Buying Used: 2011-16 BMW 5 Series
The 5 Series is BMW’s executive-class jet, a machine that’s always been configured to fulfill the mission.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Sumptuous interior, quiet demeanor, four cylinder delivers the goods
- What’s Worst: Poor run-flat tire durability, sleepy electric steering, unrefined stop/start system
- Typical Used Prices: 2011 – $25,000; 2015 – $46,000
When Chris Bangle, BMW’s first American design chief, unveiled the all-new 7 Series luxury sedan in 2001, its ungainly rear end engendered the “Bangle Butt” idiom. It was not an expression of flattery.
Almost immediately, petitions mushroomed on the Internet urging BMW to have Bangle escorted out of the building. But then a curious thing happened: the E65 became the best-selling 7 Series of all time.
Bangle acknowledged that his designs didn’t always photograph well, suggesting the cars should be viewed in the metal before casting aspersions. Supported by BMW’s board of directors, Bangle led his design revolution unabated – until his sudden departure in 2009. Today he’s styling washing machines for South Korea’s Samsung.
BMW’s number two designer, Adrian van Hooydonk, was named Bangle’s successor, but the personnel change did little to squelch the complaints. Some have criticized van Hooydonk’s designs for being conservative and lacking the out-of-the-box thinking of Chris Bangle’s work.
Let’s just say Bimmer fans are not easy to please. A case in point is the sixth generation (F10) 5 Series sedan.
With its trademark twin-kidney grille and pronounced crease across its flanks, there’s little to distinguish the new 5, introduced in North America for the 2011 model year, from its stablemates, the smaller 3 and the larger 7 Series sedans. As one wag put it, it’s the same sausage cut to different lengths.
Speaking of which, the new 5 sedan gained 5 cm overall with a wheelbase 8 cm longer, although cabin space remained almost unaltered. Gone from the lineup was the slow-selling wagon, replaced by the curious 5 Series Gran Turismo, essentially a tallboy hatchback (think Honda Accord Crosstour).
Despite the liberal application of aluminum in the doors, hood, front fenders and trunk, the 5 Series sedan was almost 180 kg heavier than its predecessor. Painstaking engineering ensured 50/50 weight distribution was maintained over the front and rear axles.
The 5 shared much of its platform with the 7 Series. Abandoned were the ubiquitous MacPherson front struts for a multilink setup involving a dual ball-joint short-long arm design. The rear wheels were managed by a new five-link independent suspension borrowed from the 7. Most models received electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering, while newly optional “integral active steering” incorporated four-wheel steering.
Inside, the centre stack was once more angled towards the pilot, which enhanced the sense of an intimate cockpit designed for serious drivers. All occupants got to enjoy the upscale furnishings and rich details – a big improvement over the previous 5 – with a nod to the range-topping 7 Series. The front seats provided standard 10-way power adjustability.
BMW packed the new 5 with a cornucopia of electronic driver’s aids, such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, active cruise control, adaptive headlights, heads-up display, automatic parking and night vision with pedestrian detection. A new Top View feature employed six cameras around the vehicle body to assemble a 360-degree view, not unlike Infiniti’s system.
First and foremost, BMW is an engine maker and the 5 featured some of its best work. The iconic magnesium-and-aluminum 3.0-L inline six, updated with direct injection for a 10-hp bump (240 total), remained available in the base 528i in 2011. The 535i used a new single twin-scroll turbo in place of the previous twin-turbo setup that boosted the inline six, making the same 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. The top-drawer engine was the twin-turbo 4.4-L V8, good for 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of monster torque in the 550i.
All but the 528i were available with rear-or all-wheel drive. Gratifyingly, each could be had with a six-speed manual gearbox– Hallelujah! – as well as a new eight-speed automatic transmission supplied by ZF.
BMW retired the naturally aspirated inline six for 2012 and replaced it with a turbocharged four cylinder to deliver better fuel economy. The 2.0-L four produced 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque from 1250 rpm, bringing 30 additional lb-ft earlier. Like the others, the N20 engine is direct injected and uses Valvetronic variable-valve lift. The engine also got a standard stop/start system, shutting off automatically at every traffic stop.
BMW launched its vaunted M5 high-performance sedan for 2013, powered by a modified version of the twin-turbo V8, this time putting out 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of grunt, the first M5 to adopt forced induction. A Getrag seven-speed dual-clutch automatic directed the power to the rear wheels through an electronically controlled differential (a six-speed manual was also available).
