2007 BMW 5 Series Reviews and Ratings

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2007 BMW 5 Series
J.P. Vettraino

Introduction
The BMW 5 Series puts an emphasis on the driving. This mid-size luxury sedan remains a true sports sedan in any of its variations, including the 530ix wagon and other models equipped with all-wheel drive. Regardless of engine size or equipment level, the BMW 5 Series delivers lively acceleration, precise handling and outstanding brakes. It's available with a conventional manual transmission, which is increasingly hard to find in this class.

For 2007, the 5 Series offers two new options. BMW's Night Vision safety system uses a thermal-imaging camera to highlight pedestrians and animals on dark roads, while HD Radio is designed to bring CD-quality digital audio to radio broadcasts.

Now in its fourth year on the market, the styling of the current 5 Series models has become familiar, perhaps less jarring than it was when first revealed. And while there are no significant changes for the 2007 model year, the 5 Series is anything but stale. For 2006, BMW introduced new engines across the board, including a high-tech magnesium alloy six cylinder for the 525i and 530i and a larger, more powerful V8 for the 550i.

Behind its kabuki-eyebrow headlights, the 5 Series is a true driver's car, with more model choices than most cars in its class. Even the base 525i boasts spirited performance, with decent fuel economy to lower operating costs. The more powerful six-cylinder in the 530i matches some V8s, while the 550i delivers true high performance by any definition. The limited-production M5 can out-accelerate, out-brake and out-corner some expensive sports cars, with comfortable seating for five. There's a wagon for those who want more room for cargo. And BMW's x-Drive full-time all-wheel-drive is available for drivers in the Snow Belt.

This car has just about everything you could ask for in a luxury car. It has the features, comfort and convenience of full-size luxury sedans, the sporting character of smaller ones, and a good compromise between interior space and physical bulk. In many respects, it's the benchmark for critics and auto industry engineers alike.

As such, the 5 Series is loaded with technology, and some of its systems have a dark side. The i-Drive point-and-click control system, for example, takes time and energy to learn, and drivers who aren't willing to invest the energy, or those who just prefer to keep things simple, might want to look at a competitor. But those who place a premium on driving satisfaction should start their shopping here.

The BMW 5 Series sedans are available with six- or eight-cylinder engines or an ultra-high performance V10, and manual, automatic, or automatic-shifting sequential manual transmissions and optional all-wheel drive. The 5 Series Sport Wagon is offered only with a six-cylinder and all-wheel drive. Model Lineup
The 525i ($43,500) features a 3.0-liter inline-6 generating 215 horsepower. Standard features include Leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control with active micro-filtration, an AM/FM/CD stereo with 10 speakers, 17-inch alloy wheels, four power outlets and a rechargeable flashlight in the glovebox. The 525i comes with a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic transmission ($1,275) with Steptronic shifting.

The 530i ($47,500) gets a 255-hp version of the 3.0-liter six and xenon adaptive headlights. The 530i comes standard with the six-speed manual. The six-speed Steptronic automatic ($1,275) and the six-speed sequential manual gearbox ($1,500), or SMG, are optional.

The 525i and 530i sedans are available with BMW's x-Drive permanent all-wheel drive ($2,200).

The 530xi Sport Wagon ($52,100) comes standard with the all-wheel-drive system.

The most popular option for the six-cylinder models is the Premium Package for the 525i ($2,000 and 530i ($1,800), which adds Dakota leather upholstery, a universal garage door opener and the swanky interior lighting package with ambient light, auto-dimming and outside approach lighting.

The 550i ($58,500) is powered by a 360-hp 4.8-liter V8 and comes standard with the items in the Premium Package plus Park Distance Control parking assist and a choice of the manual, SMG or automatic transmission at no charge.

The M5 ($81,200) sits atop the 5 Series lineup. It's powered by a hand-built 500-hp 5.0-liter V10, with suspension and brakes enhanced to match all the power.

