$11,340 - $15,152

2011 BMW 5-Series Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2011 BMW 5-Series was new.


Performance: 8.5

The BMW 5-Series has long been touted as the luxury large car for performance enthusiasts, but many reviewers say that the redesigned 2011 5-Series has different priorities. It offers exceptional engines, but base models are more comfort-tuned than the 2010 model. Adding optional suspension and tire upgrades, however, make it into the sport sedan BMW enthusiasts expect.

Optional upgrades, such as the Sport Package’s larger wheels, and the Dynamic Handling Package’s adjustable shocks and struts, make the new 5-Series one of the most athletic cars in its class. But this won’t fix all of the 5-series’ foibles. Reviewers are also divided on the 5-Series’ electric power steering system. Some say that the system is among the best available, while others counter that it lacks the feel and on-road connection of conventional steering systems.

  • "Still, this is a quick car and BMW has done a commendable job eliminating a turbo’s less desirable traits - namely lag." -- Automobile Magazine 
  • "Driver after driver noted the car's stability in the snow and ice and the confidence it instills at the wheel. ‘With snow tires and all-wheel drive, this car's a real sled dog,’ one editor wrote. Another was more succinct: ‘This thing rocks in the snow.’" -- AutoWeek (BMW 550i xDrive) 
  • "On a curving road, the 5 is confidence-inspiring and unflappable. However, when the road tightens up, the car's larger size and 2-ton curb weight can make it seem a bit bulky, especially if you're driving a 5 without the adaptive suspension and steering." -- Edmunds 
  • "Regardless of which flavor is chosen - mild (528i), medium (535i) or hot (550i) - the 2011 BMW 5 Series Sedan rewards with varying levels of power and handling capability." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "Around town, the 550i launches with serious authority. The accelerator goes down and all skulls are pressed back into the head restraints." -- Autoblog  

Acceleration and Power

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is offered with a choice of three engines. The 528i uses a 240-horsepower, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, while the 535i features the same size engine, but adds a turbocharger. (BMW calls it a “twinpower turbo”, but it’s just one turbocharger.) A vocal minority says that the 528i’s engine isn’t as responsive as most of BMW’s powerplants, but that it provides ample power in nearly all situations. With the added turbo boost, the 535i’s engine is good for 300 horsepower.

The top-of-the-line 550i uses a 4.4-liter, turbocharged V8, which generates 400 horsepower. Many note that it is more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the V8 offered in last year’s 5-Series, and those who have tested it appreciate its refined, powerful demeanor.

All 5-Series models are available with either a six-speed manual transmission (the last stick-shift offered in the class of luxury large cars) or an eight-speed automatic. Reviewers are generally pleased with the eight-speed automatic, although a few reviewers say that it doesn’t always shift gears as quickly as they expected. An optional sport automatic transmission adds paddle shifters to the automatic. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system is also available on 535i and 550i models.

The EPA estimates that the 2011 528i gets 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway with the automatic transmission, while the BMW 535i gets 20/30 mpg and 19/28 mpg city/highway with automatic and manual transmissions, respectively. The 550i gets 17/25 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and 15/22 mpg with the six-speed manual. All-wheel drive 535i and 550i xDrive models get 19/29 mpg city/highway and 16/24 mpg, respectively, with an eight-speed automatic transmission. One reviewer is particularly impressed with the 528i’s fuel economy estimates, which are quite good among luxury large cars.