The 2014 lineup welcomed the turbodiesel 535d sedan, which used a fortified version of the 3.0-L inline six and the eight-speed automatic transmission exclusively. All models received some minor exterior styling tweaks. The V8-powered 550i got a horsepower infusion, boosted to 443 horsepower.
The final year of the F10-gen 5 Series in 2016 saw every model receive enhanced USB and Bluetooth functionality, along with black carpeting and door trim to address longevity issues. All late models incorporated the xDrive all-wheel-drive system standard.
DRIVING THE FIVE
Long branded as the “ultimate driving machine,” BMW’s 5 Series sedans have been especially coveted for their impeccable manners and rewarding driving experience. However, that began to change with the F10 generation.
“I’ve had three BMWs before this one, and none of them were this soul-draining and boring. It lacks power, and handles more like a Cadillac than a BMW. The steering is far too soft, as well,” one disenchanted owner of a 2012 model posted online.
There are plenty of complaints regarding the car’s electric power steering system feeling too light and numb (noteworthy is the fact the M5 retained hydraulic steering). The power deficit is largely limited to the base car’s four-cylinder powerplant, which some Bimmer diehards refuse to accept under the hood.
It’s actually a little unfair. The turbocharged four can sprint to 97 km/h in 5.9 seconds, a half-second quicker than the old inline six could manage in the 2011 model (both automatic-equipped). The smaller engine’s higher torque makes itself felt in a good way.
The other engines do better, of course, in the portly 5. The turbocharged six in the 535i could muster 5.7 seconds to highway velocity saddled with the automatic and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive. The V8-powered 550i could do the deed in 4.8 seconds with the automatic (the stick was slower by 0.3 seconds), while the M5 dominated in a scorching 3.7 seconds.
The 5’s ride and handling are generally very good, although BMW’s affection for run-flat tires earned derision from owners. Among other issues, the tires are not very forgiving, especially in the optional 19-inch size, which can result in a fairly harsh ride. On the other hand, the car is incredibly hushed at speed.
BMW owners generally don’t fret over fuel efficiency, resigned to the fact they are driving performance-oriented cars that drink premium fuel. Yet some expressed genuine delight at how frugal the new turbo four engine has been in both city and country driving, typically averaging better than 40 mpg (7.0 L/100 km).
The 5 Series is BMW’s executive-class jet, a machine that’s always been configured to fulfill the mission. Owners generally rave about the car’s performance, posh appointments, advanced electronic gear and strong brand identity expressed in its styling (thank you, Herr van Hooydonk). There are, however, more than a few regrets.
Firstly, lots of owners despise BMW’s slavish devotion to run-flat tires. Run-flats eliminate the need to carry a spare tire and tools, excising 15 kg of dead weight and freeing up more space in what is a fairly meager trunk in the 5 sedan. But the run-flats – especially in the low-profile, 19-inch size – are unacceptably delicate.
“Already five run-flat tires have failed on me. Sidewalls splitting, effectively destroying the tire,” reported one owner of a 550i. Another counted receipts for 14 replacement run-flats, priced at more than $500 apiece.
Another common complaint involves the N20 turbocharged four-cylinder engine and its automatic stop/start system, which introduces an element of un-BMW-like coarseness.
“The start and stop is very rough, and passengers quickly notice it,” observed one owner. Another talks about the engine “shuddering” to life at every ignition; again, unbecoming in a $60,000+ model. Sometimes the car will hesitate during acceleration from a stoplight.
Beyond that, there are mechanical weaknesses that can mar the ownership experience. The previous N54 twin-turbo 3.0-L six cylinder was notorious for its spontaneous fuel pump failures. There is some evidence that the new N55 3.0-L six continues to exhibit issues with the fuel pump. Fuel injectors are also reputed to fail.
Engine overheating may reveal a faulty water pump. Other oft-mentioned malfunctions include drained batteries, jerky transmissions, faulty tail lamps and numerous electronic glitches. Broken cars often have to ride on a flatbed truck because the ZF automatic transmission will not allow the car to be towed.
The 2.0-L turbocharged four cylinder released in 2012 has seen failures related to the turbocharger and coolant system. The N20 and N26 oil filter housing is made of plastic and is reputed to fail, allowing oil to leak over the engine. The 4.4-L V8 has a propensity to consume oil.
In short, the 5 Series sedan and Gran Turismo hatchback are refined luxury jets that project the brand appropriately and awesomely. However, don’t assume German engineering is faultless. Post-warranty, you will pay handsomely to maintain that presence on the road.