2011 BMW 5-Series Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 14, 2011

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2011 BMW 5-Series Buying Advice

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is the best premium midsize car for you if you want a performance benchmark that’s rediscovered its styling mojo.

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is the first fully redesigned version of this highly desirable sedan since 2004. The sixth-generation 5-Series is slightly larger than the 2004-2010 edition, and it’s more powerful yet more fuel-efficient. Perhaps most important to fine-car lovers everywhere, it’s less alienating in appearance. It needs all that to reassert itself against such gems as the recently revised Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the all-new 2011 Infiniti M.

Should you buy the 2011 BMW 5-Series or wait for the 2012 BMW 5-Series? Buy the 2011 BMW 5-Series unless you’re interested in a diesel or hybrid-powered 5-Series, both of which are expected for model-year 2012. By choosing the 2011 model you’ll beat the inevitable price increase and own the newest generation in its first model year while it’s still a head-turner. The 2011 redesign should carry the 5-Series well past mid-decade before undergoing its next major makeover.

2011 BMW 5-Series Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 BMW 5-Series sedan incorporates visual cues from the two cars that sandwich it in this German automaker’s lineup. From the larger 7-Series flagship sedan it borrows a bold presentation of BMW’s traditional twin-kidney grille, plus headlights alluringly integrated with the hood and front fenders. From the smaller BMW 3-Series, it sponges much of its body-side styling, including a full-length character line at door-handle level. The new tail gracefully blends influences from both cars.

The styling of the 2011 BMW 5-Series sedan is central to its story because it helps close an unpleasant chapter in BMW’s proud history. That would be the 1992-2009 reign of former designer Chris Bangle, whose taste dictated severe “flame surfaced” body creases, beetle-browed headlamps, and a bustled trunk derisively tagged the “Bangle butt.” In fairness, that butt proved influential: virtually every luxury sedan now mimics it. And BMW’s post-Bangle cars retain some of his favored proportions. But the latest Z4 roadster and the 2011 7-Series sedans, and now the 2011 5-Series and the upcoming 2013 3-Series, all return to the swept-back lines and smoother forms that defined classic, pre-Bangle BMWs.

Size-wise, the 2011 5-Series sedan grows by 1.2 inches in overall length and by a half inch in width compared to the fifth-generation 5-Series; the roofline is fractionally lower, too. A new substructure with roots in 7-Series engineering lengthens the 2011 5-Series’ wheelbase by a significant 3.2 inches. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and a prime determinate in how a car looks and how much room it has for passengers.

The 2011 5-Series sedan’s 116.9-inch wheelbase is the longest in its competitive set and helps minimize the front and rear sheetmetal overhangs – a look essential to a BMW’s sporting character. Compared to the previous 5-Series, the 2011 car’s track – the width between wheels on the same axle – increases a stability-enhancing 1.7 inches in front and 1.8 in the rear. Cabin width is up as well, but rear legroom increases less than an inch, despite the longer wheelbase.

Of note, the 5-Series station wagon has effectively replaced in the U.S. lineup by the 2011 BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo. This wagon-like model is based on the 5-Series sedan. It comes in 535i and 550i versions and is mechanically similar to the equivalent 5-Series sedans. The Gran Turismo, however, is longer and taller than the sedan and sports a coupe-like roofline and an unusual hatchback design that incorporates a small trunk door within the main hatch.  
The 2011 BMW 5-Series is offered in three models, named loosely for their engines: the 528i, 535i, and 550i.

Mechanical: The BMW 5-Series has always been high on any list of the world’s best-mannered sedans, frequently qualifying as the standard by which others are measured. BMW contends the 2011 model achieves new levels of ride and handling. It begins with a steadfast commitment to a near-50/50 front/rear weight balance. Aiding that goal is the car’s rear-wheel drive layout, which distributes the mass of the drivetrain along the length of the car instead of concentrating it in the nose, as do front-wheel-drive designs.

Rear-drive also frees the front tires to do nothing but steer but it isn’t optimal for slippery-surface traction. So BMW again offers the 5-Series with optional all-wheel drive (AWD) in all models. It’s a popular feature with BMW buyers in the snow belt. AWD versions are designated the 2011 BMW 528i xDrive, 535i xDrive, and 550i xDrive.

Strong, smooth power also is part of the BMW formula. To that end, 2011 BMW 528i comes with a 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder that’s rated at 240 horsepower, an increase of 10 horsepower over the 2010 528i. Torque – the force that accounts for the lion’s share of the sensation of acceleration – is 238 pound-feet.

The 2011 BMW 5-Series 535i uses a turbocharged 3.0 inline six rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.

The BMW 550i model retains a V-8 but the 2011 version has a twin-turbo 4.4-liter that generates 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque in place a naturally aspirated 4.8-liter that had 360 horsepower and 360 pound-feet.

BMW puts an exclamation point on the sporting identity of the 5-Series by making it one of the only premium sedans available with a manual transmission, though it’s only offered on the rear-drive versions of the 535i and 550i sedans. Available as a no-cost option on those models and standard elsewhere in the 2011 5-Series line is a new eight-speed automatic transmission that replaces the former six-speed automatic. Two extra cruising gears help contribute to a quieter ride, improved fuel economy, and enhanced response over the former six-speed version. A “sport” version with steering-wheel paddle shifters for manual operation is optionally offered.

