The BMW 528i sedan is the entry-level model, with a potent 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Then there is the BMW 535i sedan, with the sweet 300-hp turbocharged inline-6; and the 550i sedan, with a whumping 445-hp V8. The four-door sedan bodies are the same, and they all come with a smooth 8-speed manual automatic transmission.
The 5 Series cars come standard with rear-wheel drive, but each is also available as an all-wheel-drive xDrive model.
Gran Turismo models ride on a wheelbase extended by four inches, with 2+2 seating behind a long hood and under a coupe roofline. The Gran Turismo come in two versions: 535i GT with the turbo I6 and 550i GT with the V8. Each is available with xDrive all-wheel drive.
The 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 5 combines the turbocharged 6-cylinder with a 54-horsepower electric motor to make an impressive combined 335 horsepower and deliver an unimpressive 23/30 City/Highway miles per gallon EPA rating. The electric motor is powered by a lithium-ion battery in the trunk.
The 2013 BMW M5 features a 560-horsepower V8. The 2013 M5 is available with a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed double-clutch paddle-shifting transmission. The new M5 is ready for the track, but we found that for anything more than a handful of laps it needs ceramic brake rotors, which are expected to be an option for the 2014 model.
The 2013 BMW 550i gets a big bump in power. The V8 in the 550i is up from 45 horsepower to 445 hp for 2013, with torque increasing by 30 foot-pounds to 480 pound-feet.
The luxury midsize 5 Series was redesigned for 2011, and the 528i got its powerful and efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for 2012. BMW's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine rivals Audi's 2.0-liter turbo.
All three BMW 5 Series sedans are chic, crisp and distinguished for their aggressive styling and driving character. For the most demanding sporting driver, they are big and heavy, but their excellent dynamics and agility make them assertively proactive and manageable when faced with the necessity of an emergency avoidance maneuver, making them excellent family sedans.
The 5 Series offers a comprehensive inventory of passive safety provisions, with multiple airbags and structural provisions that protect occupants in the event an impact occurs. The 5 Series models are substantial, well-engineered passenger cars, yet they are gifted with an exciting athleticism that keeps the driving experience engaging and pleasurable.
BMW's fourth-generation iDrive cockpit-management system is much easier to use than previous versions, but it is still not always intuitive or straightforward. With patience and a little insight, though, iDrive can get you what you want. The 2013 models get further streamlining and simplification to the navigation and infotainment programs. Other than that, 2013 changes to the 5 Series are all to the option packages.
The modular BMW interior is handsome and contemporary. Glowing tan and matte-black contrast handsomely on the dashboard, these surfaces punctuated by elegant swatches of exotic wood. Instrumentation is comprehensive and flawless. Gauges are about perfect to look at and read. Those who see themselves as having reached a certain level of luxury should be satisfied in this stylish cabin. Those whose standards of ergonomics and efficiency are high, might find compromised areas.
With minimal frontal overhang and muscular flanks that seem shaped by this car's dynamic forward thrust, the 5 Series never quite looks at rest. But driving excitement has always been BMW's stock in trade. And the 5 Series, whether in its spirited turbocharged four-cylinder 528i form, its smooth-as-glass inline-6 535i form, or its forceful, V8-powered top-of-the-line 550i, fully earns its reputation in motion. Even the ActiveHybrid 5 is powerful, accelerating from zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds. And the M5's performance is purely awesome.
For those susceptible to real driving enthusiasm, the 5 Series models seem to exhort you to drive them vigorously, confidently, with pleasure. Their over-the-road qualities, or at least the promise of them, are surely what motivate many BMW aspirants. That these roomy sedans also provide safe, sumptuous family transportation qualify them as a highly desirable mid-size entries.
The BMW 535i Gran Turismo ($58,000) and 550i Gran Turismo ($67,500) add four inches to the wheelbase and feature a sleek coupe roof. The BMW 535i xDrive GT ($60,300) and 550i xDrive GT ($69,800) add all-wheel drive.
The ActiveHybrid 5 ($61,100) features the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine combined with a 54-horsepower electric motor.
The BMW M5 sedan ($89,900) makes 560 horsepower from its 4.4-liter V8, and comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed dual clutch automatic manual gearbox (same price).
The 528i comes standard with leatherette upholstery (vinyl), automatic dual-zone air conditioning with micron air filter, 205-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with 12 speakers, redundant steering wheel controls, pre-wiring for satellite radio and CD changer, iDrive, power moonroof, Bluetooth, wood trim.
Options include the Cold Weather Package ($950) with heated steering wheel, heated front seats, heated rear seats, retractable headlight washers. The Premium Package for 528i and 535i ($2,600) includes power tailgate, Comfort Access keyless entry, satellite radio with 1 year subscription, Dakota leather.
