2009 550 New Car Test Drive
The BMW 5 Series is the definition of a high-end sports sedan. Every version of the 5 Series puts an emphasis on driving and, in its market category, it is the target at which all competitors are aimed. This mid-size luxury sedan remains a true sports sedan in any of its variations. The same goes for the sport wagon and the all-wheel-drive models. Regardless of engine size or equipment level, the 5 Series 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.
The 5 Series line represents a wide range, from the BMW 528i to the 550i to the BMW M5. 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.
The BMW 528i boasts spirited performance, with decent fuel economy to lower operating costs. The BMW 535i matches some V8s with its 300-horsepower six-cylinder, while the V8-powered BMW 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.
The 5 Series is 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 patience to learn, and drivers who aren't willing to take the time, 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.
For 2009 there are only minimal changes. A new M Sport Package is available on all versions of the 5 Series, and includes package-specific wheels, seats, aluminum trim, steering wheel and a body kit. When ordered on sedans without the all-wheel-drive xDrive, it also includes Active Roll Stabilization and Sport Suspension. There are also seven new buttons arranged with the i-Drive, to allow quicker access to the radio, cd-multi-media function, phone, navigation and other features. The current-generation 5 Series was launched for the 2004 model year and received a major update for 2008.
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 528i ($45,800) is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 generating 230 horsepower. With all 5 Series models, buyers can choose either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission for the same price. The 528xi ($48,100) adds BMW's xDrive automatic all-wheel drive system. BMW 528 models 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 535i ($51,100) and the all-wheel-drive 535xi ($53,400) and 535 xi Sport Wagon ($55,800) get a 300-horsepower, twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six. All 535 models add xenon adaptive headlights. A Sport Automatic ($500) transmission adds paddle shift bars on the steering wheel and shifts more crisply in manual mode.
The Premium Package for 528i ($2,400) and 535i ($2,200) adds Dakota leather upholstery, a universal garage door opener and the swanky interior lighting package with ambient light, auto-dimming and outside approach lighting.
The BMW 550i ($60,400) is powered by a 360-hp 4.8-liter V8. The 550i comes with Park Distance Control parking assist and all the features in the Premium Package.
The M5 ($85,500) is powered by a hand-built 500-hp 5.0-liter V10, with suspension and brakes enhanced to match all the power, and a choice of six-speed manual or seven-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox.
The Lane Departure Warning system ($950) is camera based, and notifies the driver via mild steering-wheel vibration of any movement that might indicate an inadvertent lane change. The Stop and Go feature for Active Cruise Control ($2,400) is uses radar to keep the 5 Series from moving too close to the car ahead without driver intervention; the Stop and Go system works even in heavy traffic, accommodating speeds all the way down to a complete stop, and then resuming to the set speed.
Option groups include the Cold Weather Package ($750), with heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated, high-pressure headlight washers; the Sport Package ($2,900) with Active Steering and Active Body Control, larger wheels with performance tires, more potent brakes and sport seats; Logic7 audio ($1,200) with 6CD changer. Stand-alone options include a navigation system ($1,900), a folding rear seat ($475), Sirius satellite radio ($595), and an auxiliary iPod/USB jack ($400). HD Radio ($350) 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 the naked eye.
Safety features are comprehensive. Passive safety equipment includes front airbags with dual threshold deployment, front-passenger side airbags and curtain-style head-protection airbags for all outboard passengers. All 5 Series models come with antilock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control auto-proportioning, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control anti-skid electronics, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters. The standard BMW Assist communication package includes automatic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance and locater service. Beyond the Lane Departure Warning System, optional safety features include rear passenger side-impact airbags ($385).