First Drive: 2011 BMW 535i and 335is Coupe

March 26, 2010
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We were already pretty familiar with the sixth-generation 5-series sedan before we drove it. The eight-speed automatic, the single-turbo in-line six, and the chassis design shared with the 7-series were all present in the Gran Turismo hatchback that we reviewed in the December 2009 issue. Although we found the 5-series GT to be sufficiently agile, deputy editor Joe DeMatio noted, "There does come a point where the GT's higher center of gravity will remind you that you're not in a 5-series sedan or wagon."
1004 01 Z+2011 BMW 535i+emblem
Happily, we can now say that the new 5-series sedan does remind you that you're in, well, a 5-series sedan. After the last generation, a competent but less involving car, the new 5-series has regained its focus. And the sedan is a wholly different machine than the taller, longer, and 400-pounds-heavier GT.
That being said, the driver's view is plenty familiar, with a dash that mirrors that of the 5-series Gran Turismo. The controls are all logically arranged, with functions primarily operated by the signature iDrive controller and surrounding function keys below the electronic shift lever. The fourth-generation infotainment system is standard on all 5-series models and is more natural to use than previous iterations. Adding navigation to the system upsizes the central screen from 7.0 to 10.2 inches. In the interior, 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 bucket seats, the sedan offers only the traditional three-seat bench. It's still a comfortable place, even if legroom is adequate rather than generous.
You can stuff the cockpit with an array of BMW's latest technologies, such as a head-up display, lane-departure warning, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and a forward-facing night-vision camera. BMW will also debut two brand-first technologies on the new 5: First, a parallel-parking assistant operates much like Ford's system by identifying a suitable spot and steering the vehicle into a space while the driver manipulates the throttle and brake. Second, a surround-view device uses four cameras integrated into the body to provide a bird's-eye view of the car and its surroundings for parking or backing out of tight spaces - we've seen this already from Infiniti.
We've seen parts of the exterior styling before, too, but from within BMW's gene pool rather than from other automakers. As an evolutionary design, the new 5 ignores the discordant previous-generation car and turns to the 1997-2003 E39-series for inspiration. The kidney grilles are more rectangular, and the headlights are less stretched. Recalling the original 1972 car, the front fascia is canted slightly forward. The character line has also been lowered, cutting through the door handles. In all, it's more conservative than last year's 5 but, in our opinion, also more attractive.
To shorten the overhangs of the new car, BMW has increased the wheelbase by 3.2 inches while stretching total length by only 1.9 inches. The 5 also grows half an inch in width and is about the same height. And while the new car, coded F10, uses more aluminum than ever - largely in the hood, doors, and suspension components - it does weigh some 400 pounds more than the outgoing car. A sin.
1004 03 Z+2011 BMW 535i+rear Three Quarter View
BMW switched from a twin- to a single-turbo engine for the 535i to meet tightening emissions requirements, but engineers tuned and positioned the dual-scroll blower to keep output unchanged at 300 hp. BMW also uses direct injection and outsources throttle duty to the variable-lift valvetrain to improve responsiveness. In fact, BMW says the peak torque of 300 lb-ft now starts 200 revs lower, at 1200 rpm, and lasts up to 5000 rpm. It sounds exciting, but the N55 six feels just slightly duller than the old, N54 engine in delivering thrust. Blame it on the weight gain.
When the 535i arrives here in mid-June, it will be accompanied by the 550i and its 400-hp, twin-turbocharged V-8. Regardless of the powertrain, the de facto transmission will be BMW's new ZF eight-speed automatic. Shifts are imperceptibly smooth and sufficiently quick, but at low speeds or starting from rest, the transmission can be prodded into a mild stumble or shudder. All-wheel drive, a six-speed manual, and a 240-hp 528i also will be offered. BMW officials say the likelihood of importing a wagon is slim, as the high-dollar GT hatch will take its place.
