2011 BMW 535d Sedan Review and Road Test

By Jonathan Spira on 10 April 2011
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When a model is responsible for 50% of your company’s profit – and you are replacing it with a brand new vehicle – you have to get it right.  BMW has been making the 5 Series sedan since 1972 when the line replaced the New Six (the 2500/2800/Bavaria models).

The sixth generation 2011 5 Series is that replacement and, one year after its launch, it’s clear that BMW not only got it right but excelled in all the right places.

The basic 5 Series configuration hasn’t changed a lot since 1972: namely, front engine, rear-wheel drive, 50-50 weight balance, a good mixture of ride comfort and handling, and room for four adults with luggage.  Since its launch, more than 5.5 million of the 5er Series have been sold.

Today, BMW is having trouble keeping up with the demand for the 5er, which lost the unusual styling of its polarizing predecessor and pays homage to the 5er Series models that preceded it.  As a result, the new 5er looks more like a part of the BMW family (and quite similar to the new 7er Series) than its predecessor ever did.

Buyers in the U.S. currently have a choice of three gasoline-powered 5 Series models: the 528i, the 535i, and the 550i.  In Europe, customers get a choice of six petrol and five diesel models.  A diesel model is planned for the U.S. but its arrival date is uncertain.

Over the past year, we’ve had the opportunity to drive several 5ers including (in order of appearance) the 530d, the 535i GT, the 550i, the 535d Touring (wagon) , and, most recently, the 535d Sedan.  When a diesel 5er finally arrives on these shores, it will have been worth waiting for.

The BMW 535d is aggressively elegant.  To quote BMW chief designer Adrian von Hooydonk, “The 5-series is designed to express autobahn speed even when standing still.” The multiple contours on the sculpted hood and sides add a layer of depth not present in earlier models.  People who walked over to look at the car puzzled over the hood, trying to discern if it were indeed concave or convex (it’s both).

The interior mirrors the layout of the new 7er, with richer materials and softer, supple leather.  After spending several days in the front seats, I am more convinced than ever that BMW’s Comfort Seats are the best in the industry.  In the rear, passengers benefit from a few extra inches thanks to a three-inch (7.6 cm) increase in the wheelbase.

With the new 5er, BMW has returned to a driver-oriented cockpit (something first abandoned in the previous generation 5er). As a result, cabin ergonomics are just perfect.  Everything – think switches, knobs, levers, buttons – is placed exactly where the driver needs it to be – a significant advantage when driving at speeds in excess of 160 km/h (100 mph) on an Autobahn.  While there are some differences, the dash looks as if it came directly from the 7er.

Indeed, the 5er Series has the 7er’s high-resolution 10.2” Central Information Display, which doesn’t wash out in direct sunlight.  The fourth-generation iDrive system, which keeps getting better, not only has an easy-to-use and intuitive menu structure and an ergonomic controller knob, but new features and functionality as well.

The newest functionality adds one-shot destination voice entry for navi (you can say the entire address without pausing – and the system actually understands it), voice control for iPod, iPod Out, and Bluetooth Mobile Office.

Apple’s iPod Out system, which BMW is the first automaker to support, allows drivers to see music information (including categorization and album art) exactly as the information would appear on an iPod.  This includes support for Apple’s Genius recommendation system, as well as custom playlists.

Bluetooth Mobile Office provides integration with supported smartphones, allowing calendar and tasks to be displayed. The car will read e-mails, text messages, calendar entries, and notes out loud using built-in text-to-speech technology.  I have to admit that I had forgotten about this feature until the 535d displayed a new message icon on the CID and it turned out to be new text and e-mail messages on my BlackBerry Torch.

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