Option include: HD Radio ($500); Night Vision ($2,200); a Cold Weather Package ($750) with heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated, high-pressure headlight washers; the Sport Package for the 525i ($2,500) and 530i and 550i ($2,800) with BMWs Active Steering and Active Body Control systems, 18-inch wheels with performance tires, more potent brakes and sport seats; and the Premium Sound Package ($1,800) with BMW's high-power Logic7 audio system and a six-CD changer; a navigation system ($1,800); radar-managed Active Cruise Control ($2,200); and Sirius satellite radio ($595).

Safety features that come standard include front airbags with dual threshold deployment, front-passenger side airbags, and full-cabin curtain-style head-protection airbags. Also standard are seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters; seatbelts are the first line of defense in a crash so be sure to use them. Active safety features include antilock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control auto-proportioning, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control. Also standard is the standard BMW Assist communications package with automatic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance and locater service. Rear passenger side-impact airbags are optional ($385). Walkaround
Many buyers will find the BMW 5 Series a near-perfect size. It seems more substantial than some small luxury or sport sedans, with more usable interior space. At the same time it's not so physically bulky as large sedans, and therefore easier to maneuver in tight spaces and to park.

The 5 Series sports BMW's now-familiar corporate design themes, introduced on the larger 7 Series sedan and subsequently applied to the smaller 3 Series. BMW's new approach to styling has been discussed as frequently as any in the car world, and more than occasionally criticized. On the 5 Series at least, the curvy front-end, flat sides and high rear deck stand out less than they once did. That may simply mean we've grown more familiar with the shape, rather than more appreciative.

The critics contend that, with the flared-nostrils look in front and the chunked-off shape of the trunk lid, the 5 Series seems almost like two halves taken from different cars. In our view, the lines create a fairly compact appearance, and that may be part of the problem. The 5 has the appearance of a well-built mainstream sedan, and that may not be the precedent one expects for an expensive European job. In any case, the look doesn't seem to have hurt 5 Series sales.

The comma-shaped, wraparound taillights apply a technology introduced by BMW that has spread to a number of makes. The company calls them adaptive brake lights, and they illuminate more intensely, over a larger area, when the anti-lock brake system engages, in other words when the driver is braking as hard as possible. The point is to inform drivers following that it's stopping quickly, possibly in an emergency situation. It could help, if the driver following correctly interprets the increased intensity of the brake lights.

BMW re-introduced a 5 Series wagon for 2006. The big difference, of course, lies behind the rear roof pillars and back seats, where the 5 Series Sport Wagons offer more load-carrying potential and versatility than the sedan. The rear gate opens electrically, with a switch on the key fob or dashboard, and swings very high for easy access to the load floor. A big reflector on the bottom of the gate adds an element of safety in darkness.

The lift gate has a soft-close feature. When it's lowered, it automatically sucks itself shut, no slamming required. The glass window opens separately, which is convenient when dropping a briefcase or a couple of bags in back.

New for 2007: Xenon adaptive headlights are now standard on the 530i and above. The xenon high-intensity discharge headlights offer a brighter, more intense, more white light that appears blue when we're used to seeing halogen lights with a warmer, relatively yellow light. Adaptive means the lenses turn slightly with the steering, throwing light around a curve in the direction of travel. Interior
BMW's current 5 Series sedans are noticeably roomier than the previous-generation, pre-2004 models. Front passengers have a fraction more shoulder and head room, but the improvement is more obvious in the back, where there's more shoulder room and a lot more legroom. Increased cabin space put the 5 Series on better footing with key competitors like the Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, and Lexus GS.

The finish and quality of materials is nice. Soft plastics covering the dashboard and doors are handsome and rich to the touch. The seats feature a draped-leather look, with the upholstery hung loosely over the seat frames. Leather inserts in the front door panels compliment the seats.

