- Handles like a smaller car, but has big-car stability on the highway
- Velvety, responsive engines
- Manual transmissions offered across the line
- Powertrains quite efficient in real-world driving
- Wide range of useful technology options
- iDrive remains unduly complex
- Back-seat isn’t as roomy as it should be
- Ridiculously high sticker price when extensively optioned
- Crash-test performance is an embarrassment
The 5-Series sedans and wagons aren't the most practical or the best values in their class, but they're very enjoyable to drive.
The 5-Series is BMW's family of mid-size sport sedans and wagons; the 2008 BMW 5-Series gets a slightly updated look this year, with rear LED lights, a new headlight design, a new steering wheel, and revised door panels. A head-up display is newly available, and the iDrive system now has eight programmable "favorite" buttons. All engines are now fitted with the second generation of BMW's direct fuel injection for improved fuel economy.
Most notably, the 2008 BMW 5-Series now gets the stellar 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder that's been offered already on the 3-Series. But in keeping with BMW's no-longer-intuitive naming practice, it's called the 535i. The base engine on the 5-Series is the 230-horsepower, 3.0-liter six in the 528i; there's also a 360-horsepower, 4.8-liter V-8 model called the 550i. Each engine comes with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, and with the available Sport Package, 535i and 550i models come with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is also offered on six-cylinder models in the 5-Series line, called the 528xi and 535xi, respectively.
Besides the sedan, there's also a single 535 xiT Sports Wagon model, which brings more useful utility while offering the same luxury and performance as the sedan. It’s reviewed separately. Fold-down rear seats are optional on the sedan.
Whether you go for the base 528i or the top 550i, the 2008 BMW 5-Series models have excellent handling and braking, along with a firm but absorbent ride and impressive standards of refinement inside the cabin. Each of the engines is smooth and quite responsive, but there's a wide difference between them; the 528 delivers satisfying performance, especially with the manual gearbox, while the 550 feels like a sophisticated musclecar, with a more aggressive V-8 sound and plenty of torque. Both engines deliver impressive fuel economy in real-world driving.
The front seats in the 2008 BMW 5-Series are among the best in any mid-size luxury sedan. They're very firm and supportive yet comfortable; in back, they're also quite comfortable, but there's a bit less space than most cars this size. Even better are the optional 20-way power Multi-Contour front seats, which include adjustable lateral and lumbar support and an articulated backrest.
The 2008 BMW 5-Series models come well equipped, but it's the astonishing list of high-technology options that really differentiates them from the competition. They include an active steering system that may be a driver's aid or a lifesaver, adaptive bi-xenon headlamps, a head-up display, active cruise control, high-beam assist, front and rear parking aids, night vision, a lane-departure warning system, heated rear seats, and a power rear sunshade.
There's an enviable list of standard safety features in the 2008 BMW 5-Series, including front side airbags, tubular head-protecting airbags for front and rear outboard occupants, and electronic stability control. Rear side airbags are optional. However, when the 5-Series was tested by the federal government, it earned a low three-star rating in frontal protection for the driver (though five stars in the other dynamic tests). The bad news didn't end there; the insurance-industry-supported IIHS found the 5-Series to be "good" in its frontal offset test, but only "marginal" in side protection and "acceptable" in the seat-based rear-impact test.