A brilliant new engine makes the entry-level 5 Series perhaps the best 5 Series
There were number of compelling stories from Canada's car biz in 2011. The refinement of the subcompact car, electrics like the Nissan Leaf arriving and, at one point, Honda's Civic almost losing its top-seller spot to the upstart Hyundai Elantra.
One headline though, that swam below the surface all year, was the growing trend towards turbocharged four-cylinder engines for all walks of automakers, a move done to save fuel and meet tougher emissions standards. Admittedly, at the beginning of 2011, I was skeptical. By the end, I was a convert. The tipping point? BMW's new 528i.
On paper this just didn't sound like it would work: a 4,000 lb. midsize German luxury sedan with a four-cylinder engine. Yet, after spending two weeks braving the Christmas holidays with the $56,900 528i xDrive, I don't know why any BMW sport sedan shopper would ever buy a much more expensive $64,900 six-cylinder or $75,900 V8 5 Series - save of course the all-conquering, in-another-realm-entirely, M5.
What we have on-tap here is the same new direct injected and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder used in the new 3 Series. Its good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, mated to BMW's eight-speed "Steptronic" automatic transmission. To open the hood and look at the engine is almost comical, there's so much space around it. Like a five-year-old trying on his father's best suit. Yet, this is a mighty mouse motor, able to hustle this Bavarian rig with surprising thrust. Rarely were we left wanting for power.
Using BMW's Driving Dynamics Control system, with Comfort, Sport, Sport + and an economy-focused Eco Pro mode, the car's manners can be changed at the push of a button. It allows you to tune how aggressively the car accelerates, how hard it shifts gears, how it steers, how much of a safety net the stability control gives you and how firm the suspension is set.
I found myself setting the car to Sport to handle city driving and, err, on-ramps, then reverting to Eco Pro for the highway. My only disappointments were the weenie exhaust note and, more importantly, the fuel economy average of 10.5 L/100 km. A fine number sure, but no where near the 7.3 BMW Canada promises.
The kicker in all of this, as you probably sorted from the pricing above, is that the 528i is in fact, the base 5 Series, meaning you’re hopefully left with more coin to spend on BMW’s myriad options for this car (our tester hit $70,000 – wowzers – with kit like heated rear seats, navigation, blind spot detection, an auto-closing trunk and a sexy M Sport Package).
Kudo to Munich though, for not de-contenting this entry 5 Series. Wood, top quality materials and leather abound. Getting familiar with all the car’s systems (iDrive infotainment, multi-info display, side view cameras), is like learning to fly an F-16, but you soon get your pilots' license.
Our only complaint from the cockpit is visibility. The B-pillar's quite thick and the mirrors are quite small, so that blind spot detection option is a must in my books.
In the two weeks I drove the 528i XDrive, it was driven in just about any weather condition you can dream of for a late December in Canada. Outfitted with all-wheel drive and snow tires, the car felt as surefooted and confidence inspiring as any of its X3 or X5 SUV cousins could. The hump in the second row floor for the driveline does mean that three across the back's not that comfortable and the BMW's truck's a mixed bag. It's long and has this cool storage well to the right side I swear is for transporting wine bottles (don't ask…), but it's not a very tall space. We still managed to get all the X-Mas presents and luggage home in here, though.
I miss my heated steering wheel. Rather, I miss the refinement and technologies that comes with driving one of the world’s best premium cars. If you’ve ever wondered why the hell people pony up so much cash to commute in a BMW, test drive one of these and you’ll get it.
That said, it does seem everyone is looking to save on fuel bills these days and the 528i with it’s stellar turbo-four does that while still managing to be an engaging sport sedan. I wondering what Mercedes and Audi will reply with to fight this Bimmer?