In any of the 5-Series models, the front seats have the sort of support that won't let you down on long hauls. Sedans don't offer all that much legroom in back, but the seats themselves are nicely padded and proportions, so the kids should be happy back there. Those who want more versatility should look to the 5-Series Gran Turismo (GT), a striking vehicle that blends wagon and SUV styling cues into a shape that's truly distinct. The backseat offers much more legroom and is positively limo-like.
Major models of the 5-Series include the 528i, the 535i, and the 550i. The 528i is just adequate, with its 230-hp six-cylinder engine, but for most family use we recommend the 300-hp, turbocharged 535i; it gets about the same mileage as the smaller engine, provided you don't tap into the power all the time, and it's about as torquey as a V-8. At the top of the lineup you can get a V-8, though, in the 400-hp, twin-turbo 550i. If you're not the type who lives for weekend track days, all the rest you need to know is that the 5-Series drives surprisingly much like a grand-touring sports car. BMW has dialed in a host of electronic systems in the 5-Series to make it feel smaller and more nimble (and more direct) than it really is.
Safety in the 2011 5-Series models is excellent—especially when you consider not only that it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick but also that you can get a long list of high-tech accident-prevention options like Active Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, and a night-vision system with pedestrian detection.
About the only thing that we don't like about the 5-Series family, from a family perspective, is that all the tech goodies on board have such a learning curve. And the iDrive screen-and-menu-based interface, while it's been greatly improved over the years, is still less intuitive—especially to frenzied parents—than simple buttons.