2011 BMW 550

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Date Posted: October 28, 2010
By Zack Spencer

The 5 Series has been the benchmark in the mid-sized luxury segment for decades and for 2011 we get an all-new model to drool over

 Fantastic use of materials. Again the new 5 Series looks almost identical to the 7 Series
 The rear lights and trunk have a more cohesive design compared to the outgoing car
 Much better looking than the last Chris Bangle design
 Based on the same platform as the 7 Series, it is often hard to tell them apart

The Scoop

BMW makes two of the most important cars on the planet and other companies try and emulate their driving dynamics and power by benchmarking against BMW. The BMW 3 series is the clear leader in the compact luxury class and the 5 Series is often the benchmark on the mid sized class. With that in mind, this all-new 5 Series sedan, the 5th generation of this iconic car, is very important for BMW and for all other luxury brands. Is this car still the top dog- the go to car for drivers that want some fun and a lot of luxury when they head out on the open road? Let's see.

The Skin

I was a huge critic of the previous sedan, especially the bland styling and goofy rear design. This new car is much more cohesive and classy. The accent lines down the side, the sophisticated rear lights and prominent front grill remind me of the 5 Series last sold in 2003. It might be more cohesive but it lacks much differentiation from the 7 Series. This new sedan looks so much like the latest 7 Series, in fact it is built off a shortened 7 Series platform. The 7 Series is a big car and this new 5 has grown too. It is longer, the wheelbase has been extended by 80mm and weight is up too. The new 5 Series has a longer wheelbase than the 7 Series did just 10 years ago. Is bigger better? We'll see. The 5 series is sold as a 528, 535 or 550. All can be equipped with either RWD or AWD and prices range from $54,000 all the way past $75,000 depending on options.

The Cockpit

The interior is a huge step forward compared to the last car. Once again it is so similar to the 7 Series that I can remember sitting in this car for the first time, at an auto show, and getting out to look at the badge to make sure it wasn't the 7! I found the previous car stark and bland, this interior feels and looks richer and the dash is tilted slightly towards the driver. The iDrive computer interface is front and centre and much better than it has ever been, providing easier use for the driver but it can still be cumbersome when trying to change from one setting to another. The rest of the cabin feels open and big, the front seats are comfortable and supportive, the back seats have a good amount of room but less than one might think considering the longer wheelbase. As you might expect from a company like BMW there are a host of options and features that ratchet up the price rather quickly, like sport packages, technology packages and many more. My test 550 had over $12,000 in options and ramped the price over $85,000.

The Ride

Since the wheelbase is longer, the logical outcome would be a more sedate and supple ride. What BMW has done to counteract this is the inclusion of driving dynamic control. Select normal, comfort or sport modes to adjust the suspension for the ideal ride. I find normal and comfort a bit too soft for my tastes and the sport setting to be the most enjoyable. There is also the optional adaptive drive that counteracts the roll in the corners by applying force on the stabilizer bars, archiving almost flat cornering and no tilting sensation in the car. Another feature that is almost seamless is the 8-speed automatic with either sport setting or manual paddle shits on the steering wheel. The shits are effortless, the driver can hardly tell at times. The good news is that a 6-speed manual is still available. The engine choices are a 3.0L 6-cylinder with 240hp, a new 3.0L direct injection single turbo charged unit with 300hp and the 4.0L twin turbo V8 with 400hp.

Verdict

I would have liked to try the 535. Not to say that the 550 isn't wonderful, it's just that the less expensive car will be the volume seller. This turbo V8 is so smooth and effortless and the power is blistering, especially passing at highway speeds. I just looked at the throttle and this big car lurched forward. This new 5 Series is bigger, more luxurious, classier and effortless to drive. Could it be that it has grown too much, has become too easy to drive and less connected? Could it be that BMW has moved the 5 Series away from being a driver's car to a car one merely navigates? Having owned a 5 series and two 7 Series I feel like the iconic 5 Series has become a bit too big and soft. If that is the case, the 5 Series is still the benchmark in this class but for different reasons.

The Good, The Bad

Good:

Fast, very fast.

Bad:

Just because the 5 Series is bigger doesn't make it better. I would like to try a 5 Series without all the electronic aids.

The Lowdown

Power: 4.0L turbo V8 with 400hp

Fill-up: 12.7L/7.8L/100km (city/highway)

Backup: 4-year/80,000km

Sticker price: $73,300

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