The Driver Assistance Package ($1,900) adds rearview camera, side and top view cameras, active blind spot detection, park distance control; the Luxury Seating Package ($2,400) upgrades to multi-contour front seats, front ventilated seats, active front seats; the Technology Package ($2,800) includes navigation system, real-time traffic information, head-up display, instrument cluster with extended contents, smartphone integration, online information services, BMW Apps; the Premium Sound Package ($950) includes satellite radio with one-year subscription, premium audio. New options for 2013 include the Bang & Olufsen sound system ($4500), and rear seat entertainment system ($2200).
The 535i comes standard with Dakota leather.
Safety equipment that comes standard on all 5 Series includes two-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags and curtain front-to-rear head protection, active head restraints, LATCH child seat mounts, three-point seatbelts with force limiters and front-seat emergency pre-tensioners.
Optional safety equipment includes a rearview camera with wide-angle view and tracking line; also a top view shows a full picture of vehicle surroundings; and side view monitors side traffic as viewed from front bumpers. Active cruise control adjusts speed to maintain safe interval to car ahead, with provision to stop the vehicle completely if required; collision warning indicates an imminent collision, primes the brakes for full stopping power, and will automatically apply the brakes. Active blind spot detection monitors safe lane reentry when overtaking another car; a visual signal and a recognizable vibration in the steering wheel provide further warning. Lane departure warning monitors lane markers; when a lane change begins and turn signals are not activated, the system warns the driver with vibration in the steering wheel. Automated headlights follow curves in winding roads, and automated high-beam controls switch high beams on and off as required when drawing close to another car or meeting oncoming cars up to 440 yards ahead. Adaptive brake light system flashes bright taillights when ABS is engaged or brakes are applied strongly. Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection provides early detection of objects and pedestrians in the night; warning is provided by the Control Display and is displayed on the inner surface of the windshield if equipped with head-up display. Head-up display delivers vehicle speed and other data without requiring a glance away from the road ahead.
The hood on the Gran Turismo coupe models is even longer, and their wheelbase is 120.7 inches.
The 5 Series sedan cabin is set considerably to the rear, giving the sedan profile a slightly wedged, coupe-like forward-thrust shape that, given the car's performance, is in no way misleading. Handsomely flared wheel openings filled with stylishly modern wheels and large tires underline the car's muscularity and its rear-wheel drive layout. The signature kink in the rear side window's aft edge confirms that this is a bona fide BMW.
At the nose, the 5 Series features BMW adaptive xenon headlights for powerful, safe forward illumination. And in daytime running, the headlight complex is illuminated by LED rings of light. The turn indicators, as well, are illuminated by LED. Taillight clusters are illuminated in an LED pattern distinctive to BMW.
The handsome leather-wrapped or wood-trimmed three-spoke steering wheel contains 12 fingertip adjustments for audio, phone and adaptive cruise control. A convenient tilt-away provision allows easy ingress and egress.
Both front seats have 10-way power adjustment. The standard Dakota leather is good, the optional Nappa leather is wonderful. The seats are softer than Mercedes seats, and stiffer than Lexus seats. If you do a lot of hard cornering, there won't be enough bolstering, not even with the Sport seats and their 18-way adjustment, including lumbar. If you don't drive your BMW like that, and few do, you probably won't notice the limited bolstering. And the lower bolsters make getting in and out easier.
We noticed an edge against the right knee when cornering. And we found the windshield's A pillar impaired visibility when trying to see ahead in a corner, or when pulling into a parking space in a parking lot.
The rear seats offer side bolstering, and rear seat legroom is 36.1 inches, about in the middle for the class: .3 inches more than the Lexus LS, but .7 inches less than the Hyundai Azera, and 1.3 inches less than the Audi A6. The sunroof is vast and can make the car feel like a convertible. Back-seat passengers will love it.
Back in the driver's seat, instrumentation includes four classic circular gauges set against a black panel. We think the BMW's gauges are beautiful and perfect: slim silver rings and clear number graphics, with no stupid hash marks to confuse your eyes. The tachometer shows yellow from 6700 rpm to 7200, then red to 8000, reminding you you're in something special.
Navigation is not standard, never mind that it's standard equipment on many cars that are half the price of the BMW 528i. A 7-inch console screen is standard. The display is trans-reflective: Sunlight doesn't affect its readability.
The navigation system is fairly easy to use. It's located in the center console on a large 10.2-inch screen, in a fine three-dimensional display. Audio guidance is well-timed, although it is not without its directional flaws, as we discovered driving on small roads around Lake Tahoe. With the optional head-up display, navigation guidance can be read on the windshield just above the steering wheel; that's eminently safer, because the driver doesn't have to turn his head and decipher things on the console, often on a busy freeway. The head-up display is sharp and clear; we like it a lot.
