Thankfully, the new 5-Series provides a driving experience that's more like that of the older E39 5-Series than the E60 version that phases out with 2010. That outgoing version had been criticized since its inception for having a more isolating driving experience.
The 2011 5-Series is packed with performance-related technologies like Dynamic Damping Control, Active Roll Stabilization, and Driving Dynamics Control—enough to make any serious enthusiast wary. But the driving experience doesn't feel nearly, if at all, as disconnected as those systems might hint. 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, and there’s none of the disconnected, digital impression that’s present in some other electric power steering systems. 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.
Initially, the new 2011 BMW 5-Series will be offered in rear-wheel-drive 535i and 550i variants, with the 550i stepping up to a 400-horsepower, 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine (capable of 0 to 60 in about five seconds). Later in the model year, a 230-hp, 528i model with a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter six will join the lineup (though not for the GranTurismo), along with all-wheel-drive (xDrive) variants of each. Powering the 535i—which BMW anticipates to be the most popular model—is a new turbocharged 3.0-liter straight-six engine. With no detectable lag and strong, torquey response even from 1,500 rpm or so, it could be very easily mistaken for a V-8. However, the sound is the only thing that’s lacking; the 535i’s engine neither sings like BMW’s naturally aspirated sixes nor sounds as authoritative as its V-8s. Manual or automatic transmissions are offered on all 5-Series sedans—in a class where manuals are sometimes limited to the sportiest variants. Fuel economy ratings are as high as 18 mpg city, 28 highway for the base 528i, but V-8 and GranTurismo models aren't nearly as impressive.
You won't entirely be able to escape those electronics, though. Driving Dynamics Control in the 5-Series gives you four settings—Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+—and 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. Simply put, in the Normal or Sport modes, you can enjoy the driving experience without flustering your passengers too much.