2012 BMW 550 Expert Review:Autoblog
More than one mile above sea level, located in the heart of Sequoia National Park, is the General Sherman tree. This nearly three-hundred foot tall Giant Sequoia is considered the largest tree in the world, as based on total volume. More impressive than its mass is its age – scientists believe it is between 2,300 and 2,700 years old. Giant Sequoias have prospered over centuries, while countless lesser trees have come and gone, because they posses very unique qualities. Their foot-thick bark allows them to resist fire, and their shallow roots take advantage of rain showers during periods of drought. And, in an interesting twist of natural survival, their tall canopies effectively block the sun, preventing competitors from taking hold and surviving in the darkened shadows at their base.
The BMW 5 Series is in a similar position. The long-established benchmark mid-size sport sedan finds itself in a constant battle with competitors trying to push it aside in an effort to capture its territory. Instead of resting on its laurels, BMW re-engineers the four-door once every eight years to conform to a changing and ever crowding segment.
Introduced earlier this year, the all-new 2011 BMW 5 Series breaks new ground. Now sharing platforms with the 7 Series, the sedan seems to have changed its tune from sport to luxury. We spent a week with the range-topping 550i, fitted with the automaker's twin-turbo 400-horsepower V8, to put our fingers on its new mission.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
The BMW 5 Series isn't nearly as old as General Sherman, but it does have its own impressive lineage. Designed as a replacement for the "New Six" sedans in the early 1970s, the 5 Series was the fifth of BMW's "new series" cars. The first 5 Series sedans (known internally as type E12) were fitted with four- or six-cylinder gasoline engines sending power to the rear wheels. The second-generation models (E28) followed the same template, but that chassis is credited with introducing diesel powerplants and the amazing M5 – the fastest production sedan on the planet when it was launched in 1984. The third-generation platform (E34) brought enthusiasts eight-cylinder power, an engine configuration that found its way under the hood of the fourth-generation (E39) M5 model. The fifth-generation model (E60) has been around since 2004. Last year, it was offered with a twin-turbo inline-6, V8 and V10 (M5) powerplants.
As you read in our First Drive in January, the all-new sixth-generation 5 Series (F10) has moved significantly upscale. Now riding on a modified 7 Series platform (thus making it easy for BMW to produce both the 5 Series and 7 Series at its plant in Dingolfing, Germany), the slightly smaller sedan nearly equals its bigger sibling when it comes to luxurious appointments and ride comfort. The two even share most of the same powerplants and drivelines.
At the launch of the 5 Series, we spent countless hours behind the wheel of the "entry-level" 535i model equipped with BMW's single-turbo "N55" inline-6 and new eight-speed automatic. That car was fitted with the optional paddle shifters (Sport Automatic) and next-generation electric Integral Active Steering (IAS). Now we now have our hands on the range-topping 400-horsepower 550i with the standard automatic transmission and standard electric steering.
The base MSRP of the 2011 BMW 550i is $59,700 (plus $875 destination). Our test car, wearing Titanium Silver Metallic paint over Cinnamon Brown leather, is fitted with the Convenience Package (comfort access entry), Dynamic Handling Package, Premium Package 2 (rearview camera, rear sunshades, heated front seats, iPod and USB adapter, satellite radio and premium hi-fi audio), Sport Package (19-inch alloys, sport steering wheel and multi-contour seats) and split fold-down rear seats. The bold number at the bottom of our window sticker reads $70,450.
Interestingly enough, our car isn't heavily optioned. In fact, we would have added the Sport Automatic with shift paddles (more on that later), four-zone climate control and Smartphone integration. While we don't condone such behavior, you can further burden your 5 Series with night vision, side and top view cameras, a head-up display, radar cruise control and 20-inch factory alloy wheels. With a heavy hand on the options list, a non-M model 2011 5 Series can top $95,000. *Gulp.*
The cabin of our test car arrived loaded with premium Dakota leather (standard on the 550i) and dark Burl Ash wood with contrasting aluminum trim. A silver exterior over brown upholstery isn't a color combination they teach at Art Center in Pasadena, but it looks sharp in the new sheet metal. Primary instrumentation is logically distributed and easy-to-read under nearly all conditions (kudos to BMW for giving us an oil temperature gauge). Satellite navigation, standard on the 550i, upgrades the center information screen to a razor-sharp 10.2-inch 1280 x 480 pixel "transreflective" display, meaning light from the sun actually enhances the images on the screen (the screen, and all other displays, are easily read through polarized sunglasses, too). The passenger compartment is beautifully trimmed, both inviting and functional, but the big news is under the hood.
