First Drive: 2011 BMW 5 Series

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BMW’s New 5 Series Shows Its True Colors There are few opportunities, if any, to explore a car’s limits on public roads. For this reason, …

BMW’s New 5 Series Shows Its True Colors

There are few opportunities, if any, to explore a car’s limits on public roads. For this reason, we were given the opportunity to unleash the new 5 series full potential on track. The New Jersey Motorsports Park is a brand new facility that offered up tight, technical corners with a mix of high speed straights. Surrounding secondary roads shaped our perceptions of how the 5 series will drive in daily life.

But before we delve into our on-track experience, let’s take a look at how BMW’s “F10″ 5 series measures up in amenities and content. Mindful of the economic climate and pricing trends across the automotive market, BMW was keen to offer increased value to the 5 series buyer. Those interested in the purchase of a 5 series (we should all have our hands raised by the end of this sentence) will be drawn in by a simultaneous price decrease and content upgrade. To start off, the 2010 5 series will offer larger wheels on the base model, moving from 17″ to 18″ wheels at all corners. Lumbar support and a larger moon roof is standard across all models and navigation is now standard on the larger engined 550i.

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The most important feature of all offered on both the inline-6 and V8 model? A standard 6 speed transmission. Drivers rejoice; an altruistic performance sedan awaits you.

All of the above is punctuated by a price decrease across the line: $44,550 for the 528i (- $1,400), $49,600 for the 535i (- $1,650) and $59,700 for the 550i (-$900) from the previous E60 sedan. This should have the competition’s attention as the 5 series advances further ahead technologically at a lower price point.

As time rolls on we will see the release of all wheel drive on the 5 series models, a welcome addition to the lineup for those who live in the Northern throws of the United States or Canada.

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What does the Efficient Dynamics program have in store for the 5 series lineup? In due time we will see the release of an Active Hybrid 5 as well as a diesel variant. Strong sales of the 335d have ensured the future of a 535d in the US and Canadian market. We anxiously await its release because a diesel engined 5 series will suit the US and Canadian market perfectly – offering long legs on a single tank while serving up prodigious gobs of torque and power (425 lb-ft of torque, 265 hp). In European trim, a similar 3 liter inline-6 twin turbo Diesel of the same basic architecture is pushing 306 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque; there is a promising future for performance diesels and BMW leads the way. For a more in-depth look at BMW Diesel engine design, check out our Diesel Editorial found here. To be sure, the 5 series Diesel will be a brilliant car for North American buyers (they just don’t know it yet!).

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Moving on to interior appointments, allow us to start off by saying that the new 5 series feels very close to the 7 series in quality and comfort. Materials glimmer, shine and wrap around you in a way that has you second guessing the number on your trunk. Being driven back from the race-track to my Hotel earlier tonight, I literally had to think twice about which car I was in – a 5 or a 7! Rear leg room is impressive and head room is also generous, for a 6’2″ occupant I felt comfortable and relaxed – in no way cramped for space. At this point I started thinking – did they accidental bring a 5 series Long wheelbase from the Chinese launch? No, I was seated in the back of a 550i – and could have comfortably stayed there for hours longer than I did. All occupants of the 5 series have great seats – but there will definitely be a fight for the keys – next up is our race track perceptions.

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The rear wheels light up as we throttle through first gear, second comes quickly, third.. downshift while braking for a fast right hander and we’re already coming up on the second corner of the track. The 5 series hunkers down, poised and ready for your next input. Even after several consecutive laps (by a multitude of heavy footed journalists) the brakes felt strong and fade resistant. Clipping the apex, the 5 series powers out to the exit with a very stable, linear feel. There is no drama in the 5 series chassis, just reassuring grip and handling that guides you through the corners. We were not permitted to fully disable the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) while driving on track, but it was just as well – if driving cleanly there is little intervention and the system operates so subtly that it is nearly undetectable.

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True to BMW’s mandate for perfect weight distribution, the 5 series maintains nearly equal weight across the front and rear axles. Turn in is quick and direct, there is no initial understeer to fight through – just a neutral, balanced feel. As you continue to push, understeer eventually increases as a safety gap for the majority of buyers. Tail-out antics can be accomplished with the right mix of throttle and steering input – but you didn’t hear that from us.

Choosing between the 550i and the 535i is a difficult task, but hardly punishment. While both models are offered in a terrific 6 speed manual, we had a manual 535i and automatic 550i at our disposal earlier today. To be fair, we must reserve our final judgment until we’ve driven the manual transmission 550i, but it is clear from several laps of the New Jersey Motorsports Park that the 535i is a serious sports sedan: light on it’s feet, eager to dance, a real pleasure at the limit. Considering the initial cost savings, and improved fuel economy observed in daily driving, the 535i presents itself as a logical choice for most buyers. The 550i was brilliant on track with similar, though slightly heavier handling and 2 more gears to work with. Speaking of the transmission, up shifts from the new ZF 8 speed are fast and crisp, the computer is intuitive and never works against you on the track. It’s obvious that the drivetrain designers are drivers themselves.

Under normal driving both the 6 cylinder and V8 engined 5 series cars were quiet and restrained – but on the track an alter-ego surfaced: growling engine notes echoed around the circuit, a beautiful sound, indeed.

Our first drive with the new F10 5 series sedan proved our assumptions correct: BMW has a winner on their hands.  Years of development has paid dividends to the 5 series driving experience.  We look forward to bringing you a more in-depth review of the 5 series on-road driving experience in an upcoming road trip article as we drive from Philadelphia to Toronto in BMW’s new mid size sports-luxury sedan.

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