The 5-Series is packed with enough performance-related technologies to make any serious enthusiast wary; but rest assured, the driving experience feels remarkably connected and direct, and the turbocharged engines that BMW has introduced to the lineup the past several model years are every bit as responsive as their predecessors, if not more so.
Last year BMW put a new turbocharged 4-cylinder in base 5-Series four-doors. In the 528i the unit turns in 240 hp as well as 260 lb-ft, with peak torque arriving at an early 1,250 rpm, and the well-sorted 8-speed automatic transmission makes the most of it, responding quickly when needed. Start/stop on this version cuts off the engine when the car pauses or stops at lights. Combined with a brake-energy capture and other tech that saves fuel, this 5er gets EPA ratings of 23 mpg city, 34 highway. It doesn't sound as good as an inline-6, but the 528i is an eager performer, one that's more frugal than the old 6-cylinder base model.
The 528i, as with the six-cylinder 535i and the V-8-powered 550i, can be configured with rear- or with all-wheel drive. 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.
In a class where manuals are very limited, driving enthusiasts will find it noteworthy that most 5-Series cars can be had with a manual gearbox. The only exceptions are the ActiveHybrid 5 and the xDrive all-wheel-drive versions, which only come with an automatic.
Electronics haven't overwhelmed this car the way they did in past BMWs. The electric power steering in the new BMW 5-Series is the best you'll find in a sedan its size; it has natural feel on center as well as plenty of feedback in tight corners. Add 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, and you end up with an even more nimble, tossable car--although some think that you sacrifice some of the natural steering feel.
All 5-Series cars 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).