In contrast to the 3.0-liter single-turbo "N55" inline-six found under the hood of the 535i (rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque), the 550i is fitted with a direct-injected 4.4-liter twin-turbo "N63" V8 punching out 400 horsepower and a stump-pulling 450 pound-feet of torque. While a six-speed manual transmission is available (more kudos to BMW), our test car arrived fitted with the automaker's new buttery-smooth eight-speed automatic (ZF 8HP70). The two turbochargers, nestled in the valley between the cylinders, do a fine job of boosting atmospheric pressure right off idle. Throttle lag is negligible, and power is strong and seamless. BMW says the 550i will hit 60 mph in five seconds flat on its way towards an artificial electronic wall at 150 mph. Until the next-gen M5 arrives, this is the quickest 5 Series on the market.
We had one week with the 550i. As most vehicles appear rather competent in 20-minute bursts around town, when speeds never exceed 50 mph and seats always feel fresh and comfortable, we had something a bit more challenging in mind for BMW's new 5 Series – we took it to visit General Sherman. With four people on board and a decent amount of gear in the trunk, the one-day, 600-mile round-trip drive involved hundreds of miles of mind-numbing highways, capped by an invigorating 7,000-foot climb into the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. The plan was to turn around and head back home that night.
The 5 Series sedan would prove to be a comfortable fit. Our six-foot two-inch frame drops into the 18-way multi-contour front seats and melts. With articulated upper backrests, and extendable lower cushions, the seats are more comfortable than your mother's womb (and they heat up equally as warm). The rear seats are acceptable for adults, but the space would never be considered generous, as the backs of the front seats are not sculpted for rear passenger knees. (In truth, the 5 Series rear seating area only has about an inch in every dimension on the smaller 3 Series "E90" sedan.) We did find trouble installing a child booster in the back seat, as the thick outboard seat bolsters forced the plastic seat inward, covering the female end of the seatbelt buckle.
Nevertheless, nobody chooses a BMW 5 Series for interior room – they select it for the way it drives.
Last year's 550i (E60) was fitted with a 4.8-liter normally-aspirated "N62" V8, rated at 360 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque. It's hard to believe, but the new 400 horsepower twin-turbo 4.4-liter makes the outgoing engine seem anemic. Around town, the 550i launches with serious authority. The accelerator goes down and all skulls are pressed back into the head restraints. Strangely enough, there isn't a whole lot of noise to accompanying the thrust - it's eerie, almost electric. The eight-speed gearbox (the 535i and 550i do not share the same transmission) shifts through the gears smoothly, but not as quickly as we would have expected.
On the highway, the mid-size sedan cruises very fast, and very quietly. With engine noise effectively (deliberately?) muted, there is only a faint whisper from the outside wind (the 550i's drag coefficient is .30) and the dampened rumble of the wide run-flat tires rolling over irregular road surfaces. Velocity isn't a concern, as the 5 Series relishes triple digits. The serene cabin creates an excellent atmosphere for conversation (or listening to the premium audio system), as passenger voices are held at low dining room levels. Averaging just less than 25 mpg on the open road, the miles roll by faster than the days of summer.
Off the highway, we started the long climb up East Kings Canyon Road (Hwy 180), just outside Fresno. Thanks to forced induction, the 550i is all but immune to the high ambient temperatures and rapidly gaining altitude. We used the 450 pound-feet of torque to effortlessly pass countless cars exhaustively wheezing in our path. The road eventually became twisty, but the BMW didn't flinch. Thanks to the Dynamic Handling Package, body roll is nearly absent. Our three passengers cry "uncle" long before the tires protest.
