Reviews

2015 BMW 5 Series Driving Impressions


All BMW 5 Series sedans are chic, crisp and balanced. Though they are perhaps too big and heavy to use as a weekend track car, 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 BMW 528i, 535i and 550i models are all highly competent and balanced, with exceptional poise and pace. Though BMW touts all its cars as having near-50/50 weight distribution, there is some wiggle room between the models. The BMW 550i, with its V8 engine, is the most nose-heavy, with a 52.5/47.5 percent front-rear weight distribution; the 535i with its I6 comes in at 50.9/49.1 percent; and the 528i scores 49.4/50.6 percent with its lighter engine. So it’s no surprise that the 528i handles the best. The others make up for the difference with more power.

We found the BMW 535i and 550i to be controllable at high levels of acceleration, stopping and cornering on the racetrack. But the BMW 528i displayed exemplary quickness and agility, which was also noticeable on the street. Optional adaptive suspension improves handling further, as it constantly manages ride and handling based on the current road surfaces.

The 535d is powerful, smooth and capable. As expected from a diesel engine, it provides plenty of low-end thrust. We took our 535d on a road trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and tackled the hills between the Inland Empire and the desert with ease, passing scores of other vehicles slogging up the steep inclines. Compared to old diesel vehicles, noise and vibration from the 535i is much reduced, though we did notice its distinctive rumble around town at low speeds, and recognized its unmistakable sound from around the block when it was delivered by the valet.

Another advantage to the 535d is its marvelous range. We got about 500 miles on a single tank, and that was mostly while driving with a heavy foot in Sport mode. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2015 BMW 535d rear-wheel-drive model are 26/38 mpg City/Highway and 30 mpg Combined. During our excursion, our mileage, according to the trip computer, ranged from 27 mpg to 31 mpg, averaging 30.0 mpg for our 500-mile trek.

All 5 Series models, with the exception of the M5, use an 8-speed automatic transmission. Shifts are smooth and comfortable, and hold higher revs in Sport mode for more spirited driving. The two highest gears are considered overdrive, so cruising in high gear in Comfort or EcoPlus mode on the freeway can help with fuel economy.

Steering on the 5 Series cars is electronic and uses variable ratio tuning, which makes it comfortable and stable on highways and straightaways, yet more precise and responsive around corners and for low-speed maneuvering.

Like most BMWs, the 5 Series use BMW’s automatic Stop/Start technology, which stops the engine when the car is not in motion to conserve fuel, and starts the engine again when the driver takes her foot off the brake. While earlier versions of the system were abrupt and uncomfortable, we find the system has improved, even though it’s still noticeable.

The M5 is totally different than the other 5 Series models. It starts with a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine tuned for a hearty 560 hp and 500 lb.-ft. of torque available over an amazingly wide power band, from 1500 to 5750 rpm. It can go from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. 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.

Transmission choices include a 7-speed, dual-clutch automated manual or a traditional 6-speed manual gearbox. While old-school purists swear by the stick shift, BMW’s dual-clutch box is not only faster, but more fuel-efficient.

Although it has the same amount of space as its more practical counterparts, the M5 feels tight and compact on the track, the sign of a well-engineered car. On an autocross course at BMW’s new Performance Center in Thermal, CA (near Palm Springs), we turned the fastest lap of the bunch thanks to the M5’s powerful engine and lightning-quick 7-speed, dual-clutch gearbox. While others preferred to manually shift with paddles, we put it in Drive and let it do its thing. In Sport + mode, we had the perfect balance between slip and control, sliding around corners without knocking down cones.

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