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BMW’s new 5-Series pushes technology into the stratosphere

Andy Stonehouse
Summit Daily Auto Writer
Special to the Daily 2011 BMW 535i
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Drop nearly $66 large on an automobile and it better connote some serious heavy hitter status, be so laden with high-tech gadgetry that it borders on the absurd and also carry around your sorry behind in nothing less than triumphant style.

In the case of the new, sixth-generation BMW 5-Series, you’re certainly covered, with executive-level stance and posture, sterling design and a list of largely optional doohickeys and gee-gaws that still form the cutting edge of automotive technology.

It also comes with choices of three variations of engine and either a manual or the new eight-speed automatic transmission (as well as the xDrive all-wheel-drive system option); your choices of final configuration run in the zillions, but the engine part seems particularly important here in Colorado.

I got to run around in a 535i, the iteration featuring a twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-pretty similar to the powerplant found in the 335i which got me into so much trouble last year-though I found myself asking for a little more. Pretty sad when 300 horsepower doesn’t do it for you anymore.

With weight in the midsize sedan pushed to almost 4,100 pounds (and about 200 more in the AWD version), you’ll still get beautiful off-the-line bursts of power and the typical “Oh dear, I seem to be going 85 mph again” sensation so much a part of the BMW experience, but my experiments in triple-digit travel resulted in a slow, rough ride to the top end.

Subsequently, speed freaks might opt for the 550i, which subs a 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 and generates a more responsive 400 horsepower. Or you can go the other direction, as well, dropping to the 528i and its 230-horsepower, naturally aspirated 3.0 liter engine. It’s all up to you.

Whatever the choice under the hood, the driving experience is much the same, with a two-inch-longer vehicle couching a 3.2-inch-longer wheelbase, mixing smoothness with impressive agility and precision.

Among the million or so aforementioned optional packages (which brought my 535i up from an MSRP of about $50,475 to a whopping $65,875), the $2,700 Dynamic Drive group will help sport things up a bit: roll stabilization, dynamic damper controls and an adaptive drive system which allows you to meander between a comfort setting and a fast-shifting, rigid sport setting, or somewhere inbetween.

Those adjustments (plus the option to throw the curious Norelco shaver-shaped gear selector into Sport mode) make the eight-speed automatic a bit more crisp and responsive. In standard mode, the eight-speed is a little burpy, clicking off changes at odd points but apparently working hard to save gas in the process.

Should you desire to do so, you can also equip the 5 with a new integral active steering system which integrates subtle four-wheel steering to both smoothen out and sport up the driving.

Integral to the system is BMW’s token green technology effort, called Efficient Dynamics, and in the case of my 535i tester, it included a hybrid-styled brake energy regeneration system which was used to more cleanly recharge the battery powering the car’s many electronic systems. Treat the car responsibly and you’ll get up to 30 mpg on the highway; my results varied considerably.

The safety minded options can also get pretty heavy. Stop-and-Go cruise control uses a radar system to merge you in and out of traffic (as well as a collision warning system which primes and pumps the brakes); the park assist system takes care of the angling required for a good parallel park job, a la Ford and Lexus’ systems; there’s also blind spot detection and even a night vision pedestrian detection system available.

You can get a little too German in the whole process and overlook the 5-Series’ beautiful and emerging design, which has shed almost all of the strange and controversial Chris Bangle elements and moves the automobile into more easy-on-the-eye directions.

A longer hood, shorter overhangs, an attractive front end (with the ominous glow of those ghost ring/corona headlamps) and more subtle body lines keep it attractive but not overwhelming.

Inside, the gigantic, throne-like seats provide great support but don’t have the grippy edges you might expect, though the powered thigh adjustments and seemingly nuclear-powered seat heaters are great. Doors also open at nearly 90 degree angles for easier exits, though they’re a bit of a reach when you’re seated.

The tall center console features flip-up missile silo gates and a small amount of storage, with that still non-intuitive shift lever, 12-ounce-only cupholders and the “I think this is growing on me” controller for the fourth-generation iDrive navigation and entertainment system.

And that makes the very pretty and comprehensive iDrive much easier to use, though it takes a long time to figure things out (I couldn’t find the satellite radio for four days, but more quickly discovered you can use Google to search for gas stations and restaurants as you drive along-quite remarkable, really).

You can also call up the side and top view cameras to back and park yourself more easily and safely (cameras give you a curbside view from behind the front wheels).

Yes, indeed, a litany of largesse, but at the core a pretty remarkable and livable vehicle.


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