• Jan 25th 2010 at 11:56AM
  • 58
2011 BMW 5 Series – Click above for high-res image gallery

The outgoing BMW 5 Series may have ushered in a dramatic leap forward in terms of dynamics, technology, safety and creature comforts, but it's the previous generation – the E39 – that Bimmerphiles still speak of in hushed tones. The departing E60 may have been a more capable package, but it was also the source of much controversy and hand wringing. Blame Chris Bangle. Blame byzantine iDrive menu structures. Blame spirit-muffling layers of electronics. Hell, blame improved competition or hidebound brand loyalists who refuse to accept the new. No matter whose camp you point the finger at, the 2004-2010 5 Series was a polarizing creature, both aesthetically and from behind the wheel. Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, BMW enjoyed record-setting global sales of the Fiver, suggesting that that the traditionalists had it all wrong.

Still, one look at the new-for-2011 F10 model might reasonably lead you to believe that a bit of mulligan has occurred at the hand of Adrian van Hooydonk and his design team – a toning down of the E60's most divisive elements. To be sure, the E60's Dame Edna spectacles have been consigned to a dusty drawer and the raised "Bangle Butt" has kept its date with Celebrity Fit Club. In the not-so-dearly departed's place is a handsome new sedan that appears simultaneously more in line with the 5 Series' lineage yet firmly set on the future. But to label the sixth-generation Fiver as an aesthetic or strategic regression would be incorrect, van Hooydonk tells us. As he points out, BMW design has a tendency to periodically muscle in with big, bold, design statements – to knock down walls – and in the follow-up model, its stylists can move about a bit more in the clean air made possible by its predecessor. Fair enough – we prepared to check our Weltschmerz at the door and give this new Fiver a shot. Has it all been worked out for the better? BMW invited us to hop a couple of planes to Portugal in order to find out.

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

In person, a lower roofline and a stretched wheelbase (at 116.9-inches, it's 3.2 inches longer than the E60, making it the broadest in the segment) have combined to give the 2011 5 Series a markedly sleeker appearance. The swage line that originates from just behind the front fenders and gets progressively more defined as it moves rearward lends directional thrust, as does its more aggressively shaped greenhouse. Wide, nearly vertical kidney grilles are attached to a snub nose, and even if the headlamps are now more conservative, the more upright grilles suggest that BMW is pondering a return to the forward-leaning, shark-like front end that defined its history. Indeed, AvH tells us that the sportier the model, the more pronounced we can expect this design hallmark to be (see the E89 Z4 for guidance). Overall, this is a confident, well-balanced shape, a clear design unencumbered by the shouty details of its antecedent.

All-in, BMW says that the automatic-equipped 535i weighs in at 4,090 pounds, about 100 pounds portlier than a comparably equipped outgoing model – remarkably little in view of its added size, rigidity (+55 percent over the E60) and technology.

Underneath its controversial skin, the outgoing E60 ushered in a new era of high-tech solutions for the 5 Series in virtually every arena, from driving dynamics to creature comforts to safety and overall efficiency. In this regard, with the F10, BMW has buried the throttle more firmly into the carpet than ever before. New engines, gearboxes, suspension architecture, rear-wheel steering, user-selectable adaptive drive settings, brake energy regeneration, and yes, another generation of iDrive have been whipped up in a bid to keep the 5 out in front of the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and Jaguar XF.

The new single-turbo N55 engine just plain works, with eager revs and a wonderfully flat power curve.
Interestingly, it wasn't more than a few months ago that we found ourselves on many of these very same Portuguese roads behind the wheel of another new 5 Series – the 2010 Gran Turismo. Visually, the 5GT may be something of an automotive platypus, but dynamically it proved beyond reproach, setting lofty expectations for this new sedan in the process. Appropriately, a quick ride from the airport in the back of the 5GT before we tucked into the 535i sedan reminded us why the bifold hatchback model exists – space. The longer wheelbase of the 5GT creates epic, limo-like accommodations for rear-seat passengers, with palatial legroom and commanding visibility. Its straight-laced new brother? Comparatively tight back there (albeit class competitive), a situation that figures to be the same with the Touring – a model we're no longer likely to get with this new generation.

