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2012 BMW 5-Series Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2012 BMW 5-Series was new.


Performance: 8.5

The BMW 5-Series has long been touted as the luxury large car for performance enthusiasts. While many reviewers say that the 2012 5-Series is more comfortable than the last generation, most agree that it’s still athletic, provided you spring for the right options. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the base 528i is new for 2012, and reviewers say that although it has fewer cylinders than the 2011 model, there’s just as much horsepower, more torque and likely better fuel economy.

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. Reviewers are 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.

  • "The sound is unmistakably four-cylinder, just with all the bad bits removed. It sounds throaty, purposeful, and completely and totally in line with what the buyer of a base-model BMW 5-series would expect." -- Automobile Magazine (BMW 528i) 
  • "The stop/start feature worked flawlessly, with a button illuminating on the dash to inform the driver what is going on." -- AutoWeek (BMW 528i) 
  • "Not as sporty as we would expect from a BMW. The GT's bulky size and top-heavy nature preclude any feel of agility." -- Consumer Guide (BMW 550i Gran Turismo)
  • "Regardless of which flavor is chosen - mild (528i), medium (535i) or hot (550i) – the … 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 BMW 5-Series is offered with a choice of three engines, and the big news for 2012 is the introduction of a new engine on the 528i. Unlike the 2011 model, which featured an inline six-cylinder engine, the 2012 528i carries a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under its hood. Just like the outgoing six-cylinder, the new turbocharged four generates 240 horsepower, but it also offers 30 additional pound-feet of torque. Reviewers are generally impressed with the new engine’s power, although one test driver comments that the new four-cylinder 5-Series is sluggish at times.

If you’re looking for more power, BMW continues to offer the 300-horsepower 535i, which features a turbocharged, 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. Additionally, the top-of-the-line 550i uses a 4.4-liter, turbocharged V8, which generates 400 horsepower. Many critics note that it is more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the V8 offered in the 2010 5-Series, and they appreciate its refined, powerful demeanor.

The 528i comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the 535i and 550i 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 automatic transmission, although a few 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 all models.

The EPA estimates the new 528i will get 23/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic. Fuel averages for the BMW 535i ring in at 20/30 mpg with an automatic. The 2012 BMW 550i gets 15/23 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission and 15/22 mpg with the six-speed manual. 

  • "Even though the turbo is responsive enough in normal driving that you don't even notice its existence … you can occasionally catch the entire powertrain sleeping. Cruising along, you tip into the throttle and the engine and transmission start to fight about whose turn it is to work. Eventually, they both do: you get a downshift and lots of power, but the wait is a good bit longer than you'd expect." -- Automobile Magazine (BMW 528i) 
  • "Floor it on the autobahn, and this car is surprisingly quick, allowing us to keep pace with an M3 that was cruising. The torque is felt almost immediately, and the pull is evident throughout the rev band." -- AutoWeek (BMW 528i) 
  • "Despite a curb weight exceeding 4,500 pounds, the Gran Turismo is quite fast. After a slight delay from a stop, the 550i takes off with authority. Testers are divided on the 8-speed automatic transmission's behavior. Some believe it matches well with the engine, while others cite clunky shifts in urban commuting." -- Consumer Guide 
  • "The result is a very impressive 240 hp from 2.0 liters and even more usefully, a stout 258 lb-ft of torque from as low as 1,250 rpm. This torque stream is sustained all the way to 4,800 rpm, promising the kind of midrange punch that normally aspirated six-cylinder gas engines rarely offer." -- Edmunds (BMW 528i) 
  • "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) 
  • "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, some reviewers say that the 2012 BMW 5-Series lacks the agility of its predecessors. The 5-Series now shares many chassis and suspension components with the larger BMW 7-Series. As a result, a vocal minority of test drivers say that the current 5-Series is geared more toward comfort than sport.

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.

However, nearly all test drivers agree that certain options make the 2012 5-Series one of the best-handling luxury large cars on the market. A Sport package with more performance-oriented tires seems to make a difference. Additionally, reviewers say that BMW’s Driving Experience Control, which lets you select different drive modes, works exceptionally well with the optional Dynamic Handling package, which includes an adjustable suspension system.

Still, some reviewers feel that the 2012 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 and Infiniti M before making a final decision.

  • "Even with the optional Sport Package, the 550i does a reasonable job of smothering bumps with the adjustable suspension set in Normal mode. Comfort brings some unwanted float and wallow, and Sport allows for some banging and crashing over sharp ruts and pavement cracks." -- Consumer Guide (BMW 550i Gran Turismo) 
  • "Driving Experience Control is most worthwhile if you ordered those dynamic dampers, whose settings alter the character of the car noticeably from the pillowy comfort of a big, old Buick - though without the wallow - to sensations distinctly more athletic when you aim the 528 at a bend and hard-charge it." -- 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 
  • "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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