The standard 5 Series seats are very good, with above-average support and just enough give to keep from feeling hard. The seats in the optional Sport Package have so many adjustments that those who lean toward obsessive/compulsive may start stressing out as they try to settle in. If you can get them just right, save the position in memory, because these are some of the best seats in the business. They're firm, but not church-pew hard like the previous-generation sport seats.

The 5 Series dashboard applies BMW's familiar double-wave theme, with one wave or bubble over the instrument cluster, defining the driver's area, and another that begins over the dash center and sweeps toward the right side. From a functional view point, it's an effective design. The instrument cluster features two gauge pods, with the gas gauge wrapped inside the analog speedometer and a miles-per-gallon gauge inside the tach. The tachometer has a variable warning LED that circles the gauge. When the engine is cold, this LED extends to 4200 rpm, then gradually increases the rpm limit to the redline as the oil warms up.

The center dash is dominated by a large electronic screen that displays various control functions, system readouts and the navigation map or Night Vision image when the car is so equipped.

There are vents below the screen and on either side off the steering column that move an impressive quantity of air with minimal fan noise. Three big climate control knobs sit below the display screen, for fan speed, temperature and airflow direction.

There's also a volume knob next to the CD slot, a station selector on the right steering wheel spoke, and phone controls on the left spoke. Window switches are just above the armrest, and right where the hand naturally rests. In short order, these knobs will become the 5 Series driver's best friends.

That's because almost everything else, including some basic stereo functions, is controlled by i-Drive, the computer interface that manages virtually every system in the car. The master control is a big aluminum knob on the center console between the seats. The knob is easy to locate from the driver's seat without a glance, and with each move of i-Drive, menus appear on the video screen. In effect, the system works something like the point-and-click operation of a computer mouse, though there is no cursor.

The problem is that it can be confusing to use i-Drive to wade through various menus to get to the function that needs adjustment. At best, it's difficult to master, and while BMW has simplified the system by reducing the number of movements for the main control, and adding a Main Menu button, it still takes time to get used to i-Drive. Operation becomes more intuitive with time, but many still find it a cumbersome way to make everyday adjustments.

HD Radio, new for 2007, delivers digital audio quality, with FM reception that is supposed to sound like a CD and AM that replicates traditional analog FM. Our test car had HD radio, and it's great, with a caveat. When it locks on a signal the clarity and fidelity is amazing, especially on the AM band. The problem is that, depending on where you're driving, the radio can fluctuate from HD to standard broadcast as signal strengths changes, the same way a conventional FM radio can switch from stereo to mono when the signal weakens. It can happen several times a mile, and become a bigger annoyance than it's worth.

BMW's optional head-up display projects a 6x3-inch rectangle on the windshield, focused so the display appears to be at the end of the hood, rather than right on the glass. Using iDrive, the driver can adjust the HUD's intensity and the information it displays. Options include road and engine speed, various warnings prioritized according to urgency, cruise control settings and navigation instructions. If you like it, you'll love it, but we don't find HUD to be a great safety or concentration aid.

Storage inside the 5 Series is so-so. The glovebox is fairly big, but usuable space in the center console is small. The door pockets are lined with a velveteen material, and it's valuable for keeping sunglasses from scraping on hard plastic if they slide in stop-and-go traffic. On the other hand, the pockets are so shallow that anything much larger than sunglasses wants to fall out when the door is opened or closed.

The back seat in the 5 Series makes good accomodations. There's plenty of space for two average-size adults, three in a pinch, with all the amenities. The reading lights are excellent. Our 550i had rear seat heaters, with switches on the back of the center console, along with two high-flow airvents and a pair of 12-volt power points.

The high rear deck has increased the size of the 5 Series trunk. With 14 cubic feet of trunk space, this BMW is mid-pack among sedans of similar dimensions. Load height is just above the rear bumper, and the 5 will accommodate even larger items with the folding rear seatback, which is optional. It's hard to imagine a buyer not wanting the flexibility the optional folding seat offers, and the seatback can be locked to prevent access to the trunk. Still, if hauling pets or cargo is a priority, there is always the 530xi Sport Wagon.

