2008 BMW 5-Series

8.0
2008 BMW 5-Series

The Basics:

The automotive experts at TheCarConnection.com perused what top critics said regarding the 2008 5-Series. Then, in order to provide you the best information to use when considering the BAM 5-Series, TheCarConnection.com's editors included their own review of the sport sedans.

The 2008 BMW M5 has electrifying performance, but is saddled with an overdose of technology and a body in need of a few nips and tucks.

The 5-Series is BMW's family of mid-size sport sedans and wagons; the 2008 BMW 5-Series gets a slightly updated look this year, with rear LED lights, a new headlight design, a new steering wheel, and revised door panels. A head-up display is newly available, and the iDrive system now has eight programmable "favorite" buttons. All engines are now fitted with the second generation of BMW's direct fuel injection for improved fuel economy.

Most notably, the 2008 BMW 5-Series now gets the stellar 300-hp, 3.0-liter twin-turbo 6-cylinder that's been offered already on the 3-Series. But in keeping with BMW's no-longer-intuitive naming practice, it's called the 535i. A 230-hp, 3.0-liter six is the base engine in the 528i. A 360-hp, 4.8-liter V-8 model is badged 550i. Either is paired with a 6-speed automatic or manual gearbox. With the available Sport Package, 535i and 550i models come with paddle shifters. All-wheel drive is also offered on six-cylinder models in the 5-Series line, called the 528xi and 535xi, respectively.

Besides the sedan, there's a single 535 xiT Sports Wagon. It brings added utility with the same feature-laden performance as the sedan. It's reviewed separately. Fold-down rear seats are optional on the sedan.

Whether you go for the base 528i or the top 550i, the 2008 BMW 5-Series models have beautiful balance between handling and ride quality. They're absorbent but firm, and impressively refined. Each of the engines is smooth and quite responsive, but there's a wide difference between them; the 528 delivers satisfying performance, especially with the manual gearbox, while the 550 feels like a sophisticated musclecar, with a more aggressive V-8 sound and plenty of torque. Both engines deliver impressive fuel economy in real-world driving.

BMW fits the 5-Series with excellent front seats, built with lots of side support across the bottom cushions and seatbacks. The back seats also are quite comfortable, but the 5-Series has less space than many cars this size. The priciest 20-way power front seats have adjustable lateral and lumbar support and an articulated backrest.

The 2008 BMW 5-Series models come well equipped. The astonishing tech on the options list sets the lineup apart from rivals. Variable-ratio steering, adaptive headlights, a head-up display, automatic high beam headlights, and a head-up display are just a few features that add effectively to the 5-Series' safety.

They're needed, because the car performs poorly in crash tests. The IIHS says it's only "marginal" at side-impact protection, while the NHTSA gave it just three stars out of five for driver protection.

The 2008 BMW 5-Series has a body with avant-garde details that meet with mixed reviews.

BMW designer Chris Bangle has alienated some hardcore BMW-philes, Automobile observes, with his new styling themes. The BMW 7-Series was the first example of his dramatically curved theme; this 5-Series plies the same lines and surfaces with a more subdued result. Still, Car and Driver says, Styling doesn't appeal to all, and calls it somewhat controversial.

Edmunds deems it a wolf in a flamboyant sheep's clothing, but changes for the new model year are slight. Automedia reports, Despite revised front and rear styling, for instance, the 2008 5 Series sedan doesn't look markedly different from previous years. The slightly updated look for 2008 includes rear LED lights, a new headlight design, a new steering wheel, and revised door panels.

The interior strikes a more traditional path. Automobile says the new cabin is handsome but not as elegantly turned out as that of the new E-class. Still, its colors, materials, and shapes will appeal to those who favor Barcelona chairs over Barcaloungers. Automedia notes its lack of fanciness extends into the interior, with down-to-business seats and familiar BMW gauges. Motor Trend cuts down the 5-Series 's cabin, calling it a dark and cold cockpit.

The 2008 5-Series has brilliant engines and smart transmissions. Avoid the active steering and you'll find its dynamic profile is world-class, too.

Edmunds calls the engine lineup "confusing" since the engine displacement doesn't correspond to the badge numbers anymore. The 528i has a 3.0-liter 230-hp inline-6; the 535i supersedes that with twin-turbocharging and output of 300 hp. The 550i gets a V-8 with 360 hp. In terms of power, Edmunds adds that the new six-cylinder engines shared with the 3 Series offer more power than the outgoing units, especially the 300-hp 535i that exhibits virtually no turbo lag. Car and Driver calls the six-cylinders excellent and the V-8 superb, but feels the twin-turbo six renders the V-8 obsolete, especially since the V-8 version is very expensive. The 528i feels capable of matching BMW's claimed 6.5-second 0-to-60-mph huff, they add. The New York Times agrees, reporting like the bears ' proverbial porridge, it delivers just-right heat, and adding that while the turbo six accelerates to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, the V-8 is only slightly quicker at 5.5 seconds.

Each engine can be combined with a 6-speed, either automatic or manual. On some models, the automatic has paddle shift controls; on others, all-wheel drive is an option. Car and Driver agrees that the smooth auto transmissions shift even faster now, though the New York Times says it adopts a spacey looking (and somewhat spacey acting) console shifter that is clumsy to press the shifter 's side button to toggle forward for reverse, back for drive. But the lever works beautifully when you use it to shift gears manually. Edmunds says it 's an unnecessarily different and complex way of doing a fairly straightforward thing.

Gas mileage ranges from 28 mpg highway on manual 528i sedans to 15 mpg city for V-8 manual sedans.

