Looks aren’t everything.
Lost in all the chatter regarding the looks of this new 2011 5 Series are some significant differences from the previous generation of 5 that you probably haven’t heard or read much about. Some affect your safety, some affect your driving feel, and others affect your driving efficiency.
But you need to know about all of them, because they could be a deciding factor in whether or not you choose to upgrade from the 2009 5 Series to this current 2011 version.
So, here are 5 things that you should compare before making your choice. (Note: The models compared are the 2011 535i and the 2009 535i. The 2011 model is referred to as the new 5, the 2009 is referred to as the old 5.)
Your Safety Changes Things
The brakes on the new 5 do their job better than do those on its’ older brother from 2009. The ventilated anti-locks on the 2011 need two less feet to completely stop from 70mph than its’ predecessor did. And if you don’t think two feet is anything to talk about, take out your measuring tape and imagine the difference it could make when driving your city’s favorite overly-crowded highway…at rush hour.
Along with improved brakes, BMW has made other changes that make the new 5 Series safer than the previous generation. The most notable of which are the additional airbags that are now standard to better protect driver and passengers alike, especially in side-impact collisions. Recall that the previous generation of 5 Series was flawed in this area.
Is the additional airbag protection a “Pro” for this new 5 Series over the old? Of course it is, as is the improved performance of the brakes. So, check one in the Pro column for safety changes in the F10 over the E60.
The brake performance on the new 5 is more surprising given that the F10 weighs about 200 pounds more than the previous generation of 5 does. As with any weight gain that isn’t accompanied by a proportional increase in power, you’d be right to assume that the new 5 has less impressive performance numbers than the old 5.
Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t feel that way.
Performance: Numbers Don’t Lie
The new 5, featuring the same 300 horsepower and DOHC setup as the old 5, propels you to 60mph in the mid 5 second rage. The previous 5 did that in the low 5 second range. And the quarter mile numbers aren’t any prettier for the F10: 14 seconds vs. 13.8 in the E60.
Though your everyday driver isn’t likely to notice those few tenths of a second, enthusiast drivers will, especially if those tenths start deciding a bet or two at the racetrack. But, as you’re about to read later on, these performance stats may be a case where numbers do lie.
Still, it’s hard to say that the extra beef on the new 5 is a “Con” compared to the old 5. That’s mainly for two reasons: interior room and driving feel.
Remember, this new 5 is longer and bigger, giving your passengers more room inside. Your passengers will notice the extra room regardless of where they sit because the new cabin position moves the front seats further back, while at the same time adding almost two full inches of rear leg room. Recall that the old 5 wasn’t exactly super spacious, especially for 6-footers. And as Americans keep getting bigger, more room is always a plus. So for interior space, chalk up another Pro in the 2011’s column.
When it comes to driving feel, the 2011 5 simply feels faster than the old 5, even with the weight gain. Which makes me ask myself this…
Can More Weight Actually Make You Feel…Faster?
This is a case of 0-60 and quarter mile times be damned. The F10 moves. This is probably caused by the quick shifts of the new 8-speed transmission, improved aerodynamics, and the new lightweight composite material that replaced much of the heavy steel in the doors. None of which the 2009 5 Series had. Whatever the cause may be, you notice it, because the 2011 seems unequivocally faster than the 2009.
Because there is indeed a weight gain, the obvious decision is to say that it is a Con for the new 5. But when you consider that the extra weight was spent on more interior space, and that this new 5 actually feels faster than the old 5, the extra weight doesn’t feel like a Con at all.
The F10 feels faster than the old 5 to the point that the weight gain would be an afterthought, making it a de facto Pro in this case – if it wasn’t for the lack of an increase in power. That’s why in regards to weight (and how weight affects driving feel), I’d call it a Push.
Handle it Yourself
Staying on the topic of driving feel, there is another area where we can’t always believe what the calculations tell us about the new 5: handling.
Yes, I know that the magazines say this new 5 is worse than the old 5 in terms of G’s produced. Yes, I know that they also say the new 5 requires more lock-to-lock turns than the old 5. And I know there has been some thought that you don’t get much road response in this new 5. I’ve even seen words like “numb” and “boring” and – worst of all – a comparison to Lexus (blasphemy) directed at the F10’s handling prowess.
Don’t believe it. Because once you actually drive the F10, you’ll wonder what those people were feeling (or thinking).
Now, I’m not saying that the new 5 is an incredibly marvelous handler the likes of which you’ve never experienced before. All I’m saying is that it’s not like the critics would lead you to believe, and that there’s still much to be impressed by – especially in Sport mode.
The handling differences between this new 5 and the old 5 can be attributed to two main areas: a new front multi-link suspension and damping technology.
By its’ very design, a multi-link suspension is designed to give you a softer, more comfortable ride. This is because each link can individually absorb changes in surface conditions without affecting the other links, and subsequently the feel you receive. And even coming from the shock-damping design of the MacPherson strut that was in front of the old 5, more comfort is what you feel in this new one.
In Comfort mode, the feeling may be softer and more absorbent than that of the E60. But it’s certainly not dull, boring, or reminiscent of what you would feel in a Japanese “luxury” car.
Good news: If you don’t like the softer ride that the new 5 delivers, then all you have to do is change the setting to Sport mode. Once you make this change to the suspension damper, the new 5 will remind you of the old 5. Which brings me to this: Sport mode is really the way you need to drive the F10 in order to have the sporty BMW driving feel that we’ve all come to know and love.
In Sport mode, the damping eases and this car handles the way I think most of us had hoped it would without the setting change.
Whether or not the handling of this new 5 is a Pro or Con depends a lot on your personal preference. If you prefer a comfortable ride as opposed to a sporty drive, then the new handling dynamics would be a Pro for the F10. Personally, I like a sporty drive and I don’t like having to change settings on a sports-sedan in order to get it. That’s why I believe that the new handling dynamics are a Con for the F10 in comparison to the E60.
An Exercise in Efficiency
So, now you know that the 2011 5 Series engine doesn’t offer you any power improvements over the 2009 5 Series. This new engine does offer you more fuel savings, however, upping your highway MPG by 3 from 27 to 3 because the new engine features a direct-inject fuel system that optimizes fuel delivery to the Block.
The F10’s increased efficiency can also be attributed to the new 8-speed transmission. This is especially true at the top end, where the shorter, quicker gear movements help ensure the fuel is being efficiently spent.
In an age of M3s and B7s, this 300hp engine isn’t exactly sexy, but it sure is efficient. And most importantly since we’re comparing, it’s more efficient than the engine found in the previous generation of 5 – which is why efficiency is another check in the Pro column for the F10.
It’s All About What’s Important to You
When you think about what’s important in a car, I think most of us would agree that safety, driving feel, roominess, and efficiency top the list, or at least come close to it. However, as of late I feel that the conversation surrounding the styling – and to an extent, technology – of this new 5 has overshadowed some other important changes when compared to the previous generation of 5.
That’s not to say that looks aren’t important or shouldn’t be a consideration. It’s just to say that there are other important aspects of the car that should be part of your consideration as well.
At the end of the day, only you can decide if the changes in the F10 from E60 are important enough for you to drive the 2011 car home. I hope I pointed some of them out to you, and that this article will help you do that.
Questions? Comments? Put them in the comment box below and I’ll respond.
BMWBLOG would like to welcome Justin Cerone. Justin is a BMW writer, driver, and enthusiast. Read more of his BMW writing at www.bramanbmw.com/blog.