If the 2014 BMW 5 Series were a politician, its sudden shift toward the center would be the talk of the town.
Previous versions of the 5 Series lived at the margins of mainstream luxury, offering up genuinely sporty handling with a premium veneer. They pleased die-hard BMW enthusiasts, but typical shoppers were left wondering why the steering was so heavy and the ride so firm. Many buyers opted for softer alternatives from Lexus and Mercedes instead.
Accordingly, when BMW designed the current 5 Series, 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 input in ordinary driving. And there's even a 335-horsepower Active Hybrid 5 sedan that competes against the previously unrivaled Lexus GS 450h.
Not surprisingly, some of the 5 Series model's former athleticism was lost in translation. That's what happens when you use a big car like the 7 Series as a foundation. While the 5 model 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 2014 5 Series is perhaps the most accomplished centrist among midsize luxury sedans, offering something for just about everyone.
What's New for 2014?
The 535d debuts with its efficient turbodiesel engine, and all 5 Series models receive standard navigation with the 10.2-inch screen and slightly tweaked exterior styling. Sadly for stick shift fans, the 550i is automatic-only starting this year.
What We Like
World-class engines; cosseting ride; rich interior; full range of technology offerings; available Hybrid model
What We Don't
Less athletic than previous 5 Series models; smallish back seat; Active Hybrid 5 model's fuel economy disappoints
The 528i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 240 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque. An 8-speed automatic is the only transmission. It returns 23 miles per gallon city and 34 mpg highway, or 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the 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. Fuel economy is still strong at 20 mpg city/30 mpg hwy with either the 8-speed automatic or the standard transmission, a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is available on the 535i, though only with the automatic, and it barely affects fuel economy, as it returns 20 mpg city/29 mpg hwy.
The 535d has a turbodiesel inline-6 that pumps out 255 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. The 8-speed automatic is mandatory. Fuel economy is a highly impressive 26 mpg city/38 mpg hwy with rear-wheel drive and 26 mpg city/37 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.
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. Fuel economy predictably plummets to 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy with the standard 8-speed automatic. The all-wheel-drive 550i returns 16 mpg city/24 mpg hwy.
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. Fuel economy is rather disappointing for a hybrid at 23 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 BMW 5 Series sedan is offered in five basic trim levels: 4-cylinder 528i, 6-cylinder 535i, turbodiesel 535d, V8-powered 550i and ActiveHybrid 5. The high-performance M5 is reviewed separately.
The 528i ($50,425) 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 hard-drive-based navigation and a 10.2-in central display screen.
The 535i ($56,025) adds a turbocharged inline-6, 18-in wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, a sunroof and leather upholstery and door trim.
The 535d ($57,525) boasts a turbodiesel inline-6 but is otherwise generally comparable to the 535i.
The ActiveHybrid 5 ($62,325) is essentially a 535i with an electric propulsion system added to the turbo inline-6, though it also comes standard with quad-zone climate control with individual temperature settings.
The 550i ($64,825) tacks on a twin-turbo V8, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, and 18-way Multi-Contour power front seats with driver and passenger memory.
All-wheel drive is a $2,300 option on all except the ActiveHybrid 5, which is rear-drive-only.
Most of the higher trims' standard features are available as options on lower trims. There are also numerous packages and individual options, including various performance enhancements, dual rear video screens and a 16-speaker 600-watt premium audio system.
The trunk officially measures 14 cu ft, which is a low number for a midsize sedan, but in our experience it's a usefully deep cargo bay.
The 2014 BMW 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 four years' worth of various emergency roadside services.
In government crash testing, 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 tested categories.
Behind the Wheel
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. The interior materials are uniformly rich, and the restrained dashboard design -- including the center stack canted toward the driver -- is straight out of the 7 Series playbook. The 10.2-in central display screen features beautiful graphics and the most intuitive iDrive interface yet.
The 5 Series may 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.
Under the hood, the 528i's turbo four makes more power than BMW is letting on, and we can confirm that it feels surprisingly strong. For many drivers, it will be more than enough. Of course, the 535i model's 300-hp inline-6 is mighty seductive if you sample it, and the 535d model's turbodiesel six might even be more satisfying with its massive torque. As for the 550i model's 4.4-liter V8, incredible acceleration from any speed is the name of its game. You have to experience it to believe it.
The ActiveHybrid 5, however, is less compelling. A true dual-mode hybrid, the ActiveHybrid 5 can accelerate solely on electric power up to 37 miles per hour, and it will coast in electric-only mode at speeds up to 100 mph. But performance is only on par with the less-powerful 535i due to the Hybrid's increased weight, and fuel economy is rather disappointing for a hybrid.
In terms of vehicle dynamics, there will be those who step into the 2014 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 and 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 here, 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, while the E550 sports a twin-turbocharged V8 aimed squarely at the 550i (and the E250 BlueTEC provides a less-powerful alternative to the 535d).
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.
Assuming that shoppers in this segment don't have especially tight budgets, we'd go whole-hog and get the 550i. We know the other engines sound plenty capable, but really, that twin-turbo V8 is just something else with the way it picks you up and hurls you down the road.