BMW re-introduced its 5 Series wagon for 2006, and we like it. From the handling, accelerating or braking standpoints, it gives up nothing to the 530xi sedan, and it adds another dimension of utility. Cargo volume increases to 33.6 cubic feet, floor to ceiling, with the rear seat in place. With the rear seat folded forward, the 5 Series wagon can swallow up to 58.3 cubic feet of stuff, more than the typical small SUV. The load area is flat, too, and nearly four feet wide. The cargo area is fully lined with thick, soft carpet, and it's full of convenient features, including four separate enclosed bins, cargo tie downs, bag holders, a power point, a cargo cover at seat height and a roll-out cargo net.

For 2007, the Sport Package includes a new three-spoke steering wheel and multi-contour seats with 20 separate adjustments. An auxiliary audio jack has been added to all 2007 models located at the rear of the center console, which allows MP3 players such as the Apple iPod and other audio devices to be played through the car stereo. Driving Impressions
The BMW 5 Series cars are a pleasure to drive, though it's hard to say which model we'd choose. The light-on-its-feet 525i makes clean, satisfying driving without a lot of high-tech drivers aids to get in the way. We're quite happy in one. On the other hand, high-tech systems such as Active Steering or Active Roll Stabilization can quickly demonstrate their value, and there's nothing quite like the thrust developed when you slam the accelerator on the 550i V8.

The 5 Series is not whisper quiet like BMW's full-size 7 Series sedan, so a bit more road and wind noise finds its way into the cabin. Yet with the stereo turned up about two-tenths of the way, you won't hear any of it. And the 5 Series feels smaller on the road than its dimensions suggest. Consider its near-perfect weight balance, and a rock-solid body that's free of creaks, rattles or unpleasant vibration, and this BMW is exactly what we'd like a luxury sedan to be: smooth and comfortable regardless of the speed, nimble and reassuring when it's appropriate to travel at a good clip. The 5 Series has nearly all the bells and whistles, and almost nothing to diminish the driving experience. If you decide to pick up the pace, you'll discover handling and overall performance that's hard to match in any sedan. No matter which engine sits under the hood, there's plenty of power to get you up to speed.

BMW's inline engines remain one of the great experiences in motoring. The classic straight six delivers a balance of smoothness, torque, and response that V6 engines can't seem to match. Other luxury manufacturers have switched to V6s because they're easier to package, and they've proven easier to certify for stringent emission standards. We're glad BMW sticks with its trademark inline engines.

The 5 Series engines were overhauled for 2006, starting with a new inline six cylinder that is the only current production engine with a magnesium alloy engine block to reduce weight. The engines in the 525i and 530i are actually the same size (3.0 liters); the difference in power (215 hp vs. 255) is the result of different controls and intake systems.

From a stop or at high-speed roll, the six-cylinder 530i delivers as much acceleration-producing torque as some thirstier V8-powered sedans. Off-the-line acceleration surpasses probably 70 percent of the vehicles on the road, and top speed exceeds anything you'll get away with anywhere outside a desolate Nevada desert. Power delivery in the 530i is very linear, meaning that you'll get the same response and acceleration whether the engine is turning 2500 rpm or 5000 rpm when you step on the gas.

Still, those who put a premium on straight-line acceleration might choose the V8-powered 550i. The 4.8-liter V8 produces 360 horsepower and an impressive 360 pound-feet of acceleration-producing torque. The power delivery flows in the same even fashion as it does in the six-cylinder engines.

Pushing the accelerator to the floor in this high-performance sedan is a truly enjoyable experience. The 550i will squirt from 0-60 mph in about 5.3 seconds, which is substantially quicker than sports cars such as the Jaguar XK or Nissan 350Z. Top speed is electronically governed at the voluntary limit adopted by most German automakers: a mere 155 mph.