In terms of handling, the 5 Series "feels so natural that you barely notice turning the grippy, well-designed steering wheel," according to the New York Times. Car and Driver feels that The fine chassis is happiest with the six-cylinder engines, since the V-8 feels surprisingly ponderous and much larger than the smaller-engined cars 'still a gratifyingly fast and powerful four-door, but no longer a sports sedan. The available Active Steering trips up its driving demeanor, though; as Car and Driver adds, the schizophrenic steering is curiously twitchy and numb just off-center. Without the option, Automedia notes, relatively heavy steering helps impart utterly confident feel.

Despite an interior received coolly by reviewers, the 2008 BMW 5-Series scores high for comfort and quality.

The New York Times considers the 5-Series to have a "cold, synthetic-looking interior" and says it "badly needs a makeover." Minor tweaks are performed for 2008, but they include the addition of that aggravating electronic shifter, Car and Driver reports. It 's still handsome but not as elegantly turned out as that of the new E-class, Automobile observes. Edmunds agrees, noting competitors offer more stylish and less austere environments.

Seating is a virtue in the new 5-Series. Edmunds says, Supportive seating is provided in both the front and rear, and even adults won't mind sitting in the commodious backseat. Automedia writes seat cushioning is firm, but comfortable for long hauls. Kelley Blue Book reports that the 2008 BMW 5-Series 10-way adjustable seats (20-way adjustment is available as an option) are "the most comfortable and supportive in the class," whether one is traveling on the open freeway or curving back roads. And while the backseat is large, this is really only a four-passenger car," Automedia says, adding, "The center rear is hard and uncomfortable, worsened by a huge hump on the floor to straddle.

Edmunds points out the 5-Series sedan has 14 cubic feet of trunk capacity.

The BMW 5-Series continues a BMW tradition of tightly assembled, highly finished vehicles. Build quality and materials inside the 5 Series are still outstanding, Edmunds says. Anachronistically, the 5-Series 's standard upholstery is vinyl, Automedia observes, probably a nod to its civil-service duties as a fleet machine in Germany. ConsumerGuide notes a minimum of wind noise; road noises become apparent only when riding on the optional "high-performance" tires available with BMW's "Sport Package" of options.

The 2008 BMW 5-Series performed poorly in side-impact crash tests and in driver-side front impact tests 'remarkably so for such an expensive vehicle, leading to its very low safety score.

The NHTSA gave the BMW 5-Series just three stars for driver front-impact protection 'a result so surprising, it was widely reported in the non-automotive press. Passengers have five-star protection, and all seats have five-star crash protection as judged by the federal agency.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports nearly the obverse: for front impacts, it awards the 5-Series a good rating, and with side impacts calls it marginal, the second-lowest rating.

Edmunds says the 5-Series 's standard safety equipment includes stability control, antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags and front-and-rear side-curtain airbags. Rear-seat side airbags are optional and, due to safety concerns, you must specifically request that your dealer activate the bags if you order this option.

ForbesAutos notes two safety options among the 5-Series 's features. A smarter radar cruise control that can slow as well as now speed up the car when traffic bunches and then clears up is the first; the second is a lane-departure warning system that, instead of emitting beeps, vibrates the steering wheel to help keep the driver focused.

Edmunds also notes that the all-wheel-drive 5-Series comes with Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control.

TheCarConnection.com nearly awards the 2008 BMW 5-Series a perfect 10 for a full range of innovative features, but one standard feature detracts from the luxurious package.

Standard equipment on the 5-Series includes a sunroof, power front seats, automatic climate control, iDrive, and vinyl upholstery. The 535i adds lumbar support for the front seats and xenon headlights, while the 550i gets leather upholstery and auto-dimming mirrors.

The options list is extensive. Cars.com reports "a new MP3 adapter" with which drivers can operate their players from the steering wheel (which could be a safety improvement as well). Kelley Blue Book lists Bluetooth wireless connectivity for cell phone users, as well as a 10-speaker AM/FM radio-CD player combination. Other features available include ventilated front seats and heated rear seats; active steering; a head-up display; keyless ignition; HD and satellite radio; and a night-vision system.

The one negative that most reviews agree on is the 2008 BMW 5-Series's iDrive system, which uses a single console knob to control a range of functions, such as the stereo, climate control, and so on. Car and Driver calls iDrive "a curse"; stating that it "complicates most functions," ConsumerGuide suggests that it may even constitute a safety hazard, as it "diverts the driver's attention from the road." Edmunds found it "cumbersome to use," while Kelley Blue Book, which praised its many technological gadgets, called iDrive "improving but arduous." The most damning indictment of iDrive, however, came from the New York Times: "the most illogical, ill-conceived systems controller from any car company." It 's enough to draw down the whole 5-Series driving experience.

Buying Tips:


If the 5-Series' sticker price has you a little intimidated, you might want to check about lease possibilities. BMW dealers can offer a factory-subsidized lease program with surprisingly affordable monthly payments in many cases.

Other Choices:

  • 2008 Audi A6
  • 2009 Cadillac STS
  • 2008 Mercedes-Benz E Class

Reason Why:

The 2008 BMW 5-Series's chief competitor, the E-Class, has more of an emphasis on comfort than the 5, with a roomier-feeling interior and a softer ride. The A6 also feels a bit more spacious and comfort-oriented, but its performance--especially from the available 4.2-liter V-8--doesn't come close to matching that of the 550i's 4.8-liter V-8. None of the competition offers a manual transmission either. The Cadillac STS brings plenty of high-tech options and respectable performance, but it doesn't have the prestige of the 5-Series. There's also the Infiniti M35 and M45, which bring brisk performance and some rival high-tech features such as a lane-departure system, but their cabins aren't as quiet and refined as those of the 5-Series models.

The Bottom Line:

The 5-Series sedans and wagons aren't the most practical or the best values in their class, but they're very enjoyable to drive.

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