In the world of the premium mid-sized sport sedan, the arrival of a fresh BMW 5 Series is no small affair. The Five has pretty much set the standard for engaging dynamics in this category.

The outgoing model, penned by then-BMW design chief Chris Bangle, created quite a kerfuffle when it was launched almost six years ago — angular and in-your-face with leering cat’s eyes headlights.

Viewing the all-new sixth generation 2011 535i for the first time (coming to Canada June 2010 along with the V8 550i), it’s clear the Bangle-era of BMW is history.


Current design head Adrian van Hooydonk has arrived at a considerably less daring saloon. It’s softer, more elegant, and with a wheelbase stretch of 80 mm, the Five’s front wheels are pushed well forward, leaving very little overhang. There are some nice design touches here like the prominent hood ridges and large twin-kidney grill, but overall this new Five looks as though it will blend into the automotive landscape largely unnoticed.

The BMW 5 Series has always been defined by the driving experience, so how does this sedan shape up? Does the new electric steering (replacing the time-honoured but less efficient hydraulic rack) compromise the Five’s legendary steering feel? Does the new double-wishbone front suspension (replacing the traditional but unsophisticated MacPherson struts) improve this sedan’s relationship with the road?

No and yes. In other words, good news all ‘round.

Steering is meaty, well weighted and communicative in that BMW way. What surprises most is the newfound compliance in the suspension — an area where BMW has always erred on the side of harshness to achieve its sporting target. Road irregularities pass under the car with a muted thawump, yet the 535i feels taught, composed and balanced at all times. It was a joy to fling over the rural Portuguese blacktop.

The 3.0L direct-injection straight-six goes from a twin-turbo setup to a single twin-scroll turbo for 2011, and gains Valvetronic throttle-less intake technology. All you really need to know is this is a seriously great engine, making a sonorous and lag-free 300 hp and 300 lb.-ft from 1200-5000 r.p.m. It is coupled to a new eight-speed auto — a six-speed manual transmission will also be available in the 535i and V8 550i.

The fresh interior benefits from a more elegant design and finer detailing, bringing it up to speed with the Audi A6 and new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The centre stack is angled 7 degrees towards the driver, giving the car an intimate cockpit feel.

If you wish to throw a bunch of money at your as yet unpriced 2011 535i, BMW will be happy to oblige. Adaptive Drive adds an electronic active damping system, active anti-roll bars, and Dynamic Drive Control with four presets that vary the parameters of the dampers, throttle, transmission mapping and stability control.

Other gizmos include Park Assist, Top View cameras, Frontal Collision Warning, Active Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, a Head-Up Display, and Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection.

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