Of course, a sport sedan like the 5 Series isn't purchased for the measure of its back seat, so with the keys (okay, fob) to the new 535i firmly in hand, we headed out onto the lilting coastal roads and motorways northwest of Lisbon to see if we could rekindle a lost Love Connection.

As we slipped aboard for the first time, all was at once familiar yet utterly new. From its three-spoke steering wheel to its Brobdingnagian 10.2-inch navigation screen, sturdy switchgear, iDrive porkpie, finicky drive selector and general shapes and materials, the 535i reminds of the 5GT and the new 7 Series, yet it carries its own dashboard design. While evolutionary, it's a beautifully executed space, with long, clean lines and ergonomically sound primary and secondary controls. As with its newer stablemates, the 5 Series receives a much more intuitive fourth-generation iDrive all-in-one controller, and with its rationalized menu structures and direct-function buttons surrounding the central controller knob, it's a system that's finally beginning to make some sense.

While we liked (okay, adored) the outgoing 5 Series' N54 3.0-liter twin-turbo in-line six, the 535i receives a new single turbo engine dubbed N55, and it offers exactly the same 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. So why bother? Because BMW's smarty-pants engineers have imbued the new motor with superior packaging, cleaner emissions and better throttle response.

About that last bit – if you're wondering how a single, larger turbo can be quicker to respond than a pair of smaller units, BMW has cracked the code with the combination of a dual-scroll element and the company's Valvetronic throttle-less intake technology. Suffice it to say that the N55 just plain works, with eager revs and a wonderfully flat power curve (the engine's torque cup runneth over from just 1,200 on through 5,000 rpm). BMW says 60 miles-per-hour can be cracked in 5.7 seconds and top speed is limited to 130 mph – 150 mph if you spring for the Sport Package.

On the track in Sport + mode, the big Fiver's mid-corner stance is flatter than your first girlfriend.
For the gluttonous, a turbocharged 4.4-liter V8-powered 550i with 400 hp and 450 lb-ft. will be offered, along with a late-availability 528i with 240 horses. While we're sure that the 550i's extra power is nice, the lighter weight, viceless performance and presumably superior fuel economy of the N55 (no EPA numbers are available yet) has us convinced that it's once again good to be the middle child. As ever, European customers will get a range of diesel offerings, but there are no plans to offer any such models in North America. All-wheel drive variants, however, are in the pipeline for later this year.

A six-speed manual will be available in the 535i and 550i, but at the launch event, we were limited to torque converter-equipped 535i models. For 2011, there's a new ZF automatic with five clutches(!) and eight forward gears(!!) that offers a wider ratio spread. In the past, we've found that transmissions with this many speeds are prone to hunting, as if their software logic is somehow trying to justify the inclusion of so many cogs. The 5 Series largely avoids this trap, although we did notice a tendency to cycle annoyingly between gears at very low speeds under shallow throttle openings (think: nudging forward in bumper-to-bumper traffic). Notably, BMW is ditching the chrome push-pull paddle-shifters used on other models in favor of traditional pull tabs (right to upshift, left to downshift) – apparently some people found the old Anish Kapoor chrome thumbsculptures hard to use. The new ones work just fine, but we miss the older version's dual +/- action and subtle artistic quality.

For 2011, the 5 Series has discarded its long-serving Macpherson strut front suspension in favor of a new multi-link arrangement. The rear end is now also under the sway of a new five-link system, and coupled with BMW's Dynamic Damping Control (read: adaptive suspension) and Active Roll Stabilization (dynamic anti-roll bars), the whole works is at once at ease and eager to please. By that we mean that the ride quality is free from harshness without being floaty, yet it's ready to boogie at a moment's notice.