Bigger changes, though, are hiding in the chassis. Up front, the MacPherson-strut design has been traded for a more advanced multilink setup (see sidebar) that offers more flexibility in tuning. Cars equipped with the sport package receive Driving Dynamics Control, which allows the driver to choose Comfort, Normal, Sport, or Sport Plus mode to alter the throttle mapping, the transmission's shift points, and steering effort. You can argue that they remove purity and purpose, but it's undeniable that these electronic aids are virtually a necessity to make today's two-ton sedans behave how we want. More important, it's clear that this car's underpinnings are better suited to spirited driving than those of the last 5-series, while the engineering team has simultaneously stepped up its game when it comes to integrating the active technologies.
For the first time on the 5-series, power steering is a purely electric setup. As in the 1- and 3-series, steering feedback and weight have been executed almost flawlessly. Our test car was equipped with the optional active steering, which dials in small degrees of rear-wheel steering and varies the steering ratio depending on speed. At low speeds, the variable steering ratio still surprises us when we smack the wheel against the stops. But when sweeping through turns from 40 to 60 mph, it's comfortably predictable and increases one's confidence in the steering.
1004 02 Z+2011 BMW 535i+driver Side View
In Sport Plus on the racetrack, electronic braking that imitates a limited-slip differential and rear-wheel steering help keep the 5-series balanced. BMW's new paddle shifters highlight the speedy gear swaps that keep the revs where you want them. When we kept up the pace but moved to unfamiliar hillside roads, the steered rear wheels elicited a slight kick under minor throttle exiting a turn. It's not enough of a jolt to push the back end out, but it is a bit unsettling from the driver's seat.
Dynamic Damping Control continually alters suspension stiffness based on road conditions in every mode, but you can set the car to Comfort for a truly relaxed ride. The bandwidth of BMW's ride control allows the system to stamp out impacts with less suspension travel than we're used to, and it's a sensation that you can definitely feel. It's strange at first to hear the soft slap of a tire without the expected impact, but it'll hardly draw your attention if you're not looking for it.
That's the thing about this 5. It's unquestionably the most advanced, most complex mid-size sedan that BMW has ever produced. Yet it's a challenge to decipher when and how the electronics guided your last stunt. All carmakers in this luxury class are playing with active dynamics, but it's BMW's mastery that puts the 5 at the top of the class. To us, though, even better than being on top is recapturing the spirit of the earlier 5s. With the new 5-series, BMW has found and channeled the authenticity and finesse of earlier cars. Cars that we once called the world's best-driving sedans.
2011 BMW 535i
Base Price: $53,000 (est.)

Powertrain  
Engine: 24-valve DOHC turbo I-6
Displacement: 3.0 liters (182 cu in)
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1200 rpm
Transmission Type: 8-speed automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
   
Chassis  
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Suspension, F: Multilink, coil springs
Suspension, R: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT
Tire Size: 245/45YR-18
   
Measurements  
L x W x H: 193.1 x 73.2 x 57.6 in
Wheelbase: 116.9 in
Track F/R: 63.0/64.1 in
Weight: 4090 lb
Fuel Mileage: 18/27 mpg (est.)
5-Series History
1004 13 Z+bMW 5 Series Genealogy+front View
E12, 1973-1981
The 1973 German launch of the 5-series was especially critical for BMW. Riding a wave of success from the 1500/1600/1800/2000/2002 lineup, BMW's success or failure with the new 5 would determine if the company had the focus to be a long-term player on the global level. The 5-series also marked the beginning of CEO Eberhard von Kuenheim's cohesive three-model lineup. America's first taste, the 1975 530i, proved to be softer than earlier BMWs but was still the definitive driver's car in the segment.
E28, 1982-1988
BMW insisted that nearly every body panel of the E28 was new, but outsiders saw it as a mere face-lift. The changes, however, did cut weight by some 300 pounds and dropped drag by twelve percent. The 533i was a worthy ambassador of BMW's luxury and sport ethos, but it was the first M5 that led us to write, "Wrap it around the worst curve, feel the sticky tires take a set, and know that, short of a race car, there's nothing with four doors that can pull off this kind of stunt."
