2014 BMW 5 Series Driving Impressions

All BMW 5 Series sedans are chic, crisp and distinguished for their aggressive styling and driving character. For the most demanding sporting driver, they are big and heavy, but their excellent dynamics and agility make them assertively proactive and manageable when faced with the necessity of an emergency avoidance maneuver, making them excellent family sedans.

The BMW 528i, 535i and 550i models are all highly competent and balanced, with exceptional poise and pace. The BMW 550i, with its V8 engine, is the most nose heavy, with a 52.5/47.5 percent front-rear weight distribution; the 535i with its I6 comes in at 50.9/49.1 percent; and the 528i scores 49.4/50.6 percent with its lighter engine. So it's no surprise that the 528i handles the best. The others make up for the difference with more power.

We found the BMW 535i and 550i to be controllable at high levels of acceleration, stopping and cornering on the racetrack. But the BMW 528i displayed exemplary quickness and agility, which was also noticeable on the street.

The 535d is powerful, smooth and capable. As expected from a diesel engine, it provides plenty of low-end thrust. We took our 535d on a road trip from Los Angeles to Palm Springs, and tackled the hills between the Inland Empire and the desert with ease, passing scores of other vehicles slogging up the steep inclines. Compared to old diesel vehicles, noise and vibration from the 535i is much reduced, though we did notice its distinctive rumble around town at low speeds, and recognized its unmistakable sound from around the block when it was delivered by the valet.

Another advantage to the 535d is its marvelous range. We got about 500 miles on a single tank, and that was mostly while driving with a heavy foot in Sport mode. EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2014 BMW 535d rear-wheel-drive model are 26/38 mpg City/Highway and 30 mpg Combined. During our excursion, our mileage, according to the trip computer, ranged from 27 mpg to 31 mpg, averaging 30.0 mpg for our 500-mile trek.

All 5 Series models, with the exception of the M5, use an 8-speed automatic transmission. Because the top two gears are overdrives, keeping freeway revs down, the fuel mileage is helped.

Steering on the 5 Series cars is electronic and uses variable ratio tuning, which makes it comfortable and stable on highways and straightaways, yet more precise and responsive around corners and for low-speed maneuvering. Though some bemoan the changeover from the hydraulic system once used on BMWs, we find the current steering setup seamless and precise.

To heighten controllability and give the driver an improved platform, available dynamic damping control constantly adjusts shock rates to match the current road surface. The system is so fast that when a front wheel hits a pothole at highway speed, the rear shock absorber will be prepared for it before the pothole arrives. In addition, active roll stabilization curtails body roll in hard cornering, giving the driver heightened command. BMW's advanced electronics work well. Breaking with BMW practice, the front suspension eschews struts in favor of multi-link arms.

The latest BMW brake system interacts with the other electronic stability control systems, pre-setting the brakes in heavy braking, drying the brakes in wet driving, and compensating for brake fade in vigorous driving. The brakes also have a hybrid-like regenerative-energy feature; they capture electric energy generated during braking and send electricity to the battery. This reduces the net amount of time that the engine must drive the alternator producing charge. This cuts the amount of time the engine must drive the alternator belt, heightening fuel efficiency.

The 5 Series use BMW's automatic Stop/Start system, which stops the engine when the car is not in motion to conserve fuel. We don't care for this system because of its abruptness. It engages quickly, just after a few seconds of idle, and will fire the ignition with just the slightest lift of the brake pedal. We question how much fuel it actually saves; it seems more about earning government credits than actually benefitting the owner.

The M5 is totally different than the other 5 Series models. It starts with the twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8 engine and the same frame, but after that the parts are something else. Electronically controlled dampers, M-specific Servotronic steering, a stability control system with M Dynamic Mode, active limited-slip differential, high-performance compound brakes, suspension structure and sub-frame mods, and more.

At Laguna Seca, a winding road racing circuit near Monterey, California, we found the M5's 560 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque available over an amazingly wide power band, from 1500 to 5750 rpm. The BMW M5 accelerates from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph, We drove test cars with both the 6-speed manual transmission and 7-speed twin clutch with paddle shifters. The automated manual is faster, but those who like rowing through the gears old-school-style will be happy the M5 is still available in a stick.

Suspension, throttle and steering quickness can be individually set in Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus modes. The instrument panel, exclusive to M5, shows what modes you're in. There is flexibility and range in the modes, and that's a good thing.

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