When it comes to premium sports sedans, BMW is and forever will be a benchmark. So many companies, including the other German heavy hitters, have their ‘BMW Beater’ that is aimed to take away the Bavarian company’s loyal customers. This has been the case for years as BMW has managed to blend vault-like build quality into real performance to create some true gems. They have their supercars, limos, efficient run-abouts and SUVs, but it is their most middle model that epitomizes the sport sedan segment so much. The 5 Series has been offering drivers looking for space, luxury and performance a prime vehicle of choice for 30 years. For 2011, the BMW 528i carries with it the same philosophy that the original 5er created way back in 1972. The question then becomes, can it compete in today’s modern world?
The current generation 5 Series, like the 7 Series we tested earlier this summer, happens to be a BMW that no longer carries an E designation on its chassis code. Coded F10, the sixth generation 5 Series took over BMW’s middle car duties from the Chris Bangle designed E60. Released in late 2009 as a 2010 model, the F10 shares a lot of outward appearance with the F01/02 7 Series. Design work was overseen by Adrian Van Hooydonk, who replaced the controversial Bangle as head of BMW design in 2009. Because of the lack of Bangle influence, the 2011 528i actually looks like a BMW. The ‘shark-nose’ front end features slightly slanted kidney grilles that are ever so retro. BMW hasn’t featured an acute-angled grille on a 5 Series since the second generation E28 from the 80’s. Much squarer than its predecessor, the F10 not only looks taller, but it looks classically German. This continues onto the side, where a handsome and muscular cut along the doors leads to the flat and angular rear. Looking at the 528i’s profile, a rake in the body is clearly noticeable and adds to the equation that finally equals a good-looking 5 Series.
In order to sample BMW’s latest autobahn hauler, we were issued a 2011 528i wrapped in a $550 Milano Beige Metallic suit. For the U.S. market, this is the base 5 Series and is optioned rightfully so. Included in the base $44,550 MSRP is dynamic stability control, rain-sensing wipers, power sunroof, iDrive vehicle control system and power adjustable seats. Options on our tester included the $2,200 sport package, $1,000 keyless entry, $1,000 dynamic damper control, $1,050 cold weather package, $400 USB media adaptor, and a $1,450 Venetian Beige Dakota leather interior. Our tester rolled out of Dingolfing, Germany carrying a final MSRP of $53,075 with destination charge.
Being a 528i, our 5 Series features an end of an era: a naturally aspirated straight six under the hood. BMW plans to phase out the 240 horsepower N52B30 and replace it with a turbocharged four cylinder, officially axing all naturally aspirated engines across the 5 Series model line. Considering that this engine has been in production since 2004, it makes sense but it will be sad to see it go. Displacing 3.0 liters and using dual variable valve timing (BMW calls it VANOS), it manages to produce 228 lb-ft of torque. The engine maybe old, but the transmission behind it is definitely not. The F10 is one of the first North American vehicles to use the newly built, ZF eight speed automatic. Combine the excess amount of gears with the 528i’s lower horsepower ratings and lighter weight, and an EPA estimated 32 mpg average can be achieved on the highway.
BMW has always managed to mask the size and weight of a 5 Series to a driver and the 2011 model is no different. Jumping behind the driver seat is an ergonomic treat as the driving position is set up almost perfectly. The steering wheel can be telescoped inward for drivers with long arms, the shifter is right where a right arm naturally falls, and the placement of the iDrive controller never distracts from driving. Once the shifter is unlocked and drive is selected, forward motion doesn’t get interrupted by the new ZF eight speed. Upshifts are unnoticeable unless the trans is cold and the shift points are relatively intuitive. If a driver wants to be lazy, the shifts coincide and when a driver’s right foot meets the firewall, it gets things done. Unfortunately, at lower speeds, the un-boosted straight six simply doesn’t have the guts to excite in a straight line. Blame can be put on the 528i’s low-for-its segment torque rating that begs the engine to be revved hard if speed junkies want to apply. Not all is lost however as the climb to redline is accompanied by the sweet song of an icon: BMW’s naturally aspirated straight six. And unlike the turbocharged unit found in other BMW’s, the low-end 528i never made too much noise inside the cabin.
Impromptu stoplight drag races may not be a 528i specialty, but things do get better once it makes it on the highway. This is where the new ZF really shines as it allows the lower output engine to work at its best revolutions. Building speed is actually amusing and holding a rapid pace is child’s play. The vault-like construction of the F10’s chassis helps instill a strong amount of confidence into a driver as high-speed stability never was an issue. What did make itself known was wind noise, which could be heard as low as 55 mph. And despite the ZF’s massive development, gear hunting did show its ugly head on full throttle downshifts, which could also get abrupt.
When the highway ends and the 528i pulls down an offramp, BMW’s historic dynamics take over and turn the outwardly big sedan into a lightweight sports car. The traditional, non-electric assisted steering is, without a doubt, perfect. It does everything a driver asks, never leaving any doubt on the table. The grip from the front, though limited by the all season rubber, is adequate enough to allow fast sweepers and quick 90 degree corners. The weight is right on and encourages a driver to enter their favorite corner faster and faster each day. It may be slow in a straight line, but the 528i is so lively when it comes across a turn that all is forgiven. There is so much confidence behind the wheel that if the BMW could talk, it would laugh at its driver for taking the highway onramp too slow and then say, “Turn around and try it again but this time, double the speed.”
With some of the best chassis dynamics offered in its segment, the BMW 528i should be a complete success, right? Wrong, as it leaves a massive question unanswered: why is it so expensive? For $53,075, certain amenities should be an obvious feature, especially on a car billed as a luxury vehicle. Sadly, even though there is a button on the iDrive control marked “NAV”, navigation is not present. Also on the list of items left off our 528i is satellite radio, rear back-up camera, powered trunk, and multi-disk CD player. Besides a start/stop button and the dynamic damper controls, all that was featured inside our tester was a non-premium stereo, which after only 10,000 miles (albeit journalist miles) was already showing signs of age. When shelling out over $50 grand for a car, there should be no worry about a stereo producing pops and crackles after only 10k miles.
The 528i isn’t the fastest car on the road nor is it the best equipped. It lacks so many features that can be found on similar competition for thousands of dollars less. A similarly sized Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec offers all the features on our tester plus the ones that should be on the BMW considering its MSRP. And if the two were to meet at a stoplight, there is no doubt that the driver of the BMW would be trying his best to see Korean tail lights. There simply is no justification for the 528i’s asking price other than the little blue and white roundels scattered throughout the car. Despite all of that, our tester managed to warm this driver’s spirits. On paper, it may look less competent than its competition, but in reality the 528i is pure pleasure when a road turns curvy. Its chassis offers so much confidence that lengthy detours were always taken over the faster, straight-line route home. The 2011 BMW 528i is a lot like a puppy who aims to please. It just so happens that its collar is made out of diamonds.