For those who don't mind a little work, we heartily recommend the six-speed manual transmission. It's one reason to choose the 5 Series over other luxury sedans, in which manuals are increasingly few and far between. The shifter is tight and reasonably quick, and shifting is smooth, precise and easy. Particularly with the six-cylinder models, the manual transmission maximizes performance potential, as well as the driver's involvement.

The great majority will choose the automatic transmission, a six-speed Steptronic, and they won't give up much. The Steptronic reacts to the gas pedal in fine style. Full-throttle upshifts are quick and smooth, and downshifts, in most cases, come quickly. We like the Sport mode, as it responds even more quickly, shifting down instantaneously when you dip the gas pedal and allowing the engine to rev higher more often. The downside is that the automatic can feel more jarring in Sport mode. If a serene experience is preferred for the drive home, choose the Comfort setting.

BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox, available on the 530i and 550i, is strictly for hard-core enthusiasts. While it will shift automatically, the SMG is not an automatic with a manual shift feature like the Steptronic. It's more like a manual with a clutch but no clutch pedal; the driver shifts up or down simply by moving the gear lever or clicking paddles on either side of the steering wheel. Shifted manually when the 5 Series is driven hard, SMG can be a satisfying rush. The problems start in automatic mode. At a casual pace the SMG can feel both slow to shift and rough. Indeed, it can feel as if a driver is taking his or her first crack at a traditional clutch/manual transmission.

When it comes to handling, we like the six-cylinder models, and particularly the 525i. Despite its horsepower deficit compared to the other models, it's no lightweight, and because it's lighter, it feels spry and light on its feet. This is a good, honest sedan in the BMW tradition, with a comfortable ride, precise steering and nice, sharp handling, and without a lot of high-tech stuff to muddle the picture.

Still, those high-tech add-ons have their appeal. Active Steering, for example, is more than a gimmick. Maneuvering through tight confines is a breeze, and pulling into an empty parking space is as quick a swoop on the steering wheel. On a tight slalom course, a 530i with Active Steering is more responsive than one without it. Weaving through the cones is less work, requiring less sawing at the wheel and fewer corrections. The driver can focus more on the car's trajectory through the course, less on compensating for mistakes. Moreover, Active Steering is now tied into the electronic stability control system. It can automatically make slight steering adjustments without driver intervention.

Active Roll Stabilization replaces conventional anti-roll (anti-sway) bars with an electronically controlled, hydraulically operated system that reduces leaning in corners, allowing flatter cornering at higher speeds while maintaining a nice smooth ride. With Active Roll Stabilization, the 530i stays remarkably flat through fast, sweeping curves, with just enough body lean to remind a driver that he or she is hurtling down a public road at considerable speed. The best thing about Active Roll Stabilization is that it accomplishes this without the stiff springs and shocks often used in sports suspensions. When the car is traveling straight, the effect of the roll stabilization is essentially negated. This 5 Series rides firm, without a sensation of floating, but always smoothly and comfortably.

BMW's brakes are large by industry standards, and they're one of the most impressive components of the 5 Series performance package. They slow the car from high speed in sports-car fashion, and they hold up under harder use than any driver is likely to dish out. Even after repeated stops that would smoke the brake pads on lesser cars, the 5's brakes show very little fade.

The Adaptive Xenon Headlights are excellent. They deliver bright, even light and are real benefit on winding rural roads at night, especially on dark and stormy nights.

