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First Drive: 2011 BMW 5-Series Page 3

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2011 BMW 5-Series (Euro spec)

2011 BMW 5-Series (Euro spec)

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Evolutionary in design, but major changes underfoot

The new 5 has a familiar profile, and the overall proportions haven’t changed appreciably. It’s only an inch and a half longer than the outgoing 5-Series, but the wheelbase is about three inches longer. The BMW kidney grille has been brought a little lower and is more up-front than before, flanked by beautiful new jeweled LED headlamps, much like those introduced on the new 2010 5-Series Gran Turismo. Perhaps most notable is the strong lower beltline crease that extends all the way to the back. There’s a good deal of additional expression in other details; the hood is a little curvier, a new taillight design (also like those of the 5-Series GT) swoops upward at the sides, and the hood itself includes outwardly flowing contour lines.

Inside, the 5-Series doesn’t exactly have a cockpit layout, but it’s driver-centered while also optimizing spaciousness in front. Major controls and displays are angled six degrees toward the driver, and there’s a rather wide center console that opens wide to store PDAs, iPods, and other precious electronics.

Although the 5-Series is definitely a sport sedan, it’s first and foremost a luxury sedan—one that places a tremendous emphasis on technology at that. The instrument panel has also been re-contoured, with some more expressive creases that flow through to the door trim. Front seats are as comfortable and supportive as we’ve come to expect from BMW, with extendable lower cushion supports for taller drivers like this one, and an excellent driving position overall.

In the new 5-Series, BMW has done away with the conventional front strut setup that all other 5-Series models before it have had and instead used a double-wishbone configuration that the automaker says helps improve steering, allows space for larger brakes, and helps enhance ride and handling. In back there’s a five-link setup replacing the former four-link one—helping to minimize lift and nosedive—and aluminum suspension components have been used wherever possible to save weight. Also helping tip the scales a little lighter are run-flat tires; the 2011 5-Series will come with Dunlop run-flat tires (18-inch in the 535i and 550i, 17-inch in the 528i)—Sport Maxx GT on our Euro-spec test cars.

The new 5-Series is 55-percent stiffer than the outgoing model and has a structural enhancements for improved safety—all without a substantial increase in weight, thanks to the increased use of aluminum. The doors, for instance, are aluminum, as are the front side panels and hood.

Weight savings is a theme on the new 5-Series not only to preserve the sport sedan’s light, responsive feel but also to keep its fuel economy respectable. We don’t have EPA figures for the 5-Series yet, but it does also take advantage of BMW’s Brake Energy Regeneration, which runs the alternator more during deceleration or braking, so as to improve fuel-efficiency during other times. The new transmission, as we hinted, should help as well.

2011 BMW 5-Series (Euro spec)

2011 BMW 5-Series (Euro spec)

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Weaknesses? There are few, but backseat space remains one. There’s simply not as much useful legroom as in most rivals this size, and the back of the front seat has a hard-plastic pocket. Our one other complaint is that brake actuation in our test vehicles was a little too grabby when we just wanted to scrub off a little speed; don’t get us wrong though, they perform without fade or complaint even during hard track use. The brakes now have composite front rotors and electronic aids such as Brake Fade Compensation, Brake Standby, and Brake Drying help performance in certain situations.

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