Word that the F10 would be the first 5 with electric power steering didn't exactly warm our enthusiast cockles, nor did news that all 535i evaluators at the launch would be equipped with optional Integral Active Steering, a variable-ratio system that first made its appearance on the outgoing model. Thankfully, this is a new IAS system, as the first-generation setup never won any prizes for its communicability. Still, we were concerned that EPS and IAS' new active rear steering feature might contribute to feel-free handling, or worse, spooky dynamics. Nope. The Bavarian boys and gals have worked diligently to assuage all fears, and whether we were zipping along the littoral mountain roads, drumming along the motorway, or hammering around all 13 turns of Portugal's 2.6-mile Autódromo do Estoril, the 535i was rock solid, predictable and forgiving. Unlike many other EPS systems we've used, this one doesn't feel like there's an Internet's worth of siliconry busily rearranging ones and zeros to turn the driver's inputs into action. The variable ratio shouldn't be off-putting during daily commuting, and on serpentine roads, it's a genuine ally – there's actual linearity, weighting and more than a modicum of feedback for one's fingertips to process as you spin the wheel just 2.1 turns from lock-to-lock. Hallelujah.

Out on the track, with the optional Driving Dynamics Control rocker switch toggled to its raciest Sport + mode (the other three settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport), this big Fiver's mid-corner stance is flatter than your first girlfriend. The steering gains weight and speed without feeling artificial, the gearbox's marching orders are rejiggered to keep engine revs up and reduce shift times, and the electronic limited-slip tech and relaxed traction and stability control algorithms yield a surprisingly frisky big sedan. While you're never going to convince yourself you're dive-bombing in a Z4, this is a car that shrinks handily at speed, in part because the brakes are pleasingly firm and 18-inch Dunlop Sport Maxx GT runflats offer credible grip with surprising compliance.

One fly in the enthusiast's ointment: To borrow from an old Western, the 535i is quiet... too quiet. Unless you really stomp on the gas and/or cascade down a handful of gears to get the engine on boil, you're not likely to hear much. That paucity of drivetrain noise is great for when you're cuing up Wagner on the surround sound sound audio, not so great when you're trying to set your enthusiast driving neurons alight. That said, we're happy to report that wind and tire-noise are similarly muted.

Safety-minded options include a brace of cameras to provide a bird's eye parking view (think: Infiniti's brilliant AroundView Monitor), night vision with pedestrian detection, active cruise control and a nifty heads-up display. There's even a self-parking option, a feature that one German BMW official assured us will be sure to please your wife. Oh, yes he did.

The new 5 Series is better looking, more luxurious and more capable – yet it is also safer and cleaner. So is it ready to pick up the E39's torch anew? Well, not really. Without going so far as to suggest that that car was a primitive instrument of joy, BMW has moved too far down the field technologically to simply allow its engineers to pour old wine into new wineskins and call it a day. Besides, BMW's customers, competitors and various world governments have all gone and moved the segment's goalposts in the meantime. Having said all that, the 2011 5 Series is easier to use, easier on the eyes and far easier to find the magic in than its immediate predecessor. That might not be sufficient to proclaim it a neo-E39, but it might just be enough to move the Roundel to the head of the pack all over again.

Photos by Chris Paukert / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      although it does not look bad, its a veeery boring looking car! It does look like a step backwards or maybe two steps! The E39 looks almost better than this one! I donno, BMW is just not the best looking brand out there! Same with their Z's!
      • 5 Years Ago
      This car is not ugly, not controversial, not polarizing - it is bland. The Mercedes E-Class is more aggressive, more stylish, and certainly polarizing.

