First Drive: 2011 BMW 535i and 335is Coupe

Tim Andrew

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.

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.

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