  • "The twin-turbo V8 underhood is creamy smooth, and the eight-speed automatic transmission allows the driver to maximize all 400 hp available. But with the winter we experienced, the 550i was more snowmobile than sports sedan." -- AutoWeek (BMW 550i xDrive) 
  • "The base 528i has fine thrust overall, but it has touchy throttle response that makes it difficult to drive smoothly at times. There is often a slight pause between depressing the gas pedal and receiving the power requested. Sport mode improves things somewhat, but it's tuned a bit too aggressively for normal commuting." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Engine and transmission combine for one unexpected bonus: an EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg in the city and a genuinely impressive 32 mpg on the highway. We laid down plenty of 80-mph highway miles in our test car and the 2011 BMW 528i churned out 30 mpg without breaking a sweat. We find this impressive." -- Edmunds 
  • "The so-called N55 engine produces nominal torque (300 pound-feet) at a mere 1,200 rpm and doesn't stop until north of 5,000 rpm. Stitched to the new eight-speed automatic, the engine delivers utterly seamless, nearly hydraulic thrust in any gear and at any rpm." -- Los Angeles Times (BMW 535i) 
  • "We've spent the most time in the 2011 BMW 550i Sedan, and can attest to its smooth, effortless operation at speeds within and far outside legal limits. Turbo lag is a non-issue." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "We drove the 535i first. The engine idled quietly but nicely snarled when we blipped the throttle." -- Popular Mechanics 
  • "The eight-speed gearbox (the 535i and 550i do not share the same transmission) shifts through the gears smoothly, but not as quickly as we would have expected." -- Autoblog (BMW 550i) 

Handling and Braking

Traditionally, the BMW 5-Series is known for winning car critics over with its sharp handling. However, that hasn’t been the case with the 2011 BMW 5-Series. The 5-Series now shares many chassis and suspension components with the larger BMW 7-Series, and test drivers find that the current 5-Series is geared more towards comfort than previous models. Additionally, it features a number of new technologies that affect cornering performance.

In particular, auto reviewers are divided on the 5-Series’ electric power steering system. Some say it lacks the tactile connection to the pavement seen on older models, while other reviewers counter that the new steering system provides impressive road feel.

Some, however, say that certain optional performance enhancements can make a big difference in the handling. A sport package with more performance-oriented tires seems to make a difference. A Dynamic Handling Package, which includes a driver-adjustable suspension with four modes offering varying levels of sportiness, improves the handling as well.

Test drivers also like the optional four-wheel steering system. At low speeds, it turns the rear wheels in opposition to the front wheels to improve turning radius. At high speeds, it turns all four wheels together to aid stability.

Still, some reviewers feel that the 2011 5-Series has lost some of its traditional BMW character since it requires pricey options to become a true canyon-carving sport sedan. Performance-oriented buyers still might be happy in the 5-Series, but they may also want to test drive the Audi A6 or even a well-equipped 3-Series before making the final decision.

  • "The 5-Series' ride and handling combination continues to set the standard in the premium-midsize class. The 535i rides best, smothering most bumps with little fanfare. A 550i with the standard suspension isn't quite as compliant, and the ride gets noticeably stiffer with the optional Sport Package." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "Of course, the standard electric power steering is almost brilliant in the tactile feel it delivers - something few electric-assist systems can achieve - and this helps the new 5 Series keep its credibility as a car with a sporting flavor." -- Edmunds  
  • "If owners should ever take the 5-series on the track, they'll find them benign, easy, capable, progressive and slightly boring. And numb as a well digger's . . . let's just say numb, OK?" -- Los Angeles Times 
  • "Complimenting the 5 Series' powertrains is an immensely stable chassis, one characterized by responsive electrically-assisted steering, as well as capable and easily modulated brakes. The sport mode setting also buckles down the suspension a bit, transforming a comfortable and compliant luxury car into a sport sedan that will make drivers long for a lonesome curvy road." -- Kelley Blue Book 
  • "When equipped with the standard suspension, there's a ponderous feeling to the car, and a slight reluctance to change direction. It's rides terrifically, however, and grip levels are more than adequate, but for the first time we can remember, we have a BMW sedan that feels somewhat divorced from the road." -- Popular Mechanics 
  • "The road eventually became twisty, but the BMW didn't flinch. Thanks to the Dynamic Handling Package, body roll is nearly absent. Our three passengers cry ‘uncle’ long before the tires protest." -- Autoblog 

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