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Old 05-26-2010, 02:36 PM   #1
Consumer Reports Behind the wheel: 2011 BMW 5 Series
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posted by tim330i

Just as I finally got used to the styling of the current 5 Series, BMW is readying the redesigned 2011 model. I saw the car in person last week at BMW's U.S. launch at a New Jersey race track. It looked very proportional, though more conservative than the outgoing model. We previously tested two of the current-generation 5ers, and it was among the most liked luxury sports sedans with our readers, according to Consumer Reports' last owner-satisfaction survey. For BMW it represents 20 percent of the sales and 40 percent of the profit. Clearly, this is an important car for BMW to get right.

The new 5 Series shares most of its architecture with the larger 7 Series and offers similar technology and features. The long list of options includes night vision and lane-departure warning and mitigation. Both share the latest eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission and use electric power steering -- a prerequisite for park-assist and the vibrating steering-wheel pulses that signal lane departure. Together, the new transmission and steering are claimed to bring a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy. (Our previous 535i achieved an already commendable 22 mpg overall.) The new 5 is marginally lower, longer and wider, with an inch more rear leg room. (See our BMW 5 Series model overview page, available to online subscribers.)

Driving has always been a 5 Series hallmark, and I found the new model quiet and refined, and its automatic transmission is a delight. The new single turbo, 300-hp, 3.0-liter straight-six-cylinder engine is smooth and punchy and free of any discernible turbo lag. The car had the typical, buttoned-down BMW feel, yet the ride was supple. It was responsive in the corners and showed its capability on the undulating track with suppressed body lean, good grip, and balanced, predictable behavior at the limits.

However, I wasn't impressed with the steering. While it was good, it lacked the linearity and feedback we expect from a BMW. The 550i V8 version was every bit as capable and responsive, and that larger engine delivered smooth and effortless propulsion. The added weight made the steering a bit heavier, mostly in a good way. In both, the seats, driving position, and fit and finish were first class. A quick examination revealed a better structure for the iDrive multi-function controller.

The 535i will account for the bulk of sales, not surprising since the 550i can easily poach into 7 Series price territory. A more basic, normally-aspirated version, the 528i, is due in the fall. AWD versions will also arrive in time for winter. BMW was unclear about a wagon, but it seems as if the 5 Series Grand Turismo is the de facto successor. And since the 6 Series is the coupe version of the 5, a new 6 is in the works. The last model year for the current version is 2010.

Overall, the car showcases a lot of advanced technology and meticulous attention to detail, but I wasn't wowed by the driving experience. We will see how the new 5 stacks up against its competitors when we buy our own test car and formally put it through its paces.

óGabe Shenhar

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