- Responsive and smooth engines
- Sharp handling
- Technology tour de force
- Still offers a manual gearbox
- iDrive is needlessly complex
- Poor crash test results
- Lots of options make sticker price balloon
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 cars are a joy to drive, though they aren't the best values or more practical vehicles in their segment.
Last year BMW upgraded its engine lineup by adding a twin-turbo, 300-hp six. This year, it's mostly carried over, with few mechanical changes.
Base cars offer a 230-hp, 3.0-liter inline-6, under the 528i badge. The 535i (above) is joined by a 360-hp, V-8-powered 550i. All engines can be coupled to a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual. Sport-package cars come with paddle shift controls when they're automatics. All-wheel drive is an option on inline-6 cars.
One of the best 5-Series cars is the 535xiT Sports Wagon. With the same luxury and tech touches as the sedan, the Sports Wagon has the most useful body style, as well as excellent braking and handling and an absorbent ride. The only flaw is standard all-wheel drive that hones off some of the car's steering feel.
In all models, seating is commendable. In front, BMW fits bucket seats that support passengers with firm cushions and a good ride height. The back seat has less space than in some competitive cars, but the seats themselves are cozy.
All 5-Series cars come with the usual airbags and stability control. BMW makes rear-seat side airbags available as an option. That said, the 5-Series hasn't performed very well in crash tests. The NHTSA gave it three stars for driver protection, and the IIHS called its side protection "marginal."
All 5-Series cars come with power features, cruise control, and leather. Options veer strongly into the high-tech lane: there's variable-ratio steering, a head-up display, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors, night vision, heated rear seats, and lane-departure warnings. BMW's futzy iDrive interface also comes standard. It's saddled with unintuitive command structures that blemish the high-tech fun.