BMW has been going through something of an identity crisis in recent years. For decades, the German company was known for producing some of the best-engineered, best-driving sport sedans and coupes in the world. Its cars weren't necessarily the most luxurious or the most beautiful, but when it came to performance and handing they stood solidly above their peers.
Mercedes-Benz, the company's long-time rival, might make a more comfortable, more reliable or more prestigious car, but a BMW was always more fun blasting down a twisty mountain road. Though they weren't for everyone, a BMW was hard to beat for the luxury-car driver who truly enjoyed the act of driving.
The latest crop of Bimmers no longer embodies that strong, take-it-or-leave-it identity, however. Consider, for example, the new-for-2011 5-Series. Built on a shortened version of the full-size 7-Series platform, the new 5 was considerably larger and heavier than the car it replaced. Its interior was bursting with high-tech comforts and electronic gizmos. On the road, the car's larger dimensions, compliant suspension and numb electronic steering failed to illicit the same visceral and engaging sport-sedan feel that previous 5-Series cars were known for.
Overall, the 2011 5-Series, or "F10" as it was known to BMW aficionados, was bigger, softer and more complex than it predecessors. It seemed to blur the line between the company's traditional, sporting approach and Mercedes' more luxury-focused design direction. While the 5-Series still drove as well as anything else in its class, its on-road dynamics no longer stood-out to the degree they once did.
The entry-level 528i came with the latest iteration of BMW's refined 3.0-liter, inline-six. The next step up in the 5-Series lineup, the 535i, was powered by a turbocharged version of the same six-cylinder engine.
Even at a glance, the 2011 5-Series was noticeably more expansive than the car it replaced. Compared to the 2010 model, it gained nearly 2.5 inches in overall length and rode on wheelbase that was more than three inches longer.
The 528i and 535i shared the same dimensions. Both cars were 193.1 inches long, 73.2 inches wide and 57.6 inches high, with a wheelbase of 116.9 inches. The 528i had curb weight of 3,814 pounds, while the 535i weighed in at a slightly portlier 4,056 pounds. Both cars offered 14 cubic feet of trunk space.
Powertrain & Performance
The 528i's 3.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam, 24-valve inline-six produced 240 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and 230 foot-pounds of torque at 2,600 rpm. While those numbers were slightly on the low side for the midsize-luxury segment circa-2011, the 528i had plenty of get-up-and-go. It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and race through the quarter mile in 15.1 seconds at 91.6 mph.
The turbocharged version of the engine in the 535i was significantly more powerful. It churned out 300 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 300 foot-pounds of torque at a stump-pulling 1,200 rpm. That power translated to a solid 0 to 60 mph time of 5.9 seconds and a respectable quarter mile run of 14.3 seconds at 95.1 mph. Notably, however, the car was slightly slower than the lighter previous-generation model in both performance metrics.
The 528i came exclusively with BMW's new, state-of-the-art, eight-speed automatic transmission, but 535i buyers could opt for a six-speed manual for a more involved, sporting driving experience.
The 5-Series' interior was a compelling blend of top-quality materials and cutting-edge, high-tech electronics. Occupants were treated to a pleasing expanse of supple leather, polished wood and soft-touch plastics. Front seat room was excellent, although the back seats were still a bit crowded compared to other cars in the midsize-luxury class.
BMW's ever-controversial iDrive user interface system was in charge of climate control, audio, driver information and navigation functions. Fortunately, the iDrive software and its mouse-like click-wheel had been heavily updated and revised by 2011. While some drivers still found the system needlessly complicated and counterintuitive to operate, it was much more streamlined than when it debuted, and worked fine once you got used to it.
The 528i, thanks in large part to its new automatic transmission, turned in impressive fuel economy numbers. The entry-level 5-Series was EPA-rated at 21 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. The more powerful 535i was nearly as efficient: it received a 20-30 rating.
BMWs have never come cheap. When new, the 2011 528i had a base sticker price of $45,050. The 535i started at $53,400. According to Kelley Blue Book, as of 2014, a used 528i in good condition is worth $27,800 to $29,500 . A 535i, on the other hand, should go for between $31,300 and $33,100.
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