2008 550 New Car Test Drive
Substantial improvements to the BMW 5 Series sedans and wagon for 2007 add a lot, but change little. The 5 Series remains a truly sporting sedan that stands out in the fiercely competitive market for mid-sized luxury cars.
Changes for 2008 represent the most significant model-year update since the current 5 Series was launched in 2003. They include mild exterior revisions, improvements to the interior and a significant power boost for six-cylinder models. The new 528i, formerly the 525i, is the most powerful entry-level 5 Series to date. The twin-turbo 535i, formerly the 530i, is the quickest six-cylinder 5 Series car ever. The change in BMW's numeric naming scheme is a result of the change in engines, but the various models and their relationship to each other remain basically the same.
Their basic character hasn't changed a bit, because every 5 Series puts an emphasis on the driving. This mid-size luxury sedan remains a true sports sedan in any of its variations, including the 535xi wagon and other models equipped with all-wheel drive. Regardless of engine size or equipment level, the 5 Series line delivers lively acceleration, precise handling and outstanding brakes. It's available with a conventional manual transmission, which is increasingly hard to find in this class.
This car has just about everything you could ask for in a luxury sedan, including the features, comfort and convenience of full-size luxury models, the sporting character of smaller ones, and a good compromise between interior space and physical bulk.
The 5 Series line offers more model choices than most cars in its class, with prices spread from the mid-$40,000 range to over $90,000. Even the base 528i boasts spirited performance, with decent fuel economy to lower operating costs. The 300-hp six-cylinder in the 535i matches some V8s, while the V8-powered 550i delivers true high performance by any definition. The limited-production M5 can out-accelerate, out-brake and out corner some expensive sports cars, with comfortable seating for five. There's a wagon for those who want more room for cargo and BMW's x-Drive full-time all-wheel drive for drivers in the snow belt.
Now familiar, the 5 Series' flared-nostril front end and overall appearance may still make it difficult for some buyers to embrace. It's still loaded with the technology that's made it a benchmark for critics and auto industry engineers alike, and some of its systems and features have a dark side. The i-Drive point-and-click control system, for example, takes time and energy to learn, and drivers who aren't willing to invest the energy, or those who just prefer things simple, might want to look at another car.
However, those who put driving satisfaction first should put the 5 Series near the top of their test-drive list.
With new engines and more power for 2008, BMW's numeric nomenclature for six-cylinder 5 Series models has changed. But the model line hasn't really changed at all. There are two six-cylinder engines, a V8, and an ultra-high performance V10, manual and automatic transmissions and optional all-wheel drive. The 5 Series Sports Wagon is offered only with the more powerful six-cylinder and all-wheel drive.
The least expensive 5 Series is now the 528i ($44,300), powered by BMW's high-tech magnesium alloy 3.0-liter inline 6 generating 230 horsepower, or 15 more than the previous 525i. With all 5 Series models, buyers can now choose either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission for the same price. The 528xi ($46,500) adds BMWs x-Drive automatic all-wheel drive system.
The 528s come with leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control with active micro-filtration, an AM/FM/CD stereo with 10 speakers, 17-inch alloy wheels, four power outlets and a rechargeable flashlight in the glovebox.
The newly designated 535i ($49,400) and 535xi ($51,600) get a 300-hp, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six launched in 2007 3 Series cars. That's an increase of 45 horsepower over the former 530i. The 535xi Sports Wagon ($54,000) has x-Drive all-wheel drive. All 535s add xenon adaptive headlights.
The most popular option for the six-cylinder models is the Premium Package ($2,300 for 528i, $2,100 for 535i), which adds Dakota leather upholstery, a universal garage door opener and the swanky interior lighting package with ambient light, auto-dimming and outside approach lighting.
Those items come standard on the 550i ($58,500), which is powered by a 360-hp, 4.8-liter V8. The 550i also comes with Park Distance Control parking assist.
For 2008, the 535s and the 550i can be equipped with a Sport Automatic ($500) transmission, which adds paddle shift bars on the steering wheel and shifts more crisply in manual mode. BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox, which works like a manual without a clutch pedal, is no longer offered on any 5 Series except the ultra-high performance M5.
The M5 ($82,900) sits atop the 5 Series lineup. It's powered by a hand-built 500-hp 5.0-liter V10, with suspension and brakes enhanced to match all the power, offered with either a six-speed full manual or a seven-speed SMG clutch-less manual gearbox.
Two big ticket options have been added for 2008. BMW's Lane Departure Warning system ($500) is camera based, and notifies the driver via mild steering-wheel vibration of any movement that might indicate an inadvertent lane change. The new Stop and Go feature for Active Cruise Control ($2,400) is space age. Like the previous system, it uses radar to keep the 5 Series from moving to close to a car ahead, without driver intervention. Yet the new Stop and Go system works even in heavy traffic, accommodating speeds all the way down to a complete stop, and resuming to the set speed from 0 mph.
Other option groups include: the Cold Weather Package ($750), with heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated, high-pressure headlight washers; the Sport Package ($2,800 for six-cylinder models, $1,300 for all-wheel drive and $4,600 the 550i), with BMWs Active Steering and Active Body Control systems, larger wheels with performance tires, more potent brakes and sport seats; and Logic7 audio ($1,200) with six-CD changer.
Stand-alone options include a navigation system ($1,900), a folding rear seat ($475), Sirius satellite radio ($595), and a new auxiliary iPod/USB jack ($400). HD Radio ($500) delivers enhanced digital audio quality, with FM reception that compares to CD quality and AM reception comparable to analog FM. BMW's head-up display, or HUD ($1,200), projects speed and other data on the windshield, while Night Vision ($2,200) uses a thermal-imaging camera that monitors the road ahead and displays images on the navigation screen before they might be visible to t.