The all-independent suspension continues to employ weight-saving aluminum and features a new multi-link system up front. A bundle of standard and optional adjustments can fine-tune suspension stiffness to suit road conditions and driving preference and bring into play a variety of countermeasures to body lean, tail slides, and nose plow. The 2011 5-Series borrows from the 7-Series BMW’s Integral Active Steering system. This steers the rear wheels counter to the fronts below 37 mph to increase maneuverability and steers them in sync above that to sharpen handling.

Note that BMW has given the 5-Series’ high-performance M5 sedan variant the year off. It’s likely to return for model-year 2012 with a 570-horsepower twin-turbocharged V-8 in place of the retired – but far from retiring -- version’s 500-horsepower V-10.

Features: The 2011 BMW 5-Series is aimed at well-heeled buyers comfortable with cutting-edge technology. Thus, the company’s iDrive central controller returns to govern most navigation and audio functions, even to supervise suspension and climate settings. It’s standard on all 2011 5-Series models. This controversial bit of gear – basically a center-console mouse whose inputs display on a dashboard screen – came into the world with the 2002 7-Series, the first Bangle-designed BMW. It’s been simplified over the years but continues to confound the unpracticed. Still, like the Bangle Butt, iDrive is an innovation that’s been copied, with varying success, by virtually every other luxury carmaker.

The dashboard in the 2011 5-Series takes its design cues from the clean lines of modern furniture. All 2011 5-Series sedans come with an instrument-panel screen that displays navigation and systems information; it’s available in a standard 7-inch size or as an impressive 10.2-inch wide-aspect monitor. Also available is a new rearview camera that adds top and side-view perspectives.

Among other features new to the 5-Series is a Parking Assistant parallel-parking option that automatically backs the car into a curbside spot. Rivals beat BMW to market with this feature, but only BMW’s can determine if the target parking spot is large enough while the 5-Series cruises by at up to 22 mph.

Also available are such driver aids as lane-departure warning that vibrates the steering wheel if the tires are inadvertently crossing highway lane markers; head-up projection of key gauges onto the windshield in the driver’s line of sight; and an infrared night-vision camera that detects people and animals up to 300 feet away and displays their ghostly image on the navigation screen.

2011 BMW 5-Series Prices back to top

Base-price range for the 2011 BMW 5-Series is $45,425-$62,875. That represents a rare retreat on pricing, with all but one model in the lineup coming in less than its model-year 2010 counterpart. The reductions range from $900-$1,650. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; BMW’s fee for the 2011 5-Series is $875.)

Base price for the 2011 BMW 528i with rear-wheel drive is $45,425. That’s a $1,400 dip from the comparable 2010 528i, which started at $46,825. The 2011 BMW 528i xDrive starts at $49,125. Both the rear- and all-wheel-drive 528i models come with the eight-speed automatic transmission. The 528i xDrive is the only 2011 5-Series model with a higher base price than its 2010 equivalent, which started at $48,925.

Base price for the 2011 BMW 535i with rear-wheel drive and either the manual or automatic transmission is $50,475, a $1,650 drop from model-year 2010. The 2011 BMW 535i xDrive comes with the eight-speed automatic and starts at $52,775.

The 2011 BMW 550i has a base price of $60,575. It comes with either the manual or automatic transmission at no extra cost and is priced $900 below its model-2010 counterpart.  The 2011 BMW 550i xDrive starts at $62,875. BMW did not offer an all-wheel-drive version of the 550i for model-year 2010.

Choosing a “sport” version of the eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters costs an additional $500, and adding other options can drive up the cost of a 2011 BMW 5-Series considerably.

For example, the Convenience Package that includes keyless pushbutton entry and ignition, a power trunklid, and automatic soft-close doors costs $1,700. The Driver Assistance Package bundles automatic high-beam headlamps, the lane-departure warning system, blind-spot detection, and the Parking Assistant feature for $1,750.

The Cold Weather Package contains heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated headlamp washers for $1,050. The $6,500 M Sport Package includes assorted performance and trim upgrades along with multi-contour front seats and 19-inch wheels and tires. A rear-view camera is priced at $400, with the side/top view camera costing $800.

With the model-year 2011 price adjustments, BMW has brought the 5-Series more in line with comparable versions of key competitors. The 2011 5-Series of course remains an expensive car to buy and to service, however, but its tariffs are tempered by free maintenance for the duration of the bumper-to-bumper warranty. IN effect for the 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty period, the BMW Ultimate Service includes no-cost oil and brake-fluid changes, and free replacement of ware items such as wiper blades, brake pads and discs, and engine drive belts.

2011 BMW 5-Series Fuel Economy back to top

Improved powertrain efficiency has helped BMW increase fuel-economy ratings for the 2011 5-Series vs. the 2010 5-Series. Replacing a six-speed automatic transmission with an eight-speed and advances in engine technology help offset the additional horsepower and weight gain associated with the redesigned car’s larger structure.

