BMW 5 Series: Expensive feels good
How sad it is when something like this $73,000 BMW that's so wrong for times of tight money and rising gasoline prices feels oh so right from behind the wheel.
Redesigned for 2010, BMW's midrange 5 Series line appears to have moved a little closer in luxury to the even more expensive 7 Series cars, but it's debatable whether it's any less capable than before as a sport sedan; if you are lucky enough to afford a new 5 Series model, I think it will reward you handsomely in comfort and in performance.
With the available twin turbocharged V-8 engine, a 5 can hit triple-digit speeds in the blink of an eye and pile points up on your driver's license like so many snowflakes.
I hated to give it back -- except for its thirst for $4 a gallon (and climbing) premium gasoline; 20 mpg was the best I could get out of it in a week of almost entirely highway miles.
On sale since the summer, the midsize 2011 5 Series cars share structural basics and some engines with the 7 Series and start at $45,425 with freight with a 240-hp. 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Base prices range up to $67,075 for an all-wheel drive Gran Turismo hatchback model with my tester's 400-hp. V-8. That engine was new for 2010.
Stick shift is available on some variants. And the silky automatic, which BMW says is new, can be shifted manually.
Changes for 2010, carried over for 2011, included an increase of about three inches in the wheelbase, two inches in length and a half inch in width. There's also a bit more front and rear headroom.
Still there is BMW's iDrive joystick-based dashboard control system, now in its fourth generation and friendlier than before -- mostly because BMW has removed many key functions from the system and put them on conventional switches.
Available is an upgraded Dynamic Handling package for $2,700 that adjusts shock absorber damping to road and driving conditions and also produces a counteracting force to a car's tendency to lean in cornering.
The electric, rather than hydraulic, power steering is there purportedly to save energy, but as in many electrics, the system offers a heavy feel that's artificial.
The 5 Series gets an overall federal crash test score of five out of five stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls the line a "top safety pick." Consumer Reports has no reliability data yet for the new 5.
2011 BMW 550i xDrive Sedan
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8, twin-turbocharged, 400 hp.
Fuel: Premium required
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive.
Safety: Eight air bags; four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, stability control and brake assist; variable-intensity brake lights; swiveling headlamps with cornering lamps; rear, side and "top view" video cameras; front and rear obstacle warning; tire pressure monitoring; daytime running lamps.
Place of assembly: Dingolfing, Germany
Trunk: 14 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates: 16 mpg city, 24 highway
Price as driven: $73,725 with freight
Bottom line: For drivers with a need for speed.