The steering is properly weighed and incredibly accurate, but a bit numb ("isolated" is probably a better description). There has been a lot of negative press with regards to new electric steering technology, but we didn't find it a deal breaker as it seems to match the tone set by the rest of the vehicle. That said, we became accustom to it within an hour and didn't have any problems dodging cantaloupe-sized pine cones in the road.
Our big gripe, however, is directed at the transmission. To be perfectly blunt, there isn't a single electronic setting we like. When the toggle (located to the left of the transmission shifter) is in "Comfort" or "Normal" mode, the gearbox seems to have a mind of its own as it constantly shifts to higher gears seeking fuel economy (EPA 17 mpg city / 25 mpg highway). In search of more power, we keep goosing the throttle commanding the opposite reaction. On the other hand, when in "Sport" or "Sport+" mode, the transmission is more responsive but wouldn't go into eighth gear. As we alluded to earlier, our test car is missing the "Sport Automatic" option, a serious omission. This $500 upgrade adds proper paddle shifters and remaps the transmission for faster shifting (plus, it allows you to further tune the steering and throttle response through the Driving Dynamics Control). It could only make things better.
On a positive note, there are a few worthy mentions.
The headlights are absolutely amazing. The HID assemblies deliver stunning white-hot illumination that blankets everything in front of the vehicle, yet somehow fails to annoy oncoming drivers. Thanks to the adaptive bi-xenon setup, driving down a dark and unknown mountain road (normally a white-knuckle adventure) didn't raise our pulse one beat. The navigation system, including iDrive, is intuitive and useful (finally!). The maps are displayed in traditional manner, or overlaid on geographic satellite imagery that impresses everyone. Lastly, the oversize disc brakes are confidence inspiring. No matter how much speed is carried, the 5 Series stops in a controlled manner and with room to spare.
Without question, the 2011 BMW 550i is much improved over its predecessor. However, something that was started a couple generations ago has finally completed its gestation. Just ten years ago, the 5 Series (E39) was a sport sedan for those who had outgrown the entry-level model – it was often described as a bigger and more powerful 3 Series with upgraded appointments. In stark contrast, today's new 5 Series has become a less expensive 7 Series.
While trying to trump its strong competitors, BMW has burdened the 550i with a long list of available luxuries never before seen on a 5 Series platform. The soft-close doors and power operated trunk lid are immediately obvious, but there are also hundreds of pounds of insulation, isolation and amenities buried within. That said, the 2011 BMW 550i tips the scales at 4,376 pounds – a startling 400 pounds more than the eight-cylinder Porsche Panamera S.
There was a time when the BMW 5 Series was designed to be the benchmark four-door sport sedan. It was the quickest, fastest and best-handling five-place saloon on the planet. Things are a bit different today. The all-new 2011 550i, the current performance leader in the 5 Series model range, appears to target luxury first, and sport second. It is an impressively engineered machine, an absolute pleasure to drive, but its new focus so changes the product that its mannerisms bear little resemblance to its predecessors. BMW hasn't lost its touch, but today's 5 Series appears to be chasing a different target. The remaining question is whether this change in focus will let enough light through the 5 Series' stifling canopy for more sporting competitors to grab a foothold.
Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
New Car Test Drive
New 528i adds efficiency to newly redesigned lineup.
For 2011, BMW debuted an all-new, winsome range of BMW 5 Series luxury mid-size sedans. Not surprisingly, 2012 sees the continuation of two of these offerings in reasonably unchanged form, with one very interesting exception, the 2012 528i.
Last year's BMW 528i was powered by a 240-horsepower version of BMW's 3.0-liter inline-6. For 2012, however, the same entry-level 528i is now powered by a very different engine that points far into BMW's green future. Instead of a three-liter six-cylinder, this new engine is a clean, extremely efficient turbocharged four-cylinder of only two liters. Despite being one third smaller in cubic capacity than the prior six, this Twin-Power turbo four-cylinder generates greater torque and horsepower, and much better fuel mileage, than the three-liter six-cylinder it replaces.
Otherwise, the 2012 BMW 5 Series is unchanged from 2011. The BMW 535i and 550i were all-new for 2011.
