2011 BMW 535i xDrive

As has been repeatedly mentioned elsewhere in this piece, this particular 5-series is virtually a doppelganger of our Four Seasons 535i, with only a few small differences to acclimate it for winter driving. A heated steering wheel, coupled with heated front and rear seating surfaces, would have squelched much of our kvetching, although the biggest boon lies with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

Much as I’d love to verify that xDrive is the perfect tool for surviving winter’s worst, Michigan is finally devoid of snow. However, I was forced to park the 535i over a rainy night in a field of mud. Apart from some soiled floormats, I had no qualms the next morning -- xDrive helped the 5-series claw its way out of the gooey muck without the slightest sign of drama. So, huzzah.

Opting for the practicality of all-wheel-drive doesn’t require sacrificing the balance, agility, and enjoyment long associated with rear-wheel-drive BMWs. Enhancing those sensations are the optional dynamic handling ($2700) and sport packages ($2200). The latter adds 19-inch wheels and firmer suspension that mildly compromise ride quality, but serve only to sharpen the car’s reactions.

Unfortunately, this ideal blend of traction and tactility doesn’t come cheap. Pricing for the 535i xDrive starts at $53,2754 -- some $2300 more than a 535i, and $2400 more than a 2011 Audi A6 3.0T Quattro. And, given BMW’s practice of making virtually every feature an optional luxury, it’s quite easy to push that price point into the stratosphere.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

While it may no longer be head and shoulders above the competition, the 535 finds a nice middle ground between the performance and luxury demanded by buyers in this class. That does, however, come at a cost. Against its competitors, the Bimmer is the most expensive by a fair amount (roughly $5k more than the Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, for example). The 5-series is a very good car, but little more than the BMW badge sets it apart in my book -- it is neither sportier nor any more luxurious than the Infiniti M37x, the Audi A6, or the Mercedes E350 4Matic. However, there is still a high level of cache associated with the BMW badge, and for some people that is enough to justify the extra cost.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

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