but it usually doesn't satisfy my impatient taste.

Beyond the navigation, the feedback makes gives the driver a leg up on their touch screen brethren. If you know what you're doing, you can change the radio station or audio input all by feel without taking your eyes off the road. Yeah you can make an argument for steering wheel controls, but you can't fine tune with those. Typically only presets and volume.

As a whole, the 528 makes me debate my preference to touch screens. Without considering money, which system would you prefer? Touch, knob, or regular ol' buttons on the center stack?

Scott Jacobs, Senior Photographer

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2011 BMW 528i: Preset Preview

January 25, 2011


I was a little irked last night. As I've mentioned before, I like shuffling through songs on my iPhone. But the steering wheel in our 528i doesn't have a skip button. It has a scroll wheel, but the display still lists songs in alphabetical order -- not by what song is next in the shuffle. That forces me to reach over to the skip buttons on the far-right side of the center stack (it's right there in the picture above the number 8 preset button). Oh, the horror, I know. But I found something in the process that I think is pretty cool.

If you brush your fingertip across the preset buttons, the preset information shows up in the main display. In the picture, it's showing "Lithium." I like that. It's especially nice in a Long-Term test car, when there are plenty of people using the same vehicle. Like a lot of other cars, those presets can be programmed for either FM, AM or satellite -- regardless of what mode you might be using at the moment.

Now, if only I could work around this skip button for the iPhone...

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor

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2011 BMW 528i: Backup Camera

January 11, 2011


Editor Ed Hellwig already covered the overhead camera of our 2011 BMW 528i, but check out its backup camera. Not only does it have those guidelines but it even puts up imaginary walls so you won't kiss the bumper of that car behind you or ram into that short garbage can that someone absentmindedly left on your driveway.

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2011 BMW 528i: Fun With iDrive

January 08, 2011


Why the heck not. Setting the BMW's Speed Warning at anything but its highest setting of 160 mph just seems so whimpy.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 7,105 miles

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2011 BMW 528i: Keyless Entry Not So Keyless

January 03, 2011


Those ridges on the door handle of our 528i indicate that it has the "Comfort Access" option, a feature that allows you to lock and unlock the doors without using the key fob. Plenty of cars have this feature and they all work a bit differently.

I prefer to have a button, while BMW likes the idea of masking the feature with these subtle ridges. Great, except that it doesn't work all the time. To unlock the doors, the owner's manual says to just grasp the handle. Sounds easy enough, but I've done that numerous times and nothing has happened, after the second or third squeeze I just pull out the damn fob.

Don't remember our M3 being so touchy about unlocking the doors. And for the record, I generally like these systems, when they work right of course.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

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2011 BMW 528i: Highway Manners

November 17, 2010


Our 320-mile trip from Orange County up to Yosemite National Park afforded us plenty of seat time in the 2011 BMW 528i. The 5 Series left quite an impression.

Noise: This 528i was extremely quiet. Honestly, I thought the Dunlops would be loud but it was nothing a mild radio volume couldn't drown out. As for the engine, it was never short of breath and remained reasonably quite throughout the trip.

Ride quality: As expected, the 5 Series was perfectly stable at highway speeds. The steering is weighted just right, so as to minimize driver involvement and fatigue. Some summer tires tend to tug laterally at the car over freeway expansion joints. There was none of that with the 5 Series. I just dailed up the radio, set the cruise control and settled in.

Cruise control: I found this to be the most impressive aspect of the 528i as a road trip car. I've driven the 4,100-ft Tejon Pass in northern LA County many times, and in many different cars. The first thing I do is set the cruise to 70 mph. Most transmissions have at least a handful of dramatic shifts as the grade fluctuates and the proper gear is selected. Not so with the 8-speed in our 528i. It didn't shift once. Uphill or downhill, the needle remained pegged. In fact, it wasn't fazed by any grade on this trip. Pretty cool if you ask me.

More Yosemite road trip notes to come...

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager

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2011 BMW 528i: iPod Still Waiting ...

November 03, 2010

BMW 528 ipod interface waiting.jpg

I talked yesterday about the imperfect operation of BMW's iDrive iPod iNterface.

However, the story does not end there. When I started the car up yesterday morning, finally figured out how to engage a podcast and hit Start Play, the iDrive screen just said "Please wait ..." It just kept playing the alphabetically first song on my iPod, which is customary when you first plug in a recently resynced iPod. But the podcast did not begin. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting. I tried going back and picking different things, but nothing I selected would play. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I gave up, but when I went back a few hours later to film the video, there was no waiting.

The exact thing happened this morning in a BMW 3 Series. I "waited" for 33 minutes before I remembered I was waiting. I went back, selected something else and it engaged immediately. Maybe it just needs to be warmed up? That's ridiculous, but it's the best I've got.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,710 miles

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2011 BMW 528i Video: Poorly Aging iPod Interface

November 02, 2010

The above is a video explaining why I'm no longer a fan of BMW's iPod interface, which I used to like in our '08 X5. Back then, I was quite pleased that iDrive was actually good at something ... but times change.

Now for comparison purposes, after the jump is a video about another iPod interface (I just randomly selected a so-equipped car from our current batch of test cars). The Buick Regal's is similar to GM's other nav-based iPod interface, but it has a weird redundant knob system rather than a touchscreen. Either way, I like those knobs for the same reason I initially like the BMW's, but it has a more logical menu set-up to boot.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,710 miles

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2011 BMW 5 Series: Fool Proof Radar Protection

October 21, 2010


As you can see, our 528i assumes that you have no parking skills whatsoever. In addition to its visual sonar display, which have been used in various BMWs for years, there's now an overheard camera setup similar to our old FX50.

And because of the sheer size of the display, both can be shown side-by-side. It is quite impressive, even useful at times.

With that level of warning technology, our car should never encounter a concrete pillar, or a concrete pillar or...a concrete pillar. Good ol' technology to the rescue, hope it works.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line

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