E34, 1989-1995
Although cautious, the styling of the third-generation 5-series was celebrated. Despite looking like a 7-series minus seven inches, it was a welcome change from the previous shape that had been in U.S. showrooms for fourteen years. During our first drive, we found the 535i polished and dynamic but with questionable stability, and it was overweight. Nevertheless, in our January 1989 issue, the 5 won two comparison tests - the 535i topped a Ford Taurus SHO and the M5 beat an Audi V8.
E39, 1997-2003
Unquestionably the high-water mark for the 5-series, the E39 dominated the segment for its full life. Eight years after its expiration, some say it's still one of the best-driving sedans. On top of that, the fourth 5-series offered luxury that was more than a generation's worth of improvement. We loved the driver involvement of this 5 so much that we showered it with nine All-Star awards in six years (the M5 and the 5-series won separate honors for three years).
E60, 2004-2010
After the knockout performance of the E39, the E60 came up relatively short. Its hallmarks were iDrive and styling - both of which weren't received warmly. The 5 still won praise for an engaging persona, but the competition was outshining BMW on interiors, ergonomics, and comfort. The rear seat was larger than in previous generations but was still compromised. Adaptive driving aids also provoked complaints for diluting the experience and for less-than-perfect integration.
F10, 2011-
Certainly a worthy carrier of the 5-series badge, the sixth-generation edition should draw back those who passed on the E60's styling and dearth of engagement. The shift away from a strut-type suspension in front is certainly significant, but this car's winning attribute is the polished integration of active chassis and powertrain controls. Still, the growing dimensions can't be completely hidden. The diehards will continue to claim the E39 as their favorite.
Techtonics
- Eric Tingwall
1004 11 Z+2011 BMW 535i+drivetrain Illustration
While BMW engineers have proven that they can make a MacPherson-strut suspension perform admirably, the basic concept brings its share of compromises. The new 5-series abandons the strut-type setup in the front for a multilink design first used on the X5 in 2007 and also found on the 7-series.
Each side consists of an upper control arm, two lower links, and a knuckle, all made of aluminum. The three-link design allows for dual pivot points on the bottom to better juggle cornering duties and ride impacts.
With the strut no longer serving as a locating link for the wheel, engineers have better control over damping characteristics. BMW also says that attaching the antiroll bar directly to the wheel carrier - rather than to a link - transmits more cornering load to the opposite wheel.
Mercedes' Five Fighter
- Eric Tingwall
1004 12 Z+2011 BMW 535i+and Mercedes Benz E350
During our time driving the new 5-series in Portugal, we slipped behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz E350 for a brief stint on city streets and back roads. Jumping from the BMW to the Merc instantly reveals that the 5's responses are sharper all around. Where the E350's normally aspirated, 268-hp V-6 needs to reach the top half of the tachometer to really take off, the BMW's turbo provides formidable thrust just off idle. The BMW's trigger-finger character is even more pronounced when kicked into Sport (or Sport Plus) mode, whereas the Benz's Comfort and Sport modes effect less-noticeable changes.
For using an undeniably less-sophisticated suspension (Airmatic is available only on the E550), the E350 provides excellent progressive dulling of impacts and competent cornering behavior. The weakest link in the E350 is its steering, which doesn't provide adequate feedback until the wheel is well off-center. Mercedes' column-mounted shifter may seem a bit pedestrian, but the car's paddle shifters are a great way to connect with a transmission that is otherwise so smooth and transparent. The E350 adheres to the brand's legacy of quality, luxury, and comfort, but the BMW is our choice.
2011 BMW 335is - 3 Sport, Subtly
The 2011 BMW 335is is an absolute blast to drive, but so are the other 3-series variants.
