First Drive: 2011 BMW 5-Series

New engine, same numbers

In Portugal, we sampled a 535i, powered by BMW’s new N55 single-turbo inline six-cylinder. The new engine is rated at the same 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque as the outgoing twin-turbo unit, but it doesn’t have quite the same punch at the low end. Still, this is a quick car and BMW has done a commendable job eliminating a turbo’s less desirable traits—namely lag. Direct injection, a twin-scroll turbocharger, and Valvetronic (which replaces the throttle with variable-lift valves) allow engineers to calibrate the powertrain for quick response to pedal inputs. The optional eight-speed automatic transmission is just as quick in reacting, although it’s possible to catch it off guard. Shifts are typically imperceptibly smooth, but at low speeds or starting from rest, the transmission occasionally stumbles and shudders.

Buyers can also choose the 550i with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 making 400 horsepower, or the 528i with a 3.0-liter naturally aspirated inline six turning out 240 hp. A six-speed manual is also available on the 535i and 550i.

The always-changing chassis

Electric power steering makes its debut on the 5-series with this new generation and—like the 1-series and 3-series—the BMW system sets the standard for feedback and weight. Our tester was equipped with the optional active steering, which dials in small degrees of rear-wheel steering and varies the steering ratio depending on speed. Cars equipped with the Sport Package receive Driving Dynamics Control that allows the driver to choose Comfort, Normal, Sport, or Sport+ mode to alter the throttle mapping, shift points, and damping. There’s also available Dynamic Damping Control that continually alters suspension stiffness based on road conditions.

Dynamics tuned for any situation

Summed together, the adaptive controls create a car that is impressively competent in any driving situation, but dilutes a bit of the purity. As we wound up the coast of Portugal, we found the variable steering to be a bit unpredictable, causing you to slam the wheel against the stops when winding on full lock at low speeds. Driving with turned rear wheels also changes the experience, eliciting a bit more kick as you apply throttle mid-corner. The ride is comfortable, but it appears that BMW’s adaptive dampening has encouraged the engineers to quell bumps with less suspension travel than a traditional car. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it does create a distinctive sensation compared to the traditional suspension.

In Sport+ on the Estoril race circuit, the electronic limited-slip differential and rear-wheel steering, along with the loosened traction and stability aids, keep the 5-series neutral. You’ll also quickly appreciate the powertrain’s responsiveness on a track, because the engine always has thrust on tap and the paddle shifters deliver gear swaps without hesitation.

This car has range

The new 5-series continues to pack some of the best adaptive controls that allow an impressive spectrum of behavior from comfort to sport. It’s comfortable for commuting and competent on the track. For that range of capability, the 5-series is a standout in its class and in the entire automotive market.

The first 5s will arrive in the U.S. in mid-June with rear-wheel drive in either 535i or 550i trim. All-wheel-drive variants and the 528i will arrive in the fall. While pricing hasn’t been announced, expect a 535i to start near current stickers, in the mid-$50,000s.

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And how come nobody has mentioned the downgrade in wood trim options in the BMW.Poplar and Bamboo look like the only options I see.That is pretty sad. More signs of corner cutting by BMW.
Another great article with another amazing car. Can't wait to read the follow up article once driven.Keep it up!

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