2013 BMW 5-Series Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 26, 2013

The 2013 BMW 5-Series packs in the advanced technology and fuel-efficient powertrains, yet it manages to keep true to its sport-sedan mission.

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.

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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 5-Series Gran Turismo. It tries to fold the needs of wagon and SUV shoppers into a more highway-friendly hatchback shape, one with an elevated backseat and a clever two-way folding tailgate. Powertrains for the hatch mirror other 5-Series models, but an inferior suspension setup means the Gran Turismo doesn't handle with the confidence of the 5er 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.

8

2013 BMW 5-Series

Styling

The 2013 BMW 5-Series is by no means daring, but it's dashing, with classic sport-sedan proportions.

The 5-Series hasn't changed much since two years ago, when BMW redesigned this model at the heart of its lineup and moved it closer to its sport-sedan roots. The new 5-Series also led a new design direction, moving on from the era of controversial design and to a new kind of straightforward, more upright classic-sport sedan designs.

With more window area and a lower beltline, the 5-Series follows tradition in its profile yet keeps with modern detailing. Perhaps most notable is the strong lower beltline crease that extends all the way to the back. The BMW kidney grille now sits a little lower and more up-front than before, flanked by beautiful new jeweled LED headlamps. There's a good deal of additional expression in other details; the hood is a little curvier, a new taillight design swoops upward at the sides, and the hood itself includes outwardly flowing contour lines.

Inside, the 5-Series is canted toward the driver, but it's not isolated and cockpit-like. It's more open and spacious, with a rather low, horizontal dash layout and pushed-out corners. Major controls and displays are angled six degrees in the direction of the driver. BMW trims out the cabin with rather conservative black plastics, but there's a lot to admire in the clean and simple instrument-panel design.

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8

2013 BMW 5-Series

Performance

A base four-cylinder engine and loads of chassis electronics could leave enthusiasts skeptical, but the 5-Series feels satisfying and athletic.

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).

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8

2013 BMW 5-Series

Comfort & Quality

You'll find superb front seats and excellent refinement throughout the range, but its the GranTurismo that excels for backseat space.

With the 2013 BMW 5-Series, what you see really is what you get. If you've owned other sport sedans, you can pretty effectively guess how much space there is in this mid-sizer from the outside; on the other hand, if you compare it to the mainstream models like a Honda Accord, back-seat space is clearly tighter.

In virtually every other way, the 5-Series serves its purpose well, as a comfortable, quiet luxury sedan that's fitted with some of the best materials in the business--in some cases, every bit as good as what you'd find in the 7-Series flagship.

Front seats in the 5-Series are supportive and comfortable, as we've come to expect from BMW. The seats have extendable lower cushion supports for taller drivers. Even on base models, they're the kind that you could rack hundreds of miles per day in--even with a problematic back.

For those in the back seat, leg room is an issue. The front seatbacks have a hard-plastic pocket that pushes up against knees. More to the point, the 5er doesn't have as much usable legroom as it could, given the size of the cabin and the footprint of the car. 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. 

The GranTurismo has impressiv cargo space, too. BMW 5-Series sedans come with a reasonably spacious trunk, but the GT's two-piece tailgate that opens several different ways can, for those with things to haul, really put it to shame. Offering some of the benefits of a wagon without the station wagon look, the 535i Gran Turismo and 550i GranTurismo models (there's no 528i GT) offer limo-like rear seats and a flexible cargo area that feel first-class--with only the Lincoln MKT and extended-length versions of the Audi A8 and 7-Series coming close. The seats can be reclined, heated, ventilated, and stimulated with massaging functions.

On all sedans, BMW fits the 5-Siers with switchgear with lovely tactile responses and a high-quality feel. The automaker's iDrive interface remains front and center in the dash. It runs many vehicle functions and in the past has been a UI mess, but now is in its much improved fourth generation. The latest version of iDrive has a clearer menu structure and favorite buttons for some top-level categories. iDrive may no longer bring you to an impasse, but it's not always the most straightforward interface either.

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10

2013 BMW 5-Series

Safety

The 2013 BMW 5-Series is a safety standout—and that holds true whether you value passive crash protection, high-tech active safety, or fleet-footed accident avoidance.

The BMW 5-Series is one of the few luxury sport sedans for which full crash-test results have been issued from both U.S. agencies.

The NHTSA gives it five stars in all, with just a single flawed result, a four-star score for front-impact protection for the driver.

The IIHS gives it "good" scores across the board, and calls it a Top Safety Pick.

Every 5-Series has advanced safety features standard or available, like rear-seat side airbags, and brakes that spin to dry themselves before an accident, for better stopping power. Blind-spot monitors, lane-departure warnings, and automatic high beams are available.

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9

2013 BMW 5-Series

Features

If you have room in the budget, the 2013 5-Series models can be equipped with some of the world's best in-car tech.

BMW has a reputation for equipping all of its models, like the 5-Series, as luxury cars, yet saving lots of appearance and tech upgrades for the options list.

All models have dual-zone climate control, power features, heated sideview mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers, as well as cruise control and wood trim. Base cars wear synthetic leather but most models upgrade that to real leather. Options range from navigation to dynamic multi-contour front seats to heated rear seats, HD radio, and a rear sunshade.

Safety add-ons include a rearview camera, parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control, as well as night vision with the ability to "see" pedestrians.

Audiophiles will stretch budgets for the amazing sound of the available Bang & Olufsen 16-speaker sound system.

With either the Sport Package or M Sport Package provide a sport suspension, upgraded wheels and tires, and an M Sport steering wheel, plus other dress-ups and additional features.

A new multifunction instrument display, with multiple gauge layouts depending on which Driving Dynamics mode you're in, is now included in all models.

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7

2013 BMW 5-Series

Fuel Economy

The fuel-efficient BMW 528i are more efficient than some bread-and-butter midsize sedans—yet they're a lot more exciting to drive.

Thanks to a new, more economical four-cylinder engine introduced to the lineup last year, the BMW 5-Series is now one of the greenest picks among mid-size sport sedans. Its EPA ratings, of up to 22 mpg city, 34 highway, with the eight-speed automatic, stand out and even compare to the ratings of some far less exciting models.

On the 535i, gas mileage ranges from 20-21 mpg city to 30-31 mpg highway, depending on the transmission.

And beginning with the introduction of a new-generation twin-turbo V-8 in the 550i, these models are much-improved for 2013, with the 550i gaining up to 5 mpg on the highway, for tatings that range up to 17/25 for the 550i and 16/24 for the 550i Gran Turismo.

In general, Gran Turismo models do lose some mileage, due to additional weight and less effective aerodynamics, but you might find the tradeoff in additional practicality worth it.

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April 25, 2016
2013 BMW 5-Series 4-Door Sedan 528i xDrive AWD

One Heck of a Nice Car!

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When my husband and I got our BMW three years ago, I was, I admit, a bit intimidated by the great features this car offered, all done with safety in mind but still a challenge for me. The more I drove it... + More »
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April 14, 2016
For 2013 BMW 5-Series

Incredible car, comfortable, powerful and very economic

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This car has the best on road comfort and road holding of all the cars I've ever owned. It has oodles of power on tap and yet in day to day commuting return excellent fuel economy. It is quiet, smooth and... + More »
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April 15, 2015
For 2013 BMW 5-Series

2013 BMW 535xi

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Great drive with options to save gas ECO or Comfort or Sport mode for full acceleration and fun. Clutch-less manual also adds to the fun. Overall not as sporty as previous models but still has the zip when... + More »
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