By Eric Tingwall
1004 07 Z+2011 BMW 335is+front Three Quarter View
Don't get lost in the alphabet soup. There's an extra "s" here, and it stands for sport. With powertrain and suspension hardware to back the claim, BMW predicts that quite a few buyers of the new 335is will end up taking their cars to the track. But bracketed by cars as capable as the 414-hp M3 and the dynamic 335i, the 335is needs to make a case for itself to generate serious interest.
The heart of the new "s" model is a modified version of the twin-turbo in-line six that will soon be discontinued in the 335i (see sidebar). Software tweaks have increased power from 300 to 320 hp, and torque rises 32 lb-ft to a total of 332 lb-ft. To compensate for extra abuse at the track, there's a small second radiator, a new oil cooler, and a heavy-duty cooling fan. Since this is a North America-only model, German engineers took special care to understand how the vehicle would be used in our market. Europeans tend to race on open, high-speed tracks, so the BMW engineering team tested the 335is cooling system on California's compact Buttonwillow Raceway Park to mimic the lower-speed, higher-rpm racing that's more popular here.
We're driving a 335is coupe with the optional seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission on Portugal's Estoril circuit, a 2.6-mile loop that formerly hosted a Formula 1 race. Outside of the M3, this is the first (and only for the immediate future) 3-series to receive the dual-clutch gearbox, and it makes a convincing argument as to why you should skip the standard six-speed manual. The speed of an upshift, the beautiful rev-match of a downshift, and the constant smoothness prove to be unflappable. There are, however, a few irritating behaviors. Gear changes happen automatically at redline, and the transmission occasionally - rarely - refuses to give you a downshift when the revs leave plenty of room. On the track, those are fairly heinous crimes, but they're largely harmless in the grander scheme. Of course, those who insist on the six-speed manual won't be disappointed by the always-rewarding BMW gearbox.
BMW's team (wisely) required that we leave stability control activated due to the wet pavement. While the system cuts power quite sharply before any serious yaw happens, it's clear that the car is eager to oversteer at the limit of grip. This is not a computer-controlled vehicle that will churn out phenomenal laps with mindless driving. Completing a genuinely fast lap takes honest talent. And that's the way we like it.
When thrown into corners, the 335is surprises with a feeling of engineered lightness. In fact, the "s" car weighs roughly the same as a 3571-pound 335i coupe. You'll find the true character of the 335is when you're blasting out of corners. An overboost function provides a spurt of torque up to 370 lb-ft, lasting up to seven seconds. It's worth noting that, even without the overboost, the twin-turbo six makes more torque than the normally aspirated V-8 in the M3: 332 lb-ft at 1500 rpm versus 295 lb-ft at 3900 rpm. Still, the M3's 414 hp is good for a run to 60 mph that's half a second quicker (4.5 versus 5.0 seconds) with a dual-clutch gearbox, according to BMW. The 335is's boost kick is tuned to fire up at higher gears in lower rpm ranges, so you won't encounter it often on a racetrack, but when the tidal wave does hit, it's a fantastic reward for pummeling the throttle.
1004 09 Z+2011 BMW 335is+rear Three Quarter View
Equally entertaining are the burbles, crescendos, and screams that exit the sport exhaust through two subtle black chrome tips. The brakes carry over unchanged from the 335i, but BMW says that they were already certified on the Nürburgring during 3-series development. In our experience, the stoppers proved more than adequate for performance driving and light track use.
The 335is will be sold as both a coupe and a convertible, but BMW has no plans for a sedan. All 2011 3-series coupes and convertibles receive cosmetic tweaks including adaptive xenon headlights, new LED taillights, a revised hood, and a widened grille. The 335is adds an M Sport fascia and side skirts with a new rear diffuser. The grille for the "s" model is finished in gloss black with an accent of chrome on the vertical fins. Other adornments include special fender badges, gloss-black mirror caps, and foglights on convertibles. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, with nineteens available.
Interior changes are even more subtle, with the key elements being the M Sport steering wheel, a short shifter for manual cars, and the comfortable, mildly bolstered sport seats. There's also a black headliner and door sills, sport pedals, special gauges, and faux aluminum trim. Available options mirror those on the 335i, and a sunroof will be standard on coupes, although there will be a delete option for the weight-obsessed.
