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The BMW 5-Series earns credit for creating the notion of the sport sedan–and though they've grown heavier, wider, longer and less direct in feel, they still deliver a nuanced ride-and-handling package that many other luxury mid-size sedans haven't mastered. They're somewhat efficient (see: ActiveHybrid5) and somewhat commodious (see: 5-Series Gran Turismo), but still command attention through their advanced features and performance editions.
Two years ago, BMW recast the 5-Series anew. It set out to reverse a trend with the prior car--that it had become a little soft, a little less involving. The new 5-Series also led a new design direction, moving on from the era of controversial BMW designs and to a new kind of straightforward, more upright classic-sport sedan designs that seem to reach a couple of generations back. We like how it has more of a greenhouse (more glass area) than other contemporary sport sedans--it helps for visibility, but it also helps lend the feeling that you're seated on the balanced chassis. Otherwise inside, the 5-Series is driver-centered but not exactly cockpit-like; we like how it optimizes a spacious, clean feeling in front with its rather low, horizontal dash layout and pushed-out corners.
Last year BMW made a new turbocharged four-cylinder the base engine in the 5-Series sedans, with the new 528i making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. Its peak torque is reached at just 1,250 rpm, and the excellent eight-speed automatic transmission makes the most of it, responding quickly when needed. 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, as with the six-cylinder 535i and the V-8 550i, is offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive (xDrive). In 535i models, the 3.0-liter turbocharged six makes 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft, while a new twin-turbocharged V-8 in the 550i makes 445 hp and 480 lb-ft. 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 that had previously been used in the 528i. These sport sedans are loaded with sensors and electronic systems, yet BMW has managed to tune the steering to feel quite natural, and the 5-Series feels nimble and lighter than it is on a tight, curvy road. All of the 5-Series models get BMW's Driving Dynamics Control, which helps the 5-Series fit your need, whether that's taking on a canyon road or bringing the kids to school. This year BMW has added Eco Pro to the existing Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ settings. The system affects throttle response, steering assist, and transmission shift points, as well as the performance of the active suspension systems, so you can truly dial in a particular performance attitude--including Sport+, which is configured especially for track-driving enthusiasts.
Beyond the 528i, dedicated green-performance fans should consider the ActiveHybrid5, with a 300-hp turbocharged six-cylinder engine plus a 54-hp electric-motor system and 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It delivers its power through the eight-speed automatic transmission, and can get to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds (which is about as quick as the 535i).
Instead of a wagon version, there's the striking 5-Series Gran Turismo, which 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.
While the front seats in the 5-Series are superb, backseat space remains one of the few weaknesses. Just at the back of the front seats there's a hard-plastic pocket that can push up against knees, and there's simply not much usable legroom given the size of the cabin as a whole. BMW 5-Series GranTurismo models have a completely different seating arrangement, and they're the exception. With a slightly elevated backseat, lots more legroom, and plenty of headroom (and a great view out), carrying adult passengers is one of the GT's strengths.
Overall, they're great for safety, too, 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). Separate rear side bags are optional; the brakes 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 system, 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.
For 2013, a new multifunction instrument display, with multiple gauge layouts depending on which Driving Dynamics mode you're in, is now included in all models. Rain-sensing wipers, power heated mirrors, xenon headlamps, dynamic cruise control, 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. On the rest of the lineup, upgrades like softer Dakota leather, dynamic multi-contour front seats, and a hard-drive navigation system put it in line with any luxury rivals.
Beyond that, there's a bewildering set of extras including upgraded audio, HD radio, heated rear seats, a rear sunshade, or one of many available trims. And audiophiles who don't need to worry too much about the sticker price will want to go for the 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system.
- Clean, well-styled interior
- Good handling
- Responsive powertrains
- Very quiet for a sport sedan
- Flexible backseat and cargo space (Gran Turismo)
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- Grabby brakes at low speed
- Learning curve for the tech
- Gran Turismo's handling