Myriad intriguing technological innovations and new engines and transmissions mark the sixth generation of BMW's 5-series. Developed in parallel with the 7-series, it shares all suspension components, resulting in a switch from struts to a multilink layout in front. Most suspension components, the front fenders, the doors, and the hood are aluminum. The optional active steering uses electric - instead of hydraulic - assistance for additional fuel economy benefits.
Every 5-series model thus far has surpassed its immediate predecessor in power output and reduced emissions. The 2011 550i uses a smaller direct-injection, 4.4-liter V-8 with twin turbochargers and catalytic converters nestled between the cylinder banks. It makes 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque, which is good for 0 to 60 mph in just five seconds, according to BMW. The 535i has a 300-hp, 3.0-liter in-line six with a single dual-scroll turbo and Valvetronic. Both engines drive through a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Braking regeneration is just one of many new efficiencies. An ActiveHybrid version is expected to debut at the Geneva auto show in March.
It's good-looking, too, with classic proportions, clear flowing lines, and elegant detailing. Despite the coupelike roofline, rear headroom is uncompromised, and the 3.2-inch-longer wheelbase increases legroom. Altogether, our initial first-hand look at the design and engineering was highly promising, and we expect the driving experience to confirm that promise. The new 550i and 535i arrive this spring, followed later by a 528i powered by a 240-hp, 3.0-liter in-line six. Look for a report on our first drive of the new 5-series in the April issue.
Given the hypercompetitive, hyperimitative dynamic among Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi, there was no way that a successful new niche model like the Mercedes CLS could remain unanswered. Indeed, Audi is readying its slope-roofed A7 Sportback to slot between the A6 and A8 sedans, just as the CLS sits between the E-class and the S-class. BMW at first pursued a different strategy. Its CS, previewed by the well-received 2007 Shanghai auto show concept, was to be positioned above the 7-series and would be joined by a two-door roadster/coupe (filling the spot abdicated by the Z8). But the project fell victim to the recession.
Now, however, it's been resurrected, albeit in less grandiose form. The new CS, as a four-door coupe only, will become part of the 6-series family, alongside the traditional two-door coupe and the cabrio. The change in plans means that the BMW won't arrive before 2012. The Audi and a second-generation Mercedes, meanwhile, are both expected late this year.
- Georg Kacher