Night Vision uses a thermal-imaging camera with Far Infra-Red technology that highlights sources of heat (the tailpipes on cars ahead, for example, but more importantly the cyclist or deer lurking beyond the headlights). The camera has a range of nearly 1,000 feet, and it displays a high-contrast image on the navigation screen when Night Vision is turned on. By design, the image is not highly detailed, and those high-heat people or animals are supposed to stand out more quickly. The system is intended to work like a rearview mirror, with potential hazards standing out in a quick scan. Our time in a 550i equipped with Night Vision was confined largely to an urban setting, and in this environment its value is reduced. With so much ambient light, and traffic, the camera doesn't offer much more than an alert set of eyes. Yet a drive into the dark countryside expressly to test Night Vision demonstrated the system's potential. The thermal-imaging camera picked up a truck's exhaust pipe almost as far ahead as its tiny taillights were visible. Had that exhaust been the body heat of a large animal, with no taillights to mark it, the 5 Series driver would be aware of the animal long before it's visible to the naked eye. The problem with Night Vision, beyond its substantial cost, is the novelty factor. We found ourselves occasionally fixating on the screen, noticing which parts on SUVs ahead were warmest from friction, or looking at the warm bodies walking into restaurants, at the expense of peering through the windshield. We suspect that it will take some acclimation, and discipline, to get past the newness and use Night Vision as it's intended. Summary
The BMW 5 Series mixes comfort, performance, high-tech features and passenger-friendly accommodations in a relatively compact package. Yet with Active Steering, Active Roll Stabilization and an available manual transmission, the 5 Series is more obviously engineered with an emphasis on the driving. It's remarkably well balanced, and satisfying to own and drive. Even with its love/hate exterior styling, the 5 Series remains a luxury sedan benchmark.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino filed this report from Detroit, with NCTD editor Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Model as tested
BMW 550i ($58,500)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles; includes scheduled maintenance
Assembled in
Dingolfing, Germany
Destination charge
695
Gas guzzler tax
1300
Base Price
43500
Price as tested
68430
Options as tested
Sport Package includes Active Steering, Active Roll Stabilization, 18x8-inch cast alloy wheels with W-rated run-flat tires ($2,800); Cold Weather Package includes heated front seats, steering wheel and high-pressure headlight washing jets ($750); Night Vision thermal imaging system ($2,200); on-board navigation system ($1,800); rear passenger side-impact airbags ($385)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
BMW 525i ($43,500); 530i ($47,500); 530xi Sport Wagon ($52,100); 550i ($58,500); M5 ($81,200)
Safety equipment (standard)
two-stage front airbags with dual threshold deployment, front-passenger side airbags, full cabin curtain-style head-protection airbags, Intelligent Safety and Information System control with fiber-optic connections and post-impact safety measures, tire pressure monitor, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, BMW Assist with automatic collision notification, SOS button, roadside assist and locater and concierge services; antilock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control auto-proportioning, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
4.8-liter dohc 32-valve variable valve timing V8
Transmissions
6-speed Steptronic automatic

Specifications as Tested
Dakota leather upholstery; automatic climate control with separate left/right temperature and distribution controls and active charcoal microfilter; dark poplar wood trim; 10-way power front seats with power head restraints and driver's seat memory; AM/FM/CD with 10 speakers and two sub-woofers; cruise control; power tilt-and-telescope leather steering wheel with fingertip cruise, audio and phone controls; power windows with key-off and one-touch operation; keyless entry with multi-function remote; power heated side mirrors with reverse tilt-down on passenger side; xenon adaptive headlights and halogen fog lights with automatic control; 17x7.5-inch cast-alloy wheels; power glass sunroof; Park Distance Control parking aid; integrated three-button universal garage door opener; power outlets in front-passenger foot well, rear of center console and trunk; rechargeable flashlight in glovebox

Engine & Transmission
Engine
4.8-liter dohc 32-valve variable valve timing V8
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
360 @ 6300
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
17/25
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/vented disc with ABS and electronic brake proportioning
Suspension, front
independent with dual-pivot lower wishbones, coil springs over struts and stabilizer bar
Tires
P245/40WR18 front, 275/35WR18 rear, run-flat
Suspension, rear
independent four-ling with coil springs, gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
37.7/NA/41.5
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.0/NA/36.0

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
14.0
Wheelbase
113.7
Length/width/height
191.1/72.7/57.8
Turning circle
37.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
61.3/62.3
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3924


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