The three variants, the BMW 528i, BMW 535i and BMW 550i, remain chic, crisp and distinguished for their aggressive styling and driving character. For the most demanding sporting driver, they are a bit on the big-and-heavy side, but their excellent vehicle dynamics and agility make them assertively proactive and manageable when faced with the necessity of an emergency avoidance maneuver, making them excellent family sedans.
In furtherance of their safety-car orientation, the 5 Series contain a comprehensive inventory of passive safety provisions, the multiple airbags and structural provisions that protect occupants in the event an impact occurs. The 5 Series models are substantial, well-engineered passenger cars, yet they are gifted with an exciting athleticism that keeps the driving experience engaging and pleasurable.
BMW's fourth-generation iDrive cockpit-management system is much easier to use than previous versions, but it is still not the most intuitive, straightforward system to be found. With patience and a little insight, though, the 2012 BMW iDrive delivers results that make you feel you're almost as smart as your car. The modular BMW interior, much of which finds its way into models from the top of the line to the bottom, is handsome and contemporary. Glowing tan and matte black contrast handsomely on the dashboard, these surfaces punctuated by elegant swatches of exotic wood. Instrumentation is comprehensive and flawless, in the German manner. For those who see themselves as having reached a certain level, there is nothing in this stylish cabin that will contradict that view.
But driving excitement has always been BMW's stock in trade. And the 5 Series, whether in its surprisingly spirited turbocharged four-cylinder 528i form, its smooth-as-glass inline-6 535i form, or its forceful, V8-powered top-of-the-line 550i, fully earns its reputation in motion. With minimal frontal overhang and muscular flanks that seem shaped by this car's dynamic forward thrust, the 5 Series never quite looks at rest. And for those susceptible to real driving enthusiasm, the 5s seem to exhort you to drive them vigorously, confidently, with pleasure. Their over-the-road qualities, or at least the promise of them, are surely what motivate many BMW aspirants. That these roomy sedans also provide safe, sumptuous family transportation qualify them as a highly desirable mid-size entries.
All-wheel drive is available on all three versions and is designated with an x.
The 2012 BMW 5 Series is available in three models: BMW 528i with 2.0-liter turbo-four ($46,700), BMW 535i with 3.0-liter inline-6 ($52,250), and BMW 550i with 4.4-liter V8 ($61,700). The BMW 528xi ($49,000), BMW 535xi ($54,550), and BMW 550xi ($64,000) add all-wheel drive.
The 528i and 535i are furnished with leather upholstery, automatic dual-zone air conditioning with micron air filter, 205-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 12 speakers, redundant steering wheel controls, pre-wiring for satellite radio and CD changer, iDrive, power moonroof, Bluetooth, wood trim.
Options include the Cold Weather Package ($1,450) that includes heated steering wheel, split fold-down rear seat, heated front seats, heated rear seats, retractable headlight washers; the Premium Package for 528i and 535i ($2,250) includes power tailgate, universal garage-door opener, park distance control, leather seating. The 528i Sport Package ($3,600) adds dynamic damper control, leather steering wheel, light alloy wheels, multi-contour seats, Shadowline exterior trim, Anthracite headliner. The Driver Assistance Package for 528i and 535i ($1,350) includes automatic high beams, lane departure warning, active blind spot detection; the Luxury Seating Package ($2,450) adds power rear sunshade, rear manual side window shades, front ventilated seats, active front seats, four-zone climate control; the Technology Package for 528i and 535i ($1,850) adds rear-view camera, navigation system; and the Premium Sound Package ($950) includes satellite radio with one-year subscription, premium audio.
