Pros: World-class engines; cosseting ride; rich interior; full range of technology offerings; available Hybrid model.
Cons: Less athletic than previous 5 Series models; smallish back seat; ActiveHybrid 5's fuel economy disappoints.
What's New: The 550i's already potent V8 gets an injection of 45 horsepower and 30 lb-ft of torque for 2013.
If the 2013 BMW 5 Series were a politician, its sudden shift toward the center would be the talk of the town.
Previously, the 5 Series lived at the margins of mainstream luxury, offering up genuinely sporty handling with a premium veneer. It pleased die-hard BMW enthusiasts, but typical shoppers were left wondering why the steering was so heavy, and the ride so firm. Many of them opted for softer alternatives from Lexus and Mercedes.
So when BMW redesigned the 5 Series a couple years ago, their mantra was that age-old piece of wisdom: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." The current 5 Series is actually based on the top-dog 7 Series, so it has an ultra-smooth ride. The electric power steering system enables effortless steering inputs in ordinary driving. And there's even a 335-hp Active Hybrid 5 sedan that competes against the previously unrivaled Lexus GS 450h.
Not surprisingly, some of the 5 Series' former athleticism got lost in translation. That's what happens when you use a big car like the 7 Series as a foundation. While the so-called 5er is still quite capable by the numbers, it's more of a high-speed cruiser now than a back road bomber.
But for most shoppers in this segment, that's exactly as it should be. The 2013 5 Series has become perhaps the most accomplished centrist among midsize luxury sedans, offering something for just about everyone.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 BMW 5 Series sedan is offered in four basic trim levels: 4-cylinder 528i, 6-cylinder 535i, 8-cylinder 550i and ActiveHybrid 5. The high-performance M5 is reviewed separately.
The 528i sedan comes standard with the turbocharged inline-4 engine with auto stop/start to save fuel; 17-in alloy wheels; adaptive Xenon headlamps; fog lights; an electronic limited-slip differential; keyless entry with push-button ignition; leatherette upholstery; 10-way power front seats with lumbar support and driver memory; a power tilt/telescopic steering wheel; dual-zone automatic climate control; iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity; a 10-speaker audio system; and the iDrive infotainment system with a central display screen.
The 535i sedan adds a turbocharged inline-6, 18-in wheels, adaptive Xenon headlamps, a sunroof, and leather upholstery and door trim. The 550i tacks on a twin-turbo V8; front and rear parking sensors; a rearview camera; 18-way Multi-contour power front seats with driver and passenger memory; and a hard-drive-based navigation system.
The ActiveHybrid 5 is essentially a 535i with an electric propulsion system added to the turbo inline-6, though it also comes standard with the navigation system and 4-zone climate control with individual temperature settings.
Most of the higher trims' standard features are available as options on lower trims. There are also numerous packages and a la carte options, including various performance enhancements, dual rear video screens and a 16-speaker, 600-watt premium audio system.
In our interior evaluation, we noted that even the standard 10-way power front seats are among the best chairs you'll find at this price. For our money, though, it's absolutely worth stepping up to the 18-way Multi-contour seats, as they're basically BMW's shot at building the world's best places to sit.
Interior materials are uniformly rich, and the restrained dashboard design--including the driver-canted center stack--is straight out of the 7 Series' playbook. The standard iDrive screen is rather small and square; for the full wide-screen experience, you'll want to step up to the navigation system, which brings a 10.2-in rectangular screen with excellent color and clarity.
The 5 Series might be based on the 7 Series, but its back seat is considerably less accommodating. If you're looking for a big difference between the two models, here it is. Don't get us wrong--adults can still fit in the back row just fine. The bench is on the low side, though, and legroom isn't as ample as you might expect based on the car's substantial dimensions.
The trunk officially measures 14 cu-ft, which is a low number for a mid-size sedan, but in our experience it's a usefully deep cargo bay.
BMW has made an effort in recent years to ramp up standard equipment offerings, and the 528i is a case in point. Seriously, look at all the features we listed above. What more do you need?
Well, we'll tell you what you need: the optional navigation system, which replaces the small standard iDrive display with a beautiful 10.2-in wide-screen. It's more than just a pretty face, as iDrive has improved dramatically from its controversial early years, featuring a vastly better menu structure and numerous shortcut buttons next to the controller knob. Furthermore, iDrive is now hard-drive based, which gives you higher processing speeds and the fringe benefit of digital music storage.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The 528i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. A highly refined 8-speed automatic is the only transmission. This motor makes more power than BMW's letting on, and we can confirm that it feels surprisingly strong. It also gets an impressive 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, or 22/33 mpg with xDrive all-wheel drive.
Next up is the 535i, which boasts a turbocharged inline-6 rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. There's serious acceleration here, and the motor is almost as relaxed at redline as it is at idle. Fuel economy is still strong at 20/30 mpg with either the 8-speed automatic or the standard transmission, a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is available on the 535i but only with the automatic. Expect fuel economy to suffer slightly.
For true power mongers, the 550i serves up a twin-turbocharged, 4.4-liter V8 that cranks out 445 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. The same engine does duty in the executive-class 750i sedan. Incredible acceleration from any speed is the name of the game here; you have to experience it to believe it. Fuel economy predictably plummets to 17/25 mpg with the 8-speed automatic and 15/22 with the 6-speed manual (a very rare offering among 8-cylinder luxury sedans). The all-wheel-drive 550i gets 16/24 mpg with its mandatory 8-speed automatic.
As for the ActiveHybrid 5, it pairs the turbocharged inline-6 with an electric-drive system and the 8-speed automatic for a total system output of 335 hp. A true dual-mode hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 5 can accelerate solely on electric power up to 37 mph, and it will coast in electric-only mode at speeds up to 100 mph. Performance is on par with the less-powerful 535i due to the Hybrid's increased weight, and fuel economy is rather disappointing for a hybrid at 23/30 mpg.
The 5 Series comes with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side curtain). The available BMW Assist Safety Plan adds an extensive collection of emergency roadside services.
In government crash tests, the current 5 Series received a perfect five stars overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 5 Series its highest rating of Good in all categories.
There will be those who step into the 2013 5 Series expecting it to be a nimble sport sedan like the BMWs of yore. Well, it's not, and people should probably get over it. The 5 Series has evolved into a swift, supple, silent sedan, an unflappable touring car that gives the driver a sense of complete confidence and control. This is still the ultimate driving machine; it's just a different breed now.
Other Cars to Consider
Audi A6: We're referring specifically to the supercharged 3.0T model, which can give any 5 Series a run for its money, particularly in the fun-to-drive department. There's also the S6 sedan, with its twin-turbocharged V8, a direct 550i competitor.
Mercedes-Benz E-Class: The E350 sedan has a strong, naturally aspirated V6 that some may prefer to BMW's turbocharged options. The E550 sports a twin-turbocharged V8 aimed squarely at the 550i.
Lexus GS: The new GS reminds us a lot of the previous 5 Series. Its standard V6 is a beauty, and there's an available Hybrid model that does battle with the ActiveHybrid 5.
We'd go whole-hog and get the 550i. We know the other engines sound plenty capable, but that twin-turbo V8 is just something else, the way it picks you up and hurls you down the road.