2011 BMW 550i xDrive
2011 BMW 550i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Related links
Test Drive: 2011 BMW 528i
Day-by-Day Review: 2011 BMW 528i
First Drive: 2011 BMW 5 Series

Manufacturer’s web site
BMW Canada

Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
2011 BMWW 5 Series

A few years ago I had to make a five-hour trip, and I took a BMW 5 Series sedan. To say it was one of the most comfortable cars I’d driven was an understatement; at my destination, I could have been easily convinced to keep driving it right across the country.

Fast-forward to 2011, and BMW has completely redesigned the 5 Series into its sixth generation. The automaker continues to prove that it knows how to properly do a sedan, although purists may find that it’s moved a bit more into the luxury side of the scale and away from the sporty end, as if the company is now more intent on chasing Lexus than Audi in the sales wars.

The changes include all-new styling and engines: a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in the 528i, and two turbocharged engines, a 3.0-litre six-cylinder in the 535i, and in my 550i tester, a 4.4-litre V8. In a rather confusing bit of marketing, both are called TwinPower Turbo, but the six-cylinder uses one twin-scroll turbo, while the V8 uses two parallel turbochargers. The 535i and 550i can be had with a six-speed manual transmission. My tester, the all-wheel 550i xDrive, comes exclusively with an eight-speed automatic that’s either standard or optional in all other models. On the 550i models, the transmission comes with steering wheel-mounted paddles for the manual shift mode (they’re optional on the 535i).

2011 BMW 550i xDrive
2011 BMW 550i xDrive
2011 BMW 550i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

The Touring wagon model is no more; if you want a hatchback, you must opt for the 5 Series GT (Gran Turismo). The potent M5 wasn’t included in this first launch of the restyled 5 Series, but will return for 2012. Pricing for the sedans starts at $53,900 and rises to a hefty $75,900 for my 550i xDrive tester, and of course you can add on any number of options, which are never cheap at this level.

The styling, while still unmistakably a BMW, is rounder and a bit more bloated than the model it replaces. The hood sports too many creases and bulges for my liking, and reminds me of the exaggerated muscles on comic-book heroes. It curves down to a signature twin-kidney grille that’s larger than last year’s. A heavy pleat draws the eye along the side, but the mismatched taillights look like someone put in a trunk lid from something else; I’d like a bit more flow between the lenses from fender to trunk. Nineteen-inch “W-spoke” wheels are exclusive to the 550i models, while all 5 Series sedans sport run-flat tires.

Despite interior tweaks, it’s still “signature BMW” inside, and as nice and comfortable as I remember it. My tester was equipped with a $5,500 Executive Package, which includes seats that gently massage and ventilate the front passengers when required. Numerous settings also allow you to shape the seat to your liking, including shortening or lengthening the seat cushion, which I really appreciate. Many full-size luxury sedans feel like they’re designed for tall men and put too much cushion under my knees, but this lets me adjust it so it’s “just right.” The package also includes four-zone automatic climate control, with a separate system in the back of the centre console so that rear-seat passengers can choose their level of comfort. The rear seat has three positions, but it’s more comfortable just for two thanks to the tall driveshaft hump that bisects the floor in front of the bench.

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