More than any other BMW product, the 5-series must walk a fine tightrope to balance the company’s reputation for sport sedans and luxury cruisers. That responsibility, to be all things to all people, is a particularly tough job for the 5-series, but with new engines, a fresh look, and refined adaptive dynamics, the new 2011 BMW 5-series is eager to battle the diverse competition in the mid-size class from Lexus and Mercedes-Benz to Infiniti and Audi.
Undoing the last 5-series
As an evolutionary design, the new 5 seems to ignore the previous-generation car and jump back to the 1995-2003 E39-series for inspiration. The kidney grilles are more rectangular, and the headlights are less stretched back. Recalling the original 1972 car, the front fascia is slightly canted forward, a look that worked much better on the crisper shapes of that era. The character line has also been lowered, cutting through the door handles. In all, it’s more conservative than last year’s 5, but also more attractive in our opinion.
To shorten the overhangs of the new car, BMW has increased the wheelbase by 3.2 inches while only stretching total length by 1.9 inches. The 5 also grows half an inch in width and just one-tenth of an inch in height. While weight has increased by about 100 pounds in the new car, this 5 uses the most aluminum ever, largely in the hood, doors, and suspension components.
A familiar interior
We’ve already seen the 5-series interior in the Gran Turismo hatchback that is now on sale in the U.S. The controls are all logically arranged, with functions primarily operated by the signature iDrive controller below the electronic shift lever. The biggest difference between the sedan and the Gran Turismo is the rear seating. Where the GT pampers passengers with options like power-operated, heated, and ventilated buckets, the sedan only offers the traditional three-seat bench. Still, it’s a comfortable place to be with plenty of legroom and optional seat heaters.
No shortage of technology
BMW classifies its driver-assistance technologies into three categories: comfort, safety, and dynamics. The 5-series is loaded with offerings in each group, including adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, automatic high beams, lane-departure warning, blind spot warning, and a forward-facing night-vision camera. Additionally, BMW is debuting two brand-first features on the 5. The BMW parking assistant identifies and steers the sedan into a parallel parking spot while the driver modulates the brake and gas. Video demonstrations show the system working in much the same way Ford’s auto park assist does, but we were unable to test cars equipped with the feature. Surround view mimics Infiniti’s system of showing a bird’s-eye view of the car and its surroundings using four small cameras on the exterior and is useful for parking or backing out of a tight space. The fourth-generation iDrive infotainment is standard on all 5-series models, but adding navigation to the system upsizes the screen from 7.0 to 10.2 inches.