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The 2012 BMW 5-Series is a line of stylish mid-size sport sedans, with a focus on efficient performance and advanced high-tech features; yet BMW hasn't forgotten about the comfort and luxury that matters.
BMW just completely redesigned the 5-Series models for 2011; the new version clearly is intended to be (and is) more of a driver's car than the former (E60) version that was sold through 2010. At the same time, BMW has made some serious steps toward making the latest 5er more fuel-efficient without compromising performance. Some U.S. 5-Series models go four-cylinder for the first time ever with the introduction of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four in the 528i.
The new 528i, which we hadn't yet driven at the time of posting, makes 240 horsepower, and its peak torque is reached at just 1,250 rpm; the model also comes with Auto Start/Stop technology, which smartly shuts off the engine at stoplights, along with Brake Energy Regeneration and other fuel-saving tech, to yield EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 34 highway. The 528i is offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive (xDrive), and joins the 535i and 550i models, powered by turbo V-6 and V-8 engines, respectively. The top 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine can launch the 5-Series to 60 mph in about five seconds, but most will be happy with the 535i and its 300-hp, turbocharged six. Manual or automatic transmissions are offered on all 5-Series sedans—in a class where manuals are sometimes limited to the sportiest variants.
While the 5-Series is packed with enough performance-related technologies to make any serious enthusiast wary, the driving experience feels remarkably connected and direct. Despite all the onboard electronics and sensors, BMW keeps it real—or at least feeling that way. The electric power steering in the new BMW 5-Series is the best you’ll find in a sedan its size; it has a great, natural sensation on center and plenty of road feel in tight corners. Even more confidence-inspiring—and making the 5-Series come across as a smaller, more tossable car—is BMW’s Integral Active Steering, which steers the rear wheels slightly in the opposite direction below about 35 mph, or in the same direction at higher speeds, to either help enhance stability or aid parking.
Driving Dynamics Control helps the 5-Series fit your need, whether that's taking on a canyon road or bringing the kids to school. With four settings—Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+—it affects throttle response, steering assist, and transmission shift points, as well as the performance of these active suspension systems, so there’s a dramatic difference in overall feel just from Comfort to Sport. Sport+ allows a separate mode that some might appreciate for track driving.
There's no wagon version of the 5-Series model this time around; instead, the striking 5-Series Gran Turismo blends some station wagon and SUV cues into a shape that's not quite sedan or crossover. In the Gran Turismo, the elevated backseat space is excellent—limousine-like by most accounts—and the tailgate can be opened in two different ways. Powertrains for the GranTurismo are essentially the same (minus the four-cylinder), but a different suspension setup means it doesn't handle nearly as well as the 5-Series sedan.
The 2012 BMW 5-Series has a very traditional sport-sedan interior, if you look at seating layout. Front seats are as comfortable and supportive as we’ve come to expect from BMW, with extendable lower cushion supports for taller drivers. There's plenty of trunk space, but backseat space remains a shortcoming. BMW 5-Series GranTurismo models are an exception; with a slightly elevated backseat, lots more legroom, and plenty of headroom—plus a great view out—the GT is an ideal choice for shuttling around adults. Throughout all the models, the interior is impressive, with good-quality, tactile switchgear. The iDrive interface still remains the center point of the dash; you'll need it to access many vehicle functions, but the 5-Series benefits from the fourth-generation system that was introduced for 2010 on the 5-Series—including a much-improved menu structure and hot buttons for main-menu categories. Simply put, iDrive has finally reached its potential in being a relatively intuitive interface that might not be as easy as buttons to some, but you probably won’t need to read manuals to digest and use it on the fly.
With the 5-Series, BMW keeps with its reputation for equipping its vehicles very much as luxury cars, but leaving plenty of room for appearance and tech upgrades. Active Blind Spot Detection, a Lane Departure Warning system, Xenon Adaptive Headlights with automatic high beams, Active Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go, and a new second-generation night-vision system with pedestrian detection are all among the available safety-tech extras, and a sonar parking assistant, advanced backup camera, and new night-vision system are among other options. Rain-sensing wipers, power heated mirrors, and a dual-zone climate control system are all included, even on the base 528i, as is poplar wood trim and a synthetic leatherette upholstery. Softer Dakota leather is offered with a Premium Package, while a potentially bewildering list of possible options can bring you anything from upgraded audio, HD radio, heated rear seats, a navigation system, a rear sunshade, or one of many available trims. A Sport Package or M Sport Package provide a sport suspension, upgraded wheels and tires, and other extras.
Despite being predictably conservative with the 5-Series, BMW has made the new model feel a little sportier and more expressive than the 5-Series it’s replacing. When you take advantage of all of the technical achievements that are available with the Sport Package or as options—you don’t have to drive fast or aggressively to enjoy them—you get a true sport sedan that will greatly satisfy you, your passengers, and your inner tech geek.