The BMW 5 Series is all-new for 2011. Virtually no hardware was carried over directly to the 2011 BMW 5 Series from the previous models. The all-new 2011 5 Series lineup includes the BMW 528i and BMW 535i with six-cylinder engines, and the BMW 550i with a V8.
You'll never hear it from BMW. But with no less than nine new models arriving all at once in the 2011 line, to a significant degree, BMW is starting over. Not surprising. Under the guidance of controversial American Design Director Chris Bangle during the past decade, BMW took an excursion into doing some very un-BMW things. Contour by contour, the Ultimate Driving Machine became overstuffed looking, given BMW's famously aggressive design language, downright frumpy. Simultaneously, with the debut of the first-generation iDrive system several model years ago, Munich offered to the world the single most counter-intuitive, infuriating cockpit management system ever brought to market. Ever since that bleak debut, the revered company has been backtracking at a stubborn, no-we-never-screw-up rate. But at last, the news is spectacular; 2011's fourth-generation iDrive is wonderfully intuitive, a pleasure to use.
There are further good tidings. The broad line of new 2011 BMWs, far from looking frumpy, has regained the aggressive, exciting enthusiasm that had been the company's trademark since long before these difficulties began. From 7 Series to 5 Series to 3 Series, 2011 models are back to the reliable old BMW formula: Same sausage, in three different lengths. But oh, what sausage!
Dead center in the BMW sausage case is the 5 Series, always a strong choice for buyers who want vigorous acceleration and crisp handling, but not the limited interior space of the 3 Series, nor the girth, weight and fee-fye-foe-fum price of the 7 Series. As a luxury midsize sedan, the 5 will hit the sweet spot for many families that include a driver or two with a strong taste for performance accompanied by all the latest safety provisions.
In comparison with the previous 5 sedan, the 2011 version is two inches longer, with a three-inch longer wheelbase. That translates to one inch less frontal overhang than in any previous 5. This will certainly be helpful in tight parking situations, but far more than that, it give the 5 its stunning visual impact. With its forward-lunging shapes, muscular flanks, and low, road-hugging front end, the 5's appearance accurately communicates its racerly velocity and apex-strafing agility. Said agility is aided and abetted by the new 5's near-perfect 49/51 front/rear weight distribution. This package delivers levels of handling that have inherent stability, with no sudden surprises. Very, very BMW.
Sliding into the new 5's interior, you will find a typically German environment. The BMW representatives we spoke to describe the cabin as contemporary but warm, and so it is. The dashboard surfaces of our test BMW 550i were a combination of bright tan and matte black, highlighted by the expected graceful brushstrokes of wood. The instrumentation is thorough and easy to use, and the seats are covered in either leatherette, for the 528i and 535i, or leather in the 550i. As has been the case from nearly the beginning, cloth interiors will not be imported to North America.
And somewhat surprisingly, comparing content to content in the 2011 5 Series versus its predecessor, the 5 Series furnishings represent a drop in prices.