From behind the wheel, we're totally sold on the 335is. But looking at the components individually, the car is little more than a software tweak with the option of a dual-clutch transmission. The 335i coupe already comes standard with the sport suspension, and the M Sport aesthetics can be had for $3000 on top of that car's $43,525 sticker. When the $50,525 335is coupe arrives in June (two months after the $59,075 convertible), it will command a premium of almost $4000 for 20 extra hp. We could mull the numbers all day, but someone's just parked a 335is in pit lane and the track is empty.
2011 BMW 335is coupe
Price (base/as tested): $50,525/$56,750
1004 08 Z+2011 BMW 335is+front Three Quarter View
Powertrain  
Engine: 24-valve DOHC twin-turbo I-6
Displacement: 3.0 liters (182 cu in)
Horsepower: 320 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 370 lb-ft @ 1500 rpm
Transmission Type: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: Rear-wheel
   
Chassis  
Steering: Power rack-and-pinion
Suspension, F: Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, R: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
Tires: Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
Tire Size F/R: 225/40WR-18, 255/35WR-18
   
Measurements  
L x W x H: 181.9 x 70.2 x 54.1 in
Wheelbase: 108.7 in
Track F/R: 59.1/59.3 in
Weight: 3593 lb
Fuel Mileage: 17/26 mpg (est.)
For the 2011 model year, all "35i" models receive the new single-turbo engine in place of the twin-turbo unit. Output remains unchanged, but using one turbo warms the catalyst quicker to meet emissions requirements. However, the new powerplant doesn't totally displace the old twin-turbo N54. That engine sticks around for higher-output applications. Here's what BMW's lineup of boosted sixes will look like after the 2011 models arrive in spring 2010.
N54
3.0-liter in-line six with twin turbos
N55
3.0-liter in-line six with single dual-scroll turbo
1-Series 135i
300 hp, 300 lb-ft
3-Series 335is
320 hp, 332 lb-ft (370 lb-ft with overboost)
335i
300 hp, 300 lb-ft
5-Series 535i
300 hp, 300 lb-ft
7-Series 740i
315 hp, 330 lb-ft
Z4 Z4 sDrive35is
335 hp, 332 lb-ft (369 lb-ft with overboost)
Z4 Drive35i
300 hp, 300 lb-ft
X6 X6 xDrive35i
300 hp, 300 lb-ft
What is "S"?
- Eric Tingwall
1004 09 Z+2011 BMW 335is+rear Three Quarter View
BMW's "is" appendage ("s" for "sport" and "i," of course, for "injected") arrived in America shortly after the 3-series debuted here in 1977. The 1980 320is offered Recaro seats, a rear antiroll bar, a limited-slip differential, cross-spoke wheels, a larger-diameter front antiroll bar, and a special front air dam. Along with later-generation 3-series variants, there have been "s" models of the 5-series, 6-series, 8-series, X5, and Z4.
The most dramatic "s" may have been the 1994-97 850CSi with a 5.6-liter V-12 making 372 hp and 402 lb-ft of torque (up from 296 hp and 332 lb-ft), not to mention quicker steering and other sport enhancements. However, BMW hasn't always been consistent in establishing the "s" tag as a performance mark. All E36 (1992-1999) 3-series coupes were "s" models, whether equipped with the sport package or not. It's also important to note that in BMW's current naming scheme, the "s" in "sDrive" denotes rear-wheel drive, not a sport model.
More recently, BMW crafted the X5 into the sporty 2004-2006 4.8is with a 0.4-liter bump in displacement, 40 more hp, 36 extra lb-ft of torque, larger brakes, and a sport suspension. In addition to the 335is, the 2011 model year brings the utterly confusing Z4 sDrive35is. It uses the same engine but produces 335 hp, thanks to superior intake plumbing.

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