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Car reviews - BMW - 5 Series - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Excellent handling, comfortable ride, extremely smooth and strong turbo six engine, sharp eight-speed automatic, attractive and imposing looks
Room for improvement
Increased prices, options can easily add up to $30,000, tyre noise louder than expected, gearshifter takes a while to get used to

13 May 2010

THE first thing you’ll notice about BMW’s F10 5 Series is that it does not look like the previous one.

That’s a big relief for the many people who disliked the daring but confronting Chris Bangle design of the E60.

Clearly related to BMW’s other mainstream models, the 3 Series and 7 Series, the new 5 Series has presence from all angles, but the rear view is the most imposing.

The interior has been vastly improved with a fresh dashboard and centre console and superior plastic surfaces. Impressive woodgrain with metal edging combines with the quality of the leather and the stitching to give an impression of class, as it should be in a car of this price bracket.

BMW allowed us to test only the $128,900 turbo-petrol 535i at the launch in Melbourne this week, with test cars loaded with options worth $21,000 in one case and $30,000 in another.

That means any drive impressions should be taken with a pinch, or handful, of salt.

The more ‘standard’ model had optional 19-inch rims (up from 18s), but was otherwise stock in terms of the chassis.

Unsurprising, both cars handled extremely well, with a perfect balance between comfort and performance driving.

The suspension is sufficiently compliant to dispatch most bumps, but is still sufficient firm to ensure excellent body control.

Press hard and have great fun on winding roads if you feel so inclined, but you don’t have to put up with the clanging and banging that usually accompanies a sporty set-up.

The damping occasionally was caught out by the odd bump, but it seems as though BMW has finally worked out how to develop a vehicle with run-flat tyres that is actually comfortable to ride in.

The standard steering is well sorted, as you would expect from BMW, with just the right weighting.

We also tested a 535i that had a range of extras that affect the way the car feels on the road. One is the active steering option. You might remember that the previous generation 5 Series (except for the 520d) came standard with this feature, which basically changes the steering rack gearing at lower speeds.

This way, it only takes a small turn of the wheel to navigate into a parking spot, while the same degree of turn doesn't move the front wheels as much at speed.

Not all customers liked the feature, so it has been banished to the options list. Now, active steering is packaged with a rear-wheel steering feature which turns the rear wheels, but only slightly (up to three degrees), and costs $3600.

The rear steering is supposed to help manoeuvring at low speed and handling at higher speeds, and the rear wheels will even counter-steer if you get into a slide to help you regain control.

As with active steering, it takes a while to get used to because you are not sure how much input you'll need to position the car where you want.

It was hard to tell how much this package assisted the 535i because the test car was loaded with the $7000 Adaptive Drive pack that includes both Dynamic Drive and Dynamic Control.

These confusing names dreamed up by marketing people obviously obsessed with the words dynamic and active (which appear in the description of several other components) do nothing to indicate that this is all to do with suspension.

The pack includes adjustable and adaptive suspension damping and active anti-roll bars.

Some of the suspension modes are not much use the Sport+ is extremely firm and the Comfort setting allows the rear of car to float like it is sitting on fluffy pillows.

In Sport mode, the loaded 535i is an extremely capable car. It remains composed in bends at speed and relishes a fast change of direction.

The excellent standard suspension and the optional tricked-up version both allow the driver to take advantage of the potent turbo six.

Confusingly called a TwinPower engine, you would expect this engine to have two turbos - like the 550i’s TwinPower V8 - but it doesn't.

The 3.0-litre inline engine has a single twin-scroll turbo, which does a fine job of generating serious punch.

It also makes its 400Nm from just 1200rpm through to 5000rpm. The torque curve looks more like the surface of the MCG instead of the tradition hill-side pattern. This means the 535i is seemingly effortless when it really is hooking along at speed.

With the traction control system partially off, in the sporty modes, power needs to be fed on carefully in the wet, as you would with a big-displacement V8.

The engine is remarkably smooth, revving out to 6000rpm or so, but unlike the naturally aspirated engine that loves to rev, there is no real point in working it hard. With so much torque available, you can just pick another gear and get on with it.

The ZF eight-speed transmission is a quality gearbox that does its job quietly in the background when left in automatic mode. Driving with the well-positioned steering-wheel paddles – which are not standard on all models – is fun.

The central gearshift lever matches those in other recent BMW models, but somehow BMW has managed to make something as simple as gearshifter counter-intuitive, with a side button that has to be held down to select gears.

BMW should take a lesson from Jaguar on its gear selection dial which is not only good looking, but simple too.

The cabin is a generally quiet place, but tyre noise was significant on many of the country roads chosen for the launch, and particularly bad on some coarse-chip surfaces.

As previously described, the interior is inviting, but maybe the light custard-colour carpet should be avoided – the floors of one of the test cars were filthy by the end of the day.

The 535i’s larger body means ample room, both in terms of leg and headroom, and the boot is massive.

We tried out the bird’s-eye camera which looks down to show the sides of the car, as well as what is behind when you are parking.

Given the fish-eye nature of the lens, the picture is distorted but still gives a good idea of cars and other objects around the vehicle.

Another feature shows a side view from the front of the car. We didn’t get a chance to really test this system, but with cameras well ahead of the driver, it should provide a good view when creeping out of a side street or blind driveway.

The now-familiar head-up display that projects speed and other information such as sat-nav directions on to the windscreen means not having to take your eye off the road to check the speed. It looks cool too.

Some things are missing from the 520d, including metallic paint and Xenon headlights. It also seems a bit rough to get 17-inch wheels as standard on a car this expensive.

Our experience of the 535i was warped by the mass of options on the car, but it is still clear than BMW has produced a brilliant vehicle in the latest large executive sedan.

It is a massive improvement over the previous model and is both extremely comfortable and rewarding to drive. The fact that it looks good, or at least doesn’t look bad, is also a welcome change.

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