Six different two-tone interior color schemes are available, and the wood trim comes in three shades, with Ash Anthracite and Fineline Matte optional. Another optional trim, available on the three-spoke steering wheel, is aluminum, with dimples like a golf ball.
We found the BMW 535i and 550i to be controllable at high levels of acceleration, stopping and cornering on the race track. They will provide responsive performance in accident avoidance maneuvers. But the BMW 528i displayed exemplary quickness and agility, which was also noticeable on the street.
What does maximum driving performance have to do with day-to-day driving? A lot. Any true emergency maneuver in normal traffic demands near maximal use of a car's balance and grip.
These BMWs use a superb 8-speed automatic transmission. Because the top two gears are overdrives, keeping freeway revs down, the fuel mileage is helped. Also, the aluminum doors, hood, front side panels and suspension components keep weight down.
Fuel economy for the BMW 528i is 23/34 mpg City/Highway, according to the EPA, and that's better than the ActiveHybrid 5, at 23/30 mpg. The BMW 535i scores 19/28 mpg City/Highway, while the BMW 550i is rated 15/22 mpg.
The 5 Series use BMW's auto stop/start system, which stops the engine when the car is not in motion, conserving fuel and stopping all emissions. BMW's system is not smooth. At each restart, the cars shudder, and there are other occasions of intrusion and annoyance. The Mercedes system works much more smoothly. You can defeat the BMW stop/start system, but you must do so by pressing a switch each time you get in and start the car, because it defaults to on. Stop/start is an idea with good intentions and potential, but apparently it exists mostly to make the U.S. federal government happy: automakers get EPA credits toward future CAFE standards by including the feature.
Zero-to-60 acceleration performance for the 550i, 535i, and 528i are, respectively, 5.0 seconds, 5.7 seconds, and 6.2 seconds. The ActiveHybrid 5 matches the 535i's 0-60 time. While the 550i is the obvious choice for real speed, the 528i's strong handling, fine fuel mileage, and good acceleration will attract many, including us.
Much as we admired the new 8-speed transmission's quick shifts and energy efficiency, its shifter is needlessly iconoclastic. It has a P button on top for Park and an unlock button on the left side. To get out of Park, you depress the unlock button and move the shifter forward or backward for Reverse or Drive. Sounds simple enough. You can only go from Drive to Reverse, and vice versa, by first pressing the unlock button. If you move the shifter left, you get manual selection of the eight gears. To return to Park, you press Park on the top of the lever. It takes a bit of training and a goodly number of false starts. BMW believes it's important for you to do things their way, even when there is nothing about it that is superior to a conventional PRNDL auto-shifter. If you're James Bond running from the bad guys and jump into your BMW, they'll probably catch up to you while you're sitting there looking at the shifter to make sure you select the proper gear. On the plus side, the manually selected 8-speed did its best to give us the shift we wanted when underway.
The steering on the 5 Series cars is electronic, variable ratio and feels seamless and precise. Breaking with BMW practice, the front suspension eschews struts in favor of multi-link arms.
To heighten controllability and give the driver an improved platform, available dynamic damping control constantly adjusts shock rates to match the current road surface. The system is so fast that when a front wheel hits a pothole at highway speed, the rear shock absorber will be prepared for it before the pothole arrives. In addition, active roll stabilization curtails body roll in hard cornering, giving the driver heightened command. BMW's advanced electronics work well.
All-wheel drive is available for all 5 Series versions.
The latest BMW brake system interacts with the other electronic stability control systems, pre-setting the brakes in heavy braking, drying the brakes in wet driving, and compensating for brake fade in vigorous driving. The brakes also have a hybrid-like regenerative-energy feature; they capture electric energy generated during braking and send electricity to the battery. This reduces the net amount of time that the engine must drive the alternator producing charge. This cuts the amount of time the engine must drive the alternator belt, heightening fuel efficiency.
BMW boasts that its ActiveHybrid 5 is the first time a turbocharged inline-6 has been combined with an electric engine and an 8-speed automatic transmission. They say it can be driven on its lithium-ion battery at 37 mph for 2.5 miles, which sounds like a new record. The electric stamina numbers are creeping up, but it's still not so significant. What's so great about that, in a BMW? The 528i is totally quiet and sips fuel at 37 mph anyhow.
The fuel mileage of 23/30 mpg City/Highway from the ActiveHybrid 5 is nothing to brag about. In fact, if you go to the BMW website and read all about the ActiveHybrid 5, you'll see that BMW boasts about the power and acceleration from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds, but never mentions fuel mileage.
