In their latest issue, Car and Driver magazine publishes as a cover story a “rematch” between the new 2011 BMW 535i against Audi’s A6 3.0T and Infiniti’s M37 model. Previous comparisons were quite favorable for the new 5 Series, but interesting enough, it comes in the third place this time with the Audi A6 taking the top spot.
Main concern? The lack of steering feel.
Let’s have a look.
“A BMW finishes third in a three-car comparo? For those of you who monthly accuse us of porcine gorging at BMW’s fiscal trough, will this persuade you otherwise? Didn’t think so.
What, exactly, befell the new 535i? Steering feel. Rather, lack of steering feel. The new electric power assist has not only rendered the steering uncommunicative—particularly on-center—but, for some reason, it has also become heavier. When you can’t determine road textures and slip angles and how hard those 19-inch Goodyear run-flats are working, you lose confidence if the roads are damp and as kinked as week-old spaghetti.
And when you lose confidence, the poison seeps into other crevices. Notice, for instance, that the 535i demonstrated terrific skidpad grip—an objective rating. Then, in the hills, its handling earned the lowest score—a subjective rating. That, in turn, infected the fun-to-drive ranking, where the BMW tanked because it’s simply no bowl of cherries predicting real-world lateral stick when the steering coughs up so few clues. Guess wrong and you’ll seriously rearrange the C-pillar’s signature “Hofmeister kink.”
This is the sort of faux pas—like the original X3’s granitic ride—that BMW corrects pronto, so we have hope. And, in truth, the mute steering did offer the best interstate tracking. Combine that with the quietest cabin at a 70-mph cruise and you’ve got a stellar cross-country vacationeer. Speaking of treks, how come a nav system isn’t standard in a car in this class?
Otherwise, there was much here to admire. The brake pedal proved a paradigm of linearity and predictability, scoring a perfect 10. The tractable single-turbo inline-six evinced no lag and was as vibrationless and silky as any of BMW’s reciprocating devices. (Funny that the engine cover is emblazoned with the words “Twin Power Turbo.”) And the 535i was quickest to 60 mph and in its 50-to-70-mph passing potential.”