      As someone once said: It is better to be talked about than not talked about.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Not impressed for what I'm sure will be a princely price. The days of evolutionary design and performance along with premium pricing based on a premium brand name are slowly fading. The not-so-premium brands are beginning to redefine design, performance and pricing much to the chagrin of the BMWs of the world (think Hyundai and Ford)
      • 5 Years Ago
      Funnily enough the hate of E60 turned to love in it's last years for me, but loving this one either way.
      No, not going to be able pick one up as a new, but definitely looking this one as used when it's ready to leave my 09 A4 in two years time.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The front-end looks like a 3-series, and the back-end looks like an Infiniti... hate to say it, but I prefer the Dame Edna E60 5-series' styling more...
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think that BMW did an overall good job on the 6th generation 5-series. Although the 5-series is obviously a sedan, it has a coupe-like roofline along with a great long and sleek hood that is very notable in the new Z4 and also the new 7-series. I really have to say it does look like a beefed up 3-series, however there will be some significant distinguishing factors to set the 2011 5-series from the all new 3-series in 2012/2013. I'm actually impressed that BMW has finally took an initiative to make a quality interior, however the leather BMW uses is rather poor. BMW's leather has never had quite the quality of Lexus leather because it's always had a gritty feeling. Plus the leather in a BMW hardly holds up to the wear and tear after years of owning the car, the leather on the seats and steering wheel wrinkle quickly and develop a wore shiny surface. However, there are some great interior elements like the TFT Liquid Crystal gauges, which are going to start appearing more and more in luxury vehicles. The use of aluminum and glossy woods works incredibly well to create a luxurious, yet sporty feel to the vehicle. And finally, the technology gizmos that BMW put into this car is absolutely unbelievable, especially the parking assistant, top view cameras, and frontal collision warning with application of the brakes when ordered with active cruise control plus stop & go.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, I think I prefer the E60 looks more...unless this one grows on me in person. Either way, the F10 is certainly not 'fugly', but maybe not as pioneering as it could have been.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree, the new 3 and 5 dont look like much of an upgrade. They are rounder, less edgier and less aggressive. I know i've mentioned this before but the lower front of the 5 screams hyundai genesis coupe to me.
        • 5 Years Ago
        3 -5 - and 7 series all look alike -- now they have a 30' grand ( 3 series ) car that looks like the 100 grand car.

        and they are uglier too.
        • 5 Years Ago
        This new version is just boring. It looks like what Chrysler did to the Charger, BMW did the to E39. That's fine for purists, but to an average Joe like myself, I'm not a fan. I like the Bangle version, e60s much better.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think they toned down the styling a little too much. It should have kept more edge than it did.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It's not a bad looking car, but it does look like a backwards step from the E60. A little too bland.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The Bangle era is over.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like it, I guess. But why does it look EXACTLY like a 3 series?

      The old one - Bangle butt and all, was sexy and had a soul. Love it or hate it.

      Thanks you people that bitched and moaned, they made it boring as hell!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I know I'll get down rated but I don't like the dashboard or the gauges at all. I feel like Ford Focus is more premium in the inside.
      • 5 Years Ago
      That's the best-written review that's been on AB in a long time. The metaphors were actually apt rather than forced. Thanks for the read.
      • 5 Years Ago
      As far as I'm concerned BMW pretty much did everything they had to do with the new 5er. It's a better luxury car (the E60 was always pathetic in this regard) and even a better performance car (the E60 was stunning in this respect). Having said that, I just don't think it looks special enough to demand a $50K price tag. I'm sure it will look better with the sport package, but even as controversial as the E60 was it never looked as plain as the new model.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Its just some car. So boring!
      Its the same deal with the 7 series and the redesigned 3 coupe. It was very elegant and beautiful and its so awkward after the redesign.

      BRING BANGLE BACK. Even his ugly designs were inspiring.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like how this looks, but I prefer how the E-class looks.
        • 5 Years Ago
        You need to consider the way in which each company sells cars. Most 5ers that BMW unloads are 528i and 535i strippers on super low lease rates. Most E-Classes are fully-loaded 350s and 550s that people purchase. The combination of free maintenance and low lease rates means people can get into BMWs who would never otherwise be able to afford one. Es are damn expensive however you slice it as leasing is rarely much cheaper than buying and maintenance costs are high. There are a lot fewer people out there who can afford an E-Class experience, therefore lower sales.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I say the W124 and W210 were the only E-classes ever to outsell a Fiver.
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