2011 550 New Car Test Drive
The BMW 5 Series is all-new for 2011. Virtually no hardware was carried over directly to the 2011 BMW 5 Series from the previous models. The all-new 2011 5 Series lineup includes the BMW 528i and BMW 535i with six-cylinder engines, and the BMW 550i with a V8.
You'll never hear it from BMW. But with no less than nine new models arriving all at once in the 2011 line, to a significant degree, BMW is starting over. Not surprising. Under the guidance of controversial American Design Director Chris Bangle during the past decade, BMW took an excursion into doing some very un-BMW things. Contour by contour, the Ultimate Driving Machine became overstuffed looking, given BMW's famously aggressive design language, downright frumpy. Simultaneously, with the debut of the first-generation iDrive system several model years ago, Munich offered to the world the single most counter-intuitive, infuriating cockpit management system ever brought to market. Ever since that bleak debut, the revered company has been backtracking at a stubborn, no-we-never-screw-up rate. But at last, the news is spectacular; 2011's fourth-generation iDrive is wonderfully intuitive, a pleasure to use.
There are further good tidings. The broad line of new 2011 BMWs, far from looking frumpy, has regained the aggressive, exciting enthusiasm that had been the company's trademark since long before these difficulties began. From 7 Series to 5 Series to 3 Series, 2011 models are back to the reliable old BMW formula: Same sausage, in three different lengths. But oh, what sausage!
Dead center in the BMW sausage case is the 5 Series, always a strong choice for buyers who want vigorous acceleration and crisp handling, but not the limited interior space of the 3 Series, nor the girth, weight and fee-fye-foe-fum price of the 7 Series. As a luxury midsize sedan, the 5 will hit the sweet spot for many families that include a driver or two with a strong taste for performance accompanied by all the latest safety provisions.
In comparison with the previous 5 sedan, the 2011 version is two inches longer, with a three-inch longer wheelbase. That translates to one inch less frontal overhang than in any previous 5. This will certainly be helpful in tight parking situations, but far more than that, it give the 5 its stunning visual impact. With its forward-lunging shapes, muscular flanks, and low, road-hugging front end, the 5's appearance accurately communicates its racerly velocity and apex-strafing agility. Said agility is aided and abetted by the new 5's near-perfect 49/51 front/rear weight distribution. This package delivers levels of handling that have inherent stability, with no sudden surprises. Very, very BMW.
Sliding into the new 5's interior, you will find a typically German environment. The BMW representatives we spoke to describe the cabin as contemporary but warm, and so it is. The dashboard surfaces of our test BMW 550i were a combination of bright tan and matte black, highlighted by the expected graceful brushstrokes of wood. The instrumentation is thorough and easy to use, and the seats are covered in either leatherette, for the 528i and 535i, or leather in the 550i. As has been the case from nearly the beginning, cloth interiors will not be imported to North America.
And somewhat surprisingly, comparing content to content in the 2011 5 Series versus its predecessor, the 5 Series furnishings represent a drop in prices.
The 2011 BMW 5 Series is available in three models: the BMW 528i ($44,550) with 3.0-liter inline-6, the BMW 535i ($49,600) with more powerful 3.0-liter inline-5, and the 550i ($59,700) with 4.4-liter V8.
The 528i and 535i come standard with leatherette 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-wired for satellite radio and CD changer, iDrive, power moonroof, Bluetooth, wood trim. The 550i comes standard with leather trim.
Options: The Active Ventilated Seat Package ($2,950) adds front ventilated seats, active front seats, multi-contour seats, heated front seats; Convenience Package ($1,700) adds power tailgate, keyless entry, soft-close automatic doors; Cold Weather Package ($1,050) includes heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated rear seats, retractable headlight washers; Driver Assistance Package ($1,750) supplies automatic high beams, lane departure warning, active blind spot detection, parking assistant; Dynamic Handling Package ($2,700) adds electronic damping control, active roll stabilization, adaptive drive.
The Premium Package for 528i and 535i ($1,800) upgrades to Dakota leather and includes universal garage-door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, ambiance lighting; Premium Package 2 for 550i ($2,800), 528i and 535i ($4,900) adds navigation, rearview camera, satellite radio, premium audio, power rear sunshade with manual side windows, heated front seats, park distance control, iPod and USB adapter. The Sport Package ($2,200) features 19-inch alloy V-spoke wheels (18-inch on 528i), increased top-speed limiter, leather steering wheel, multi-contour seats, shadow-line exterior trim.
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 wearing 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 backup 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 fitted with head-up display. Head-up display delivers vehicle speed and other data without requiring a glance away from the road ahead.