BMW 535i Steptronic (2010) Driving Impression

BMW 5 Series 2010

A new BMW 5 Series is always something of an event. This BMW 535i model performs a very important role in the BMW line-up, as it is the car that most 3-Series drivers aspire to own, and also one which most 7-Series drivers will quite comfortably buy down to. It is also regularly used as the launch pad for new ideas and technologies, and sets the tone for the generation of BMW models to follow it. The previous model prioritised dynamics, performance and an “interesting” design. Does the new model continue the theme, or present a change of direction?

BMW 535i is Bigger and “Softer”

The new 5 Series has grown significantly and, in the metal, looks a lot bigger than its predecessor. This is partly due to it being based on the 7 Series’s platform, but also because the previous car was often criticised for being a bit tight in the rear. Also, new E-Class has grown, too… In response, the BMW 535i now measures 4 899 mm in length and sports a very impressive 2 968 mm wheelbase which really should address that rear seat legroom issue. The boot, too, is vast at 520 L. But what of the looks? The curves are certainly softer and the width very apparent, especially from the rear. It’s not an unattractive car, but some onlookers thought it was a bit too “conservative” and generic.

As ever, BMW, offers a vast number of optional extras, including bigger wheels and this car’s body looks immeasurably sportier on 19-inch alloys, rather than the standard 18's. Swing open the weighty doors and you’re greeted with a facia that wouldn’t look out of place in the far more expensive 7-Series. Again, the use of horizontal lines accentuate the car’s width, but the clever use of satin silver trim pieces and high-tech controls (pistol-grip gearlever, iDrive) and displays at least make the facia interesting to look at, too. The instruments look minimalistic in the traditional BMW fashion, but are very high-tech upon closer inspection.

As ever, BMW has paid particular attention to driver comfort. The leather-wrapped steering wheel boasts a nice thick rim, and the column is rake and reach adjustable. There are also gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel, and that pistol-grip gearlever falls easily to hand. The front seats feature partial electric adjustment and offer excellent support and lateral bolstering. As is the case with most BMWs, the driver’s seat can be adjusted very low down, which is preferable for enthusiastic drivers. The news is also good in the rear, where the stretched dimensions have indeed liberated a lot more space for knees.

Standard features include climate control, auto lights/wipers, radio/CD player, audio/phone remote controls, front and rear park assist, cruise control and sumptuous leather upholstery. The safety package boasts no fewer than eight airbags and BMW’s much-admired DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) system.

Iron fist, velvet glove

Under the BMW 535i long and contoured bonnet lies one of the brand’s (and the world’s) best engines, a turbocharged, 3,0-litre straight-six that punches out 225 kW and 400 Nm of torque, the latter being available from 1 200 to 5 000 rpm. Mated with the company’s excellent new eight-speed automatic transmission, this engine powers the near 1,8-tonne 535i to a 250 km/h top speed and from rest to 100 km/h in only 6,1 seconds. But besides obvious performance, it also has three other talents. Firstly, it remains impressively smooth and refined, no matter what the engine speed is. Secondly, the torque spread endows it with ferocious overtaking punch that squeezes occupants’ backs into those thick seatbacks. And, last but not least, it is perhaps also the most frugal engine in its segment, with a consumption of around 9 L/100 km being achievable if driven gingerly.

A core trait of the 5 Series, through all its model types, has been class-leading dynamics – the 5 Series has always set the dynamic benchmark. Concerns that the extra weight, bulk and electronic gadgetry would erode some of the driver enjoyment are immediately dispelled when the BMW 535i starts being driven with vigour. Yes, the ride is no longer as unyielding at low speeds, but this doesn’t mean it’s become too soft for the corners. BMW’s experience with RunFlat tyres is starting to pay off, and the newcomer manages to find an exquisite balance between luxury car ride comfort, and entertaining handling. In a sense, then, it can be argued that the 5 Series now manages to offer Mercedes-like ride qualities, but without sacrificing any of its sporting abilities. Quite an achievement…

BMW 535i - Verdict

At first glance it looks like BMW has effected a radical change of direction with the new 5 Series. It is bigger, more comfort-oriented and more electrically assisted than ever before. In reality, however, BMW has simply addressed the predecessor’s faults (rear space, ride comfort) but it has managed to do so without really taking away anything from what has always made the 5 Series a class leader. But, a word of caution… The standard specification of the BMW 535i will please most, but there are lots of options to choose from. Research has shown that the cost of such extras is hardly ever recouped upon resale. Tick those boxes carefully…

We like:

• Spacious cabin • Cabin comfort • Improved ride • Dynamic ability • Wonderful engine

We don’t like:

• Pricey options

Fast Facts:

Engine: 3,0-litre, six-cylinder, turbopetrol Power: 225 kW @ 5 800 rpm Torque: 400 Nm @ 1 200-5 000 rpm Transmission: eight-speed automatic Wheels: 18-inch alloy Top speed: 250 km/h 0-100 km/h: 6,1 seconds Fuel economy: 8,4 litres/100 km


Also consider:

Mercedes-Benz E350 7G-tronic: A very comfortable, typically conservative Mercedes offering. Like the BMW 535i, you’ll need to specify some optional extras, but that’s not the E350’s biggest problem – the engine is comprehensively outclassed by the unit in the BMW 535i.

Audi A6 3,0T FSI quattro Tiptronic: The current A6 is nearing the end of its product life cycle, but remains a solid choice for more conservative folk. Its design may no longer be cutting edge, but the engine is bang up to date, and the standard specification far more generous than the BMW 535i.

Lexus GS450h SE: This petrol/electric hybrid offers comparable power and is similarly priced to the BMW 53i. The GS is often underrated, offering exceptional build quality, a spacious, feature-rich cabin, and superb ride comfort. An interesting alternative.