2012 BMW 5-Series Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 23, 2012

The 2012 BMW 5-Series appears somewhat conservative on the outside, but it packs an armada of advanced-tech firepower, and new fuel-efficient engines, without interrupting its sport-sedan mission.

The 2012 BMW 5-Series is a line of stylish mid-size sport sedans. Tjey focus on efficient performance and advanced high-tech features but BMW hasn't forgotten about luxury and comfort.

BMW redesigned the 5-Series models for 2011. The new version is intended to be 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 adopt a new 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injected 4-cylinder 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. The 5-Series is the rare mid-size luxury car to retain manual transmissions on the options list.

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The high-tech hardware could overload the car, but the 5-Series fends off artificial feel with good tuning. The steering is about the best in its class, with natural on-center feel, lots of feedback in corners, and on some models, rear-wheel steering that lightens the parking-lot load.

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.

BMW has dropped its usual 5-Series wagon. In its place is a new Gran Turismo hatchback. In the attempt to blend SUV and wagon into a Euro-familiar shape, something's been lost. The Gran Turismo delivers lots of room and a high rear seat, but its handling is off and its proportions aren't as nice as those of a traditional wagon.

The 2012 BMW 5-Series has a very traditional sport-sedan interior, if you look at seating layout. Front seats are comfortable and supportive, with an extending lower cushion that gives more support to 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.

BMW's iDrive system still has its stranglehold on the center of the cabin and on most secondary controls and systems. BMW unveiled a new version of iDrive in 2010 and it's better than prior versions, with clearer menus and more favorite buttons. It's not as simple as a swath of switches, and it's not easy to learn, but it gets better with exposure.

With the 5-Series, BMW keeps with its reputation for equipping its vehicles very much as luxury cars, while it leaves plenty of room for upgrades. On the safety option list are adaptive headlights, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure warnings. All 5-Series cars get power features, wood trim, leatherette seat coverings, and heated side mirrors; spend more and leather is an option, as are heated rear seats, navigation, and upgraded audio.

8

2012 BMW 5-Series

Styling

The 2012 BMW 5-Series is conservative throughout, but its classic sport-sedan proportions definitely call out to enthusiasts.

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; it also moves on design-wise, past an era of controversial BMW designs and into a new generation of sedans that seem to reach a couple of generations back. While the new version might reach back to the late-1990s-era E39 in some respects (with a bit more of the classic, upright look), BMW has preserved the 5-Series' modern profile and proportions.

With its most recent redesign, BMW put its hallmark dual-kidney grille lower on the front end, and made it more prominent. It's flanked by LED headlights. Down the side, the 5er wears a deep crease that runs from nose to tail. The hood contours more and has more curves, and the car's taillights have a more deamatic shape.

The 5-Series interior is driver-centered but not exactly cockpit-like; we like how it optimizes a spacious feeling in front. Most of the materials and trims look and feel conservative, but we like the simple, clean instrument-panel design. Displays and major controls angle toward the driver. To store away electronics, out of sight, there's a center console that's wide and deep enough for safe storage.

8

2012 BMW 5-Series

Performance

All the chassis electronics—along with a new base four-cylinder engine—might make enthusiasts skeptical, but it all comes together in a very satisfying driving experience.

Times are a changing-even at BMW-and for 2012 the base engine in the 5-Series sedans is no longer an in-line six-cylinder-it's a turbo four.

The new 528i makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet, 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 or 550i models, powered by turbo V-6 and V-8 engines, respectively. The top 400-hp, 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 can launch the 5-Series to 60 mph in about 5 seconds, but most will be happy with the 535i and its 300-hp, turbocharged six. BMW doesn't keep the manual transmissions away here: most of the 5-Series models can be fitted with a 6-speed shifter.

In all, if you don't mind a slightly more agricultural four-cylinder sound in place of the sonorous six, the base 528i does the job well, too-and much more frugally-while feeling considerably stronger in most situations compared to the base, naturally aspirated six in the 528i last year. The excellent eight-speed automatic helps make the most of it, smartly responding quickly when needed.

The 5er is packed with enough performance-related technologies to raise the eyebrows of serious enthusiasts. The connected and direct driving feel remains intact. Despite the presence of myriad onboard sensors and all-knowing algorithms, BMW finds the right tuning for the 5-Series' electric power steering. It has good natural feedback on center and coveys plenty of road information when it's hustled through tight corners. With optional rear-wheel steering-it turns the back wheels opposite the fronts below 35 mph-the 5-Series feels more tossable and true at highway speeds, and more friendly to parking-lot maneuvers, too.