On the highway, it's exceptionally smooth, like the 535i. We drove it mostly in its Eco Pro mode, and after a 20-mile uphill-downhill loop, we got 18.4 miles per gallon, not so impressive. If it's fuel mileage that matters, that 528i will give you better mileage in a nearly identical car, for $13,000 less.
Back on the track (Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca), we climbed into the high-performance M5. It makes 560 horsepower and 500 foot-pounds of torque over an amazingly wide powerband, from 1500 to 5750 rpm. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph, electronically limited. We drove an M5 with the 6-speed manual transmission and 7-speed twin clutch with paddle shifters, and found we preferred the manual gearbox. Not because the twin-clutch was bad, because the manual gearbox was sweet.
The M5 is totally different than the other 5 Series models. It starts with the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine and the same frame, but after that the parts are something else. Electronically controlled dampers, M-specific Servotronic steering, a stability control system with M Dynamic Mode, active limited-slip differential, high-performance compound brakes, suspension structure and sub-frame mods, and more.
Suspension, throttle and steering quickness can be individually set in Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes. And the combinations can be set in M1 or M2, which are basically memory positions. A driver can experiment and find what he likes. The instrument panel, exclusive to M5, shows what modes you're in. One thing we found is that Sport Plus makes the suspension too stiff for almost anything except a billiard-table smooth track. It was too stiff for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The professional race drivers there, Scott Pruett and Bill Auberlen, agreed.
We found Comfort mode plenty firm for the M5 suspension for sporty driving on the street, and Sport mode isn't too stiff for relaxed driving. The steering and throttle response aren't too quick for around-town driving in Sport Plus. There is flexibility and range in the modes, and that's a good thing.
We can also tell you that with the window open, the exhaust sounds fantastic when you back off the throttle at high rpm. And that the rev limiter is abrupt. And that there's something that feels like turbo lag, at least when the car is in Efficient mode.
The M5 will understeer when pushed to its limit on the track, and that surprised us. We needed stability control a couple of times to keep us from pushing off the outside edge on the exit of an off-camber corner. The brakes, even with high-performance pads, are not up to the task, for a day on the track. We also drove an M6 with ceramic rotors and pads on this day, and they did the job. BMW says ceramic brakes will be available on the M5 for the 2014 model.
Another thing we can tell you is that the BMW M3, using the inline-6 (for the final year before switching to the V8), felt the best on the track, by a lot. Better balanced and more precise with its lighter engine than either the M5 or M6, making it the most fun, unless your fun comes from scaring yourself with horsepower. Pruett and Auberlen agreed.
Some of the safety features available for the 5 Series sound good, but we've found them to be a nightmare of confusion and wolf-crying. We could fill this review with examples of unintended consequences, from rearview cameras and warnings that give you little sense of what's back there while screaming at you that you're about to run into something; to lane departure warnings that treat you like you're a drunk driver just because they don't know the difference between a curve ahead or a driver's weave; to night vision that keeps telling you a ghost is walking across the road in front of you (while being unable to detect a deer); to active cruise control that won't let you get close enough to a car you're approaching on the freeway to maintain a steady speed; to blind-spot monitors that don't know the difference between a car and a post. We're not against progressive safety technology, when it works. We like the head-up display and automated headlights. Of course we like the crushable chassis structure and electronic stability control. But we believe manufacturers, not just BMW, are throwing many of these so-called intelligent electronic systems into cars so they can boast about them. The best suggestion we can make is to read online forums before you buy.
Sam Moses filed this report after driving the 5 Series models near Monterey, California.
Model as tested
BMW 528i ($47,500)
4 years/50,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Model Line Overview
BMW 528i ($47,500), 535i ($53,100), 550i ($62,400); 528i xDrive ($49,800), 535i xDrive ($55,400), 550i xDrive ($64,700), 535i GT ($58,000), 535i xDrive GT ($60,300), 550i GT ($67,500), 550i xDrive GT ($69,800), ActiveHybrid 5 ($61,100), M5 ($89,900)
Safety equipment (standard)
two-stage front airbags, side-impact airbags, curtain front-to-rear head protection, seatbelt force limiters and frontûseat pre-tensioners, active head restraints, LATCH child seat mounts; ABS, EBD, brake assist, electronic traction/stability control
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter turbocharged dohc 16-valve I4
Specifications as Tested
leather seating, climate control, power driver and front passenger seat with memory, wood trim, xenon high-intensity discharge headlights, fourth-generation iDrive cockpit control system, power tilt/telescope/tilt away steering wheel, ambiance lighting, one-touch up/down power windows, auto-dimming inner and outer mirrors
Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter turbocharged dohc 16-valve I4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
240 @ 5000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
225/55VR17 front, 255/55VR17 rear all-season
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear