- Smooth, responsive engines
- Crisp, responsive handling
- Variety of useful technology options
- Available manual transmission
- Complexity of iDrive system
- Disappointing crash-test performance
- Ridiculously high sticker price when extensively optioned
Whether as a sedan or wagon, the 2009 BMW 5-Series is a distinctly sportier, tech-savvy alternative to luxury rivals—without giving up any comfort.
The 5-Series sedans and wagons aren't the most practical or the best values in their class, but they're a joy to drive. Following last year’s 300-horsepower, 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder optional engine upgrade, there’s not much to report for the 2009 BMW 5-Series lineup besides some new wheels.
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 for 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, the 528xi and 535xi.
The 2009 535 xiT Sports Wagon model brings more useful utility while offering the same luxury and performance as the sedan. The Sports Wagon has excellent handling and braking, along with a firm but absorbent ride and impressive standards of refinement inside the cabin. However, with all-wheel drive—requisite in the 2009 BMW 5-Series Sports Wagon—the steering feel isn't quite up to the standards of the rear-wheel-drive (sedan) model.
Seating in either the sedan or Sports Wagon is commendable. The front seats in the 2009 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 cozy, but there's a bit less space than most cars this size. The front seats are among the best in any luxury vehicle in this price range.
Standard safety features on the 2009 BMW 5-Series include front side airbags, tubular head-protecting airbags for front and rear outboard occupants, and electronic stability control. Rear side airbags are optional.
However, the surprising news is that the 5-Series did not perform well in crash tests. When the federal government tested a 5-Series, it earned a three-star rating in frontal protection for the driver—the lowest mark typically awarded—but five stars in the other dynamic tests. The bad news didn't end there; the insurance-industry-supported IIHS found the 5-Series sedan to be just "marginal" in side protection and "acceptable" for the sedan and wagon in the seat-based rear-impact test.
The array of standard features on the 2009 BMW 5-Series is as extensive as rival models, but it's the astonishing list of high-technology options that really differentiates it 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. BMW’s pesky iDrive is standard, and its unintuitive operation blemishes the high-tech fun.