Driving Dynamics Control helps the 5-Series fit your need, whether that's taking on a canyon road or bringing the kids to school. BMW enables four distinct settings-Sport+, Sport, Normal, and Comfort-that can change steering assist, throttle uptake, shift points, and the adaptive suspension's firmness. It creates dramatic differences in the car's personality just from Comfort to Sport. Sport+ allows a separate mode that some might appreciate for track driving.

8

2012 BMW 5-Series

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 BMW 5-Series sedans have superb front seats and excellent refinement, but if back-seat comfort is a priority, look to the GranTurismo.

The 2012 BMW 5-Series has a very traditional sport-sedan interior, if you look at seating layout, but it's also a comfortable, quiet luxury sedan whenever you need it to be.

BMW builds cars with good front seats, typically. The 5er keeps up the reputation with supportive bucket seats that have extenders built into the bottom cushions, so tall drivers won't feel singled out.

Back-seat space remains a 5-Series limitation. There's not as much leg room behind the front seats as you might find in an E-Class, for example-and BMW fits a hard plastic seatback to the front chairs. Gran Turismo models have different packaging that lifts the seat bottoms and grants more leg and head room, as well as a better view out of the side windows.

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 much-simplified fourth-generation system-including an 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.

The sedan has ample trunk space, but the Gran Turismo is where the cargo-capacity action is. It has a two-piece flip-and-fold tailgate with a handful of configurations, blurring the functional line between hatchbacks and SUVs. The seats in back have limousine-style room and a console between them, not to mention flexible cargo space with fold-down second-row seats.

10

2012 BMW 5-Series

Safety

Whether in passive crash protection, high-tech active safety, or fleet-footed accident avoidance, the 2012 BMW 5-Series has all the safety bases covered.

The 5-Series was completely redesigned for last year, and by this time both major U.S. crash-test agencies have released results. Overall, they're great, with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) naming the 5-Series sedans a Top Safety Pick, and the federal government giving them a five-star overall rating, with top five-star ratings in all but frontal impact (four stars).

The BMW 5-Series has a strong reputation for safety, and we should add that excellent handling, plus one of the best-tuned electronic stability control systems, make these sedans more confidence inspiring when it comes to emergency and accident-avoidance maneuvers.

In addition to the usual roster of airbags, rear side bags are optional, and the 5-Series has a number of high-tech safety extras. 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.

An Active Blind Spot Detection, a Lane Departure Warning system, Xenon Adaptive Headlights with automatic high beams, and a new second-generation night-vision system with pedestrian detection are all available and might further increase safety.

9

2012 BMW 5-Series

Features

If you have some extra room in the budget, you can equip the 2012 BMW 5-Series with high-tech wizardry found on few other vehicles at any price.

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.

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.

Active Blind Spot Detection, a Lane Departure Warning system, Xenon Adaptive Headlights with automatic high beams, Active Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go (capable of bringing the vehicle to a complete stop for up to three seconds before driver input), 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.

A Sport Package or M Sport Package provide a sport suspension, upgraded wheels and tires, and other extras.

7

2012 BMW 5-Series

Fuel Economy

Green-minded shoppers have a very fuel-efficient choice in the 528i models—although V-8 550i models are quite the opposite.

With the addition of a new standard engine this year-a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder in the 528i-the 5-Series now gets better gas mileage than some boring mid-size sedans. Its EPA ratings, of up to 22 mpg city, 34 highway, with the eight-speed automatic, are superb.

The 535i is a good compromise for those who want more performance but don't have much tolerance for a guzzler. ratings for the turbo six are 20 or 21 mpg in the city, and 30 or 31 on the highway.

GranTurismo models might seem more practical, but their additional weight and height, and less effective aerodynamics, conspire to bring EPA ratings as low as 15 mpg city, 19 highway, for the 550i xDrive version of the GranTurismo. Although in all fairness, none of the V-8 550i models are very efficient, and the 550i xDrive sedan is nearly as low, at 15/20.

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October 9, 2016
2012 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 535i RWD

BMWs are the ultimate driving machines!!

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My first BMW was a 2006 530i. I quickly found out it lives up to its reputation--the ultimate driving machine! Several weeks ago I became the proud owner of a 2012 535i. It is black and beautiful!! The guy who... + More »
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January 2, 2016
2012 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 528i xDrive AWD

great Drivers car will adapt to any driving habits

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This is my third 5 series and the best one ever , great gas Mileage More than enough power and most of all a very comfortable car to drive. in my opinion the ultimate driving machine.
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November 15, 2015
2012 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 550i RWD

Twin Turbo Fun

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No real need to buy the M5 when you can save $50k and buy the 550i.
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September 29, 2015
2012 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 535i RWD

It is still a driver's car

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29 - 31 MPG @ 80 MPH no problems. Comfortable and well built
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May 12, 2015
2012 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 528i xDrive AWD

Very fast, reliable and safe car!

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Great car. Bought used and feel like I can own for 10 years without any problems.
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