This vehicle is virtually identical to our Four Seasons 535i, except it has xDrive all-wheel drive, the presence of which is quite difficult to detect in normal, dry-road driving. All things being equal, I’d probably prefer my 5-series to have all-wheel drive, but the truth is, I spent a very snowy weekend in our rear-wheel-drive 535i this winter, driving through six inches of fresh slushy white stuff in the Chicagoland area, and that car was unstoppable, because it was equipped with excellent snow tires. Adding xDrive to your 535i subtracts one mpg from both the city and highway fuel economy figures, making them 19/29 rather than 20/30 mpg; and it adds $2300 to the base price. The weight penalty is pretty marginal, though; the 535i xDrive weighs 4233 lb versus the rear-wheel-drive 535i’s 4090 lb.
In any case, this 535i xDrive has the same beige and black interior and the same dark blue exterior paint as our Four Seasons car, so it both felt and looked very familiar. I’m always struck by how well the 8-speed transmission works in these BMWs. The gearbox just takes little sips of torque and swallows them up and moves on to the next gear with the smoothness of a singer taking an intake of breath before moving on to the next stanza. It’s very seamless. The car has an impressive sense of solidity and roadholding. I can see that the steering might be considered by some to be a little uncommunicative but I find it to be just fine in day-to-day driving. The three-position seat heaters, which we don’t have in our Four Seasons 535i, are very fast acting and very hot.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
BMW are masters at offering buyers a $50,000 mid-size luxury sedan and then tempting them with all sorts of extras so that, before they know it, $15,000 worth of options have been added. As with out Four Seasons 535i, this car is equipped with a host of high-dollar option packages that give you equipment such as a rear-view camera, heated seats, navigation, larger wheels, etc. I doubt that BMW actually sells any cars at their listed base prices.
Having said that, the 535i is a great place to spend time, whether it’s a short commute to work or a long road trip. The seats are very comfortable and can be adjusted twelve ways to Sunday and the turbo I-6 is smooth as silk, its power transmitted seamlessly through the eight-speed automatic transmission. Plus, it greats pretty great fuel economy for a car in this class, coming close to the 30-mpg mark on the highway. Still, $67,000? I’m still having a hard time swallowing that.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
As has been repeatedly mentioned elsewhere in this piece, this particular 5-series is virtually a doppelganger of our Four Seasons 535i, with only a few small differences to acclimate it for winter driving. A heated steering wheel, coupled with heated front and rear seating surfaces, would have squelched much of our kvetching, although the biggest boon lies with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Much as I’d love to verify that xDrive is the perfect tool for surviving winter’s worst, Michigan is finally devoid of snow. However, I was forced to park the 535i over a rainy night in a field of mud. Apart from some soiled floormats, I had no qualms the next morning — xDrive helped the 5-series claw its way out of the gooey muck without the slightest sign of drama. So, huzzah.
Opting for the practicality of all-wheel-drive doesn’t require sacrificing the balance, agility, and enjoyment long associated with rear-wheel-drive BMWs. Enhancing those sensations are the optional dynamic handling ($2700) and sport packages ($2200). The latter adds 19-inch wheels and firmer suspension that mildly compromise ride quality, but serve only to sharpen the car’s reactions.
Unfortunately, this ideal blend of traction and tactility doesn’t come cheap. Pricing for the 535i xDrive starts at $53,2754 — some $2300 more than a 535i, and $2400 more than a 2011 Audi A6 3.0T Quattro. And, given BMW’s practice of making virtually every feature an optional luxury, it’s quite easy to push that price point into the stratosphere.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
While it may no longer be head and shoulders above the competition, the 535 finds a nice middle ground between the performance and luxury demanded by buyers in this class. That does, however, come at a cost. Against its competitors, the Bimmer is the most expensive by a fair amount (roughly $5k more than the Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, for example). The 5-series is a very good car, but little more than the BMW badge sets it apart in my book — it is neither sportier nor any more luxurious than the Infiniti M37x, the Audi A6, or the Mercedes E350 4Matic. However, there is still a high level of cache associated with the BMW badge, and for some people that is enough to justify the extra cost.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
2011 BMW 535i xDrive
Base price (with destination): $53,275
Price as tested: $67,875
3.0-liter turbocharged 6-cylinder engine
8-speed automatic transmission
Dynamic stability control
Dynamic traction control
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
xDrive all-wheel drive system
Xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling and cornering lights
AM/FM/CD/MP3 player audio system with HD radio
Automatic climate control
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Tire pressure monitoring system
Adaptive brake lights
BMW assist with Bluetooth connectivity
Options on this vehicle:
Premium package 2 — $4500
Power rear sunshade
Heated front seats
Park distance control
iPod and USB adapter
Dynamic handling package — $2700
Dynamic damper control
Active roll stabilization
Sport package — $2200
Sports leather steering wheel
Multi-contour fronts seats
Shadowline exterior trim
Premium package — $1800
Cold weather package — $1050
Heated steering wheel
Heated rear seats
Retractable headlight washers
Comfort access keyless entry — $1000
Side and top view cameras — $800
Deep sea blue metallic exterior paint – $550
Key options not on vehicle:
M sport package — $6500
Active ventilated seat package — $2950
Convenience package — $1700
Driver assistance package — $1350
19 / 29 / 23 mpg
3.0L DOHC turbocharged I-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1200-5000 rpm
Unladen weight: 4233 lb
Wheels/tires: 19-inch alloy wheels
245/40R19 Goodyear Eagle LS-2 runflat tires
Competitors: Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, Audi A6