For the 2011 model year, BMW has moved from a true twin-turbo setup to a twin-scroll single turbo for the 3.0-liter engine's forced induction. Power output remains the same--an even 300-horsepower--but fuel economy is up from 17/26 to 19/28 mpg.
Two automatic transmission options are available on the 5-Series (an 8-speed and a sportier 8-speed), but we were happy to find a six-speed manual shifter gracing our tester's center console. Shifts are chunky and the heavy clutch pedal will give your left leg a workout, but there is little that's more satisfying than rowing through your own gears.
An optional Dynamic Handling Package adds Electronic Damping Control and Active Roll Stabilization (ARS) to the 5-Series' bag of handling tricks and utilizes an Adaptive Drive system to tie the two functions together. It does feel, however, as though the 5 relies a bit too heavily on this techno-trickery and it's increased mass is all too evident on twistier bits of tarmac.
After unsuccessfully trying to make a canyon carver out of this Ultimate Driving Machine, we switched modes and found the 5-Series to be an excellent grand tourer. It's long wheelbase and compliant suspension made it quite comfortable for freeway blasts without feeling floaty or disconnected from the road.
By stitching together views from a trio of cameras located in the BMW's side mirrors and rear bumper, a sort of bird's-eye view is achieved. This view is very useful for preventing love taps and curb rash while parallel parking.
The BMW's interior is in interesting mix of materials, colors, and finishes. The power-adjustable seats and power-telescoping steering wheel are quite comfortable for long cruises and feature two driver memory settings.
Our model was equipped with driver aid features such as lane-keep assist and blind-spot detection. These features notified the driver of impending doom by vibrating the steering wheel. However, with so much road harshness already being felt through the BMW's tiller, we hardly noticed any additional buzzing at all.
The 5-Series features handsome white-on-black gauges with metal bezels. If you look closely, you may be able to see that a large portion of the instrument cluster is actually a stealthily hidden LCD that displays secondary information, such as a trip computer or fuel economy.
The 5-Series' dashboard is capped by a large, wide-screen color LCD. The wide-screen aspect ratio allows users to fill the screen with the map or, by splitting the screen, display secondary information on the right third of the monitor, such as media playback info or turn-by-turn directions.
The 535i's dashboard interface includes a digital version of the user's guide, complete with a visual search and an alphabetical index of functions. Of course, there's still a paper manual in the glove compartment in case the car's battery dies.
The BMW's hands-free calling system supports the Bluetooth PBAP profile, which means that it can automatically import the contacts from a supported and paired mobile phone.
What it doesn't support is A2DP audio streaming, which means that, for now, anyone who wants to use mobile phone apps like Pandora or Last.fm will need to connect to the BMW's analog audio input.