Safety provisions in the 5 Series are lavish: two-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags and curtain front-to-rear head protection, active head restraints, LATCH child seat mounts, three-point seatbelts with force limiters and front-seat emergency pre-tensioners. Seatbelts are your first line of defense in an accident, so we recommend using them
Optional rearview camera's wide-angle view and tracking lines make parking easier and safer; Top View combines views from side mirrors with rear-view to provide full picture of vehicle surroundings; Side View monitors side traffic, viewed from front bumpers. Active cruise control adjusts speed to maintain safe interval to car ahead, with provision to stop the vehicle completely if required; collision warning indicates an imminent collision, primes the brakes for full stopping power, and will automatically apply the brakes. Active blind spot detection monitors safe lane reentry when overtaking another car; a visual signal and a recognizable vibration in the steering wheel provide further warning. Lane departure warning monitors lane markers; when a lane change begins and turn signals are not activated, the system warns the driver with vibration in the steering wheel. Automated headlights follow curves in winding roads, and automated high-beam controls switch high beams on and off as required when drawing close to another car or meeting oncoming cars up to 440 yards ahead. Adaptive brake light system flashes bright taillights when ABS is engaged or brakes are applied strongly. Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection provides early detection of objects and pedestrians in the night; warning is provided by the Control Display and is displayed on the inner surface of the windshield if equipped with head-up display. Head-up display delivers vehicle speed and other data without requiring a glance away from the road ahead. All-wheel drive improves stability in slippery conditions.
The outward appearance of the 2012 5 Series is unmistakably BMW. It has no seemingly extraneous horizontal surfaces, as some recent BMWs have had, adhering instead to the functional appeal that has long been BMW's signature. The traditional kidney grille is present, and the 5's shorter-than-ever frontal overhang, a BMW trademark, is accompanied by a traditional long hood and long, segment-leading 116.9-in. wheelbase.
The cabin is set considerably to the rear, giving the profile a slightly wedged, coupe-like forward-thrust shape that, given the car's performance, is in no way misleading. Handsomely flared wheel openings filled with stylishly modern wheels and large tires underline the car's muscularity and its rear-wheel drive layout. The signature kink in the rear side window's aft edge confirms that this is a bona fide BMW.
At the nose, the 5 Series features BMW adaptive xenon headlights for powerful, safe forward illumination. And in daytime running, the headlight complex is illuminated by LED rings of light. The turn indicators, as well, are illuminated by LED. Following Audi practice, taillight clusters are illuminated in an LED pattern distinctive to BMW.
The cockpit of the BMW 5 Series is all business, deferring in every way to the driver. The dashboard is angled slightly toward the driver, while the horizontal lines of the dash add to a feeling of spaciousness for both front-seat occupants. And as expected, all controls are well placed, with the driver-only functions situated to the left of the steering column or on the wheel itself. The steering wheel contains 12 fingertip adjustments for audio, phone and adaptive cruise control. It also has a convenient tilt-away provision for easy ingress and egress.
The front seats are supportive and grippy, with unobtrusive but firm side bolstering. Both front seats have 10-way power adjustment, though with the Sport Package, the driver's seat is provided with deluxe 18-way multi-contour seats. The rear seats offer decent side bolstering, and rear seat legroom is generous. Instrumentation includes four classic circular gauges set against a black panel for optimal legibility.
The optional navigation system, located in the center console, proved easy to use, delivering a fine three-dimensional display and excellent, well-timed verbal instructions even in the most complex of multi-lane maneuvers. Combined with the navigation option, this more user-friendly fourth-generation iDrive is contained in a large and legible 10.2-inch screen. Without navigation, a 7-inch console screen is standard. The display is trans-reflective: Sunlight actually enhances its legibility. And if the head-up option is included, relevant navigational instructions are added to the head-up display.
Six different two-tone interior color schemes are available, and standard Dakota leather can be replaced by optional, more luxuriant Nappa leather. The strokes of wood that give the 5 interior its deluxe feel are available in three colors, with Ash Anthracite and Fineline Matte optional.
Climate controls and ventilation are as expected: superb.
We drove the BMW 550i, the 535i, and the brand-new 528i, and were were stupefied by how competent and balanced these mid-size performance sedans really are. All three had exceptional poise and pace, and some interesting surprises.
The 550i's front/rear weight percentage was the most nose heavy with its big V8 at 52.5/47.5 percent, with the 535i coming in at 50.9/49.1 percent, and the 528i at 49.4/50.6 percent with its lighter engine. Surprisingly, these seemingly insignificant differences produce better balance and less understeer in the 528i, the best handling of the three.
