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.

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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.

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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 
Vehicle tested

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.

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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.