The complete overhaul that is slated for the BMW 5-Series next year is the most obvious acknowledgement by the Bavarian automaker that the sport sedan pack leader has perhaps lost a step to the competition. It happens. Especially when you are the perennial benchmark for countless posers and competitors endlessly nipping at your heels. It is a testament to the strengths of its lineage that even with its shortcomings, the 2010 5-Series is still one of the best sedans in the world to hit the road with.
Before there were such things as “crossovers,” driving enthusiasts either sacrificed comfort and space for a true sports car, or they bought something like the 5-Series which offered a blend of performance and sedan practicality. The success of the 5-Series line of vehicles is so great, that it would be impossible to discuss sport sedans without mentioning it as either the predecessor or measuring stick that other such cars are evaluated.
The 2010 BMW 5 Series is available as both a sedan and wagon. Three engines are available on the sedan that correspond to the three trim levels (528i, 535i and 550i), with xDrive all-wheel drive available on the 528i and 535i sedans. The wagon comes in 535i xDrive trim only. There is also a new Value package and M Sport package.
The primary characteristic that is cited when exalting the 5-Series is its handling abilities, and for 2010 those skill are still prominently displayed. BMW has mastered the art of ride comfort playing nice with aggressive cornering prowess that few if any of the other luxury makers have yet to match. Testers of either of the sport packaged 5s are almost shocked by the sedans ability to handle tight corners with sports car-like results. However, not all 5-Series are created equal, and at the other end of the spectrum BMW offers relatively tame versions as well.
The base 528i is powered by a 230-horsepower inline-six cylinder engine that is especially underwhelming when compared to the other two, if not on its own. Nevertheless, it is the practical choice for those who are only looking for a luxury commuter and little else. By stepping up to one of the other two options, however, drivers are rewarded with impressive power. The 535i comes with a 3.0-liter, twin-turbo six cylinder that produces 300 horses and 300 lbs of torque, while at the top is the 550i that utilizes a 4.8-liter V8 capable of a whopping 360 horsepower. In the modern world of high-tech transmissions, it is somewhat refreshing that BMW still provides a manual stick, though the six-speed automatic comes at no extra cost. With the manual, the 550i can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. The 535i turns in only marginally slower numbers, while producing comparable fuel efficiency to the base model. It isn’t often that we recommend the middle-of-the road option, but in the case of the newest 5, the 535i is the best choice in terms of practicality and performance. As they should be, all of the sedans are rear-wheel drive, though the 528i and 535i sedans can be equipped with all-wheel drive as well.
Not to be neglected, BMW’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. The available lane-departure warning system alerts the driver by way of vibrations in the steering wheel if the car starts to veer out of its lane, and a night vision system is capable of displaying possible hazards that are otherwise out of regular headlight range. Both hill start assist and hill descent control are standard on AWD models.
Fuel economy varies widely between 5-versions with rear-wheel drive versions of the 528i naturally turning in the best results with 18 mpg city/28 mpg, and the 535i sedan trailing closely with 17/26 mpg numbers. The 550i pays a price for its performance leanings with 15 and 22 mpg under the same conditions.
Few other car makers can boast of having a more brand-specific style. The 2010 5-Series carries on the DNA of past models, although with a sleek and creased body that is anything but out-of-date despite being relatively unchanged since 2008. The word “chiseled” is often used with BMW, and it is especially fitting with the 5-Series, which is the automotive embodiment of a decathlete. Still, two areas tend to crop up in complaints, including the trunk which many cite as not being proportionate to the rest of the car, and the headlights that to some are too “cat-like,” whatever that means.
The luxury that is contained within the cabin comes at a price, but it has few shortcomings in terms of fit and finish. A real bright spot for most is seat comfort, which is regarded as the best in its class for its highly adjustable features and a real benefit to drivers during hard cornering. If there is one area that other automakers have gained ground on the 5, however, it is in the interior package as a whole. If only because comparable equipped models, especially from the likes of Lexus, come at substantially less cost. BMW has always been notable for their business-like aesthetics inside, and although we tend to favorably view cars that take driving seriously, the accommodations are too spartan for some testers. Most divisive is BMW’s iDrive controller, which is perpetually plagued by a complex set of adjustments and functions that frustrate many new owners with its long learning curve.
The 528i comes standard with 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, power front seats with driver memory and power headrests, a power tilt-telescoping steering column, leatherette vinyl upholstery, automatic climate control, the iDrive electronics interface and a 10-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The 535i adds adaptive xenon headlights and lumbar support, while the 535i xDrive wagon adds a panoramic sunroof, fold-down rear seats and a power tailgate. The 550i adds parking assist, leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Many of the features that are standard on upper-level 5 Series models are optional on the lower trim levels, as are numerous additional features available in packages and/or as stand-alone items. These include larger wheels, active steering, a lane-departure warning system, front and rear parking assist, a head-up display, an infrared night vision display, active cruise control, automatic transmission shift paddles, fold-down rear seats, rear sunshades, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel (package only), multicontour “Comfort” seats, keyless ignition/entry, a navigation system (paired with a different iDrive system), satellite radio, HD radio, an iPod interface and a 13-speaker premium surround-sound system.
There are several sport packages available. The Sport package available on the 528i and 535i adds active roll stabilization, 18-inch wheels, performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension, “Comfort” front seats and a sport steering wheel. The Sport package available on the xDrive models only includes the seats and steering wheel. The M Sport package available on all trim levels includes all the regular Sport package items, but adds an aerodynamic body kit, dark gray headliner and on the 550i: 19-inch wheels.
Even the entry-level 5-Series comes at a very non-entry level price of $45,800 that along with its so-so performance is likely going to have value shoppers looking elsewhere. While the fun factor rises considerably with higher models, so does the price. The 535i starts at just over $51,000 and the 550i is over 60-grand. Although the 5-Series performs exceptionally well, we unfortunately live in a time when expensive sedans like these will illicit more disapproving frowns than envy. At any price the 5 is still high on our wish list.