The 2011 BMW 528i with its standard automatic transmission is rated 22/32 mpg city/highway, which leads the pack among non-hybrid midsize premium sedans.

The 2011 BMW 535i is rated 19/28 mpg with manual transmission and 20/30 with automatic. The 2011 535i xDrive is rated at 19/29 mpg.

The V-8 powered 2011 BMW 550i is rated 15/22 mpg with manual transmission and 17/25 with automatic. The 2011 BMW 550 xDrive is rated at 16/24.

BMW requires premium-octane gas for all 5-Series models.

2011 BMW 5-Series Release Date back to top

The 2011 BMW 5-Series models appeared in showrooms starting in spring 2010.

What's next for the 2011 BMW 5-Series back to top

While the basic BMW 5-Series structure is set until at least model-year 2015 or 2016, expect lots of movement on the powertrain front in the meantime, including the arrival of a diesel-engine 5-Series, probably coming during calendar 2011 as a 2012 model. It would seem likely that a diesel 5-Series would carry over the 3-Series 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder turbodiesel engine. In the 2011 3-Series it delivers 265 horsepower and an impressive 425 pound-feet of torque with ratings of 23/26 mpg city/highway. Following the established BMW model nomenclature it would likely be called the 535d.

Expect the high-performance M5 model to rejoin the line during calendar year 2011, probably as a 2012 model. To compliment a passel of suspension, tire, brake, and transmission upgrades, the new M5 is expected to use the 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 found in the BMW X5 M and X6 M crossover SUVs, but tuned for about 45 additional horsepower for a total of around 600. By comparison, the previous-generation M5 packed a 500-horsepower V-10.

Also for model-year 2012, expect the 5-Series line’s first gas-electric hybrid, likely to be called the ActiveHybrid 5. Unlike the ActiveHybrid 7 model in the BMW 7-Series lineup, which pairs a V-8 with an electric motor for a net 455 horsepower, expect the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid5 to team a 3.0-liter gas six-cylinder engine with an electric motor for around 350 horsepower net. BMW’s ActiveHybrid 7 uses the electric motor to assist the gas engine rather than as a stand-alone source of propulsion. But the ActiveHybrid 5 will likely employ technology that allows the car to run on gas or electricity or a combination of the two. It will not be a plug-in hybrid. Anticipate roughly a 15 percent fuel-economy advantage over the 535i, though pricing will be closer to the 550i.

Chances are slim the sixth-generation 5-Series will return a station wagon body style to the U.S. lineup. The fifth-generation wagon was a slow seller in American, and the larger, more versatile BMW 5-Series Gran Turismo is now filling its role, though it’s off to a snail’s-pace sales start.

2011 BMW 5-Series Competition back to top

2011 Audi A6: Roomy, classy, solid, and sophisticated, Audi’s midsize sedans and wagons have lured some 5-Series intenders put off by the BMW’s past styling excesses. They discovered a lineup thoroughly refreshed for model-year 2009 in which the vast majority of models come with Audi’s quattro AWD. The range includes a 265-horsepower 3.2-lirer V-6 (rated 21/30 mpg) and a supercharged 300-horse 3.0-liter V-6 (18/26). The high-performance S6 sedan has 435-horsepower V-10, but at 14/21 mpg gets slapped with a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. Like all Audis, cabin décor is a real delight. Base price range is $46,075-$78,275.  The A6 is due a significant re-engineering for model-year 2012 with revised styling and likely introduction of a gas-electric hybrid version.

2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class: Redesigned for model-year 2010 and another paragon of old-world values with a dash of unexpected sportiness. This line of rear- and all-wheel-drive sedans, wagons, coupes, and convertibles features peerless engineering and unyielding build quality. Skews a bit more conservative than the others in this grouping, but there’s nothing conformist about the performance of the 518 horsepower E63 station wagon at some $100,000. It tops a lineup that otherwise ranges from $50,275-$60,475 and includes E350 gas and E350 BlueTec turbodiesel V-6 models and the 382-horsepower V-8 E550. All use a seven-speed automatic and fuel economy is 17/24 with the V-6, 15/23 with the V-8, 22/33 with the diesel, and just 13/20 for the E63 sedan and wagon.     

2011 Infiniti M: You could also easily group the Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, and even the Cadillac CTS sedans among 2011 BMW 5-Series competitors. But we’ll go with the redesigned 2011 Infiniti M sedan because it’s sportier than the Lexus, offers AWD where the XF doesn’t, and, well, has a measure of import cachet Cadillac is still chasing. Craftily restyled and significantly more powerful than the outgoing first-generation M, these sedans from Nissan’s premium division are fast, comprehensively equipped, and packed with electronic driver aids. But the driving experience is slightly artificial compared to the Europeans in this grouping. The M37 has a 330-horsepower V-6 and rates 18/26 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 17/24 with AWD. It starts at $47,925 M56 has a 420-horsepower V-8 and rates 16/25 with front-drive, 16/23 with AWD. It’s priced from $61,825. Add about $2,400 for the AWD M37x and M56x models. Due for model-year 2012 is a gas-electric hybrid version called the M35h.

2011 BMW 5-Series Next Steps