Test Drive: 2012 BMW 528i xDrive car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW 528i xDrive. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2012 BMW 5 Series

The BMW 5 Series is the benchmark executive sedan. It’s a smooth, capable driver’s car, it’s good looking without being overly aggressive or feminine, and it made me happy every morning I woke up to it in the driveway (that last point not exactly contributing to its status as a global benchmark). Aside from the big-shot status it immediately confers upon its driver, it’s a nice car. Really nice.

But there are many more reasons that BMW is often held as the standard to which all other sport sedans aspire — and I didn’t make that up: just look at Cadillac and Hyundai’s stated benchmarks in their development and advertising. It always seems like someone is trying to beat the 5 Series. Well, they may beat its acceleration times or various other measurements or specs, but they still haven’t yet captured its essence.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW 528i xDrive car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW 528i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

From the realm of the subjective, it starts with the meaty grip of the big, fat M-Sport steering wheel as you take the big sedan through manoeuvres that are handled with more dexterity and poise than you’d ever expect in a 1,815-kg (4,001-lb) vehicle. The weight is heavy and turn-in isn’t alarmingly fast, but it is even and predictable as you progress from the first degrees all the way to lock.

But the brilliance is on the way there. I’m no expert on steering feel, as the lumps at the ends of my arms could be described alternately as anything from ham-fisted to bricks. I’m just not terribly sensitive, and while many pan the 5 Series’ lack of feel, even to me, it is clear exactly how much angle and how much grip the tires have with every steering adjustment. Right down to the added squishiness that the Dunlop Wintersport tires (18×8 inches wide, 245/45 R18) seem to exhibit as they give way to tire squeal long before the chassis wants to let go. And all this is with the 528i’s electric power steering — the 535i and 550i delete the electric power steering in favour of an even more visceral hydraulic rack-and-pinion power steering setup. Some may find it lacking, but BMW steering wheels (and chassis) seem to speak in a language I understand.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW 528i xDrive car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
Test Drive: 2012 BMW 528i xDrive car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW 528i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Normally I devote about a line to steering feel, but there is something magical about this car that earns it a few extra lines. Despite spending over 98 percent of my time in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic and crawling along ruler-straight suburban streets, that remaining 2 percent is a wealth of experience on clear highway clover-leaf ramps, stretches of tight, low-speed switchbacks, or the occasional highway exit that can be finished with hard braking and a few flicks of the paddle shifters before nailing the apex and shooting out into a rarely travelled street back down at re-entry speeds.

Now that I’m done waxing poetic about the steering and handling, I’ll get on to the big news. This was the 528i I drove, with BMW’s N20 turbo-four making its first appearance in the 2012 5 Series, replacing the venerable inline-six, an engine that has defined BMW as much as boxers have defined Porsche and rotaries, Mazda. BMW, like many manufacturers, is tasked with advancing performance while reducing fuel consumption in a world of ever stricter emissions and consumption regulations. Smaller, turbocharged engines are a common solution, but BMW goes the extra distance with a host of efficiency technologies that they group under the Efficient Dynamics branding. Auto start-stop shuts the engine down at stoplights, an eight-speed transmission offers efficient (or sharp) shifting and a very tall final ratio for efficient highway cruising, and regenerative braking recaptures braking and coasting energy.




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.