First Drive: 2011 BMW 535i and 335is Coupe

Tim Andrew

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.

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.)

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
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
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.)

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