So what does maximum driving performance in these 5s have to do with day-to-day driving? Absolutely everything. Any true emergency maneuver in normal traffic demands near maximal use of a car's balance and grip. Driven on the racetrack, we found the two 535i and 550i to be extremely controllable at massive levels of acceleration, stopping and cornering. They will provide responsive performance in accident avoidance maneuvers. But the 528i's lightness resulted in exemplary quickness and agility, which was noticeable in more everyday driving.
The 5 Series uses a superb 8-speed automatic transmission. Combined with weight-saving provisions, including aluminum doors, hood, front side panels and suspension components, the transmission improves fuel mileage, in part, because gears seven and eight are both overdrive.
Fuel economy for the BMW 528i is a stellar EPA-estimated 23 City/34 Highway. The 535i scores 19 City/28 Highway; the 550i V8 gets 15 City/22 Highway.
The 528i and 535i are furnished with BMW's first-ever automatic stop/start system, which stops the engine when the car is not in motion, conserving fuel. Unfortunately, at each restart, our 528i shuddered noticeably each time the engine restarted. Stop/start is a very smart idea, but some systems from other manufacturers perform more seamlessly.
Zero-to-sixty for the 550i, 535i, and 528i are, respectively, 5.0 seconds, 5.7 seconds, and 6.2 seconds. While the 550i is the obvious choice for real speed, the 528i's strong handling, fine fuel mileage, adequate acceleration and attractive base price will attract many, including us.
Much as we admired the new 8-speed transmission's quick shifts and energy efficiency, its shifter is needlessly iconoclastic. It has a P button on top for Park and an unlock button on the left side. To get out of Park, you depress the unlock button and move the shifter forward or backward for Reverse or Drive. Sounds simple enough. You can only go from Drive to Reverse, and vice versa, by first pressing the unlock button. If you move the shifter left, you get manual selection of the eight gears. To return to Park, you press Park on the top of the lever. It takes a bit of training and a goodly number of false starts. Like other German carmakers, BMW believes it's important for you to do things their way, even when there is nothing about it that is superior to a conventional PRNDL auto-shifter. On the plus side, the manually selected 8-speed did its best to give us the shift we wanted.
The 5's steering is electronic, variable ratio and feels seamless and precise. And breaking with BMW practice, the new front suspension eschews struts in favor of multi-link arms.
To heighten controllability and give the driver an improved platform, available dynamic damping control constantly adjusts shock rates to match the current road surface. The system is so fast that when a front wheel hits a pothole at highway speed, the rear shock absorber will be prepared for it before the pothole arrives. In addition, active roll stabilization curtails body roll in hard cornering, giving the driver heightened command. BMW's advanced electronics work well. Additionally, all-wheel drive is available in all 5 Series models.
The latest BMW brake system interacts with the other electronic stability control systems, pre-setting the brakes in heavy braking, drying the brakes in wet driving, and compensating for brake fade in vigorous driving. The brakes also have a hybrid-like regenerative-energy feature; they capture electric energy generated during braking and send electricity to the battery. This reduces the net amount of time that the engine must drive the alternator producing charge. This cuts the amount of time the engine must drive the alternator belt, heightening fuel efficiency.
The BMW 5 Series is a charismatic range of agile, strong-performing mid-size sedans. The 535i and 550i are typical instances of the BMW performance sedan. The innovative 2012 528i's turbocharged 4-cylinder leads the way to more efficient small-displacement BMWs in the near future.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Ted West reported on the 5 Series from upstate New York.
BMW 528i ($46,700), 535i ($52,250), 550i ($61,700); 528xi ($49,000), 535xi ($54,550), 550xi ($64,000).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2,250) adds power tailgate, universal garage-door opener, park distance control; Sport Package ($3,600) includes dynamic damper control, leather steering wheel, 18-inch light alloy wheels with high-performance run-flat tires, multi-contour seats, Shadowline exterior trim, Anthracite headliner; Technology Package ($1,850) includes rearview camera, navigation system; Sport automatic transmission ($500); keyless entry ($1,000); heated front seats ($500).
BMW 528i ($46,700).
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