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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 BMW 5 Series

Though last year’s redesign of the popular BMW 5 Series sedan was a big deal for BMW aficionados, it is the replacement of the 528i’s base 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine with a new 2.0-litre turbocharged four in the 2012 model that is creating the most discussion in our forums (see Jonathan Yarkony’s BMW 528i xDrive Test Drive here).  It seems many people have trouble getting their heads around the idea of paying in excess of $70,000 for a four-cylinder 5 Series!

2012 BMW 528i xDrive
2012 BMW 528i xDrive
2012 BMW 528i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Not that you don’t get a bunch of sophisticated engineering, technology, luxury and safety features in the new 5 the equal of its competitors… the problem is the size of the engine.  Yes, it seems that size matters when it comes to engines, no matter how technologically brilliant the engine is, or whether it in fact offers more horsepower and torque and better fuel economy than its six-cylinder predecessor.  For some people, four is just not the new six, even if it’s turbocharged. How can you brag about having only two litres of mojo!

But unless you’re willing to pony up $$ for the 535i with its turbo-six or the awesome 550i with its twin-turbo V8, the only way to settle it is to put yourself behind the wheel of a 528i and see for yourself. The new turbocharged 2.0-litre DOHC, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with twin-scroll turbocharger, direct injection and variable valve control develops 241 hp at 5,000 rpm and 258 lb-ft torque at 1,250 rpm—compare that to last year’s normally aspirated 3.0-litre inline six with 240 hp at 6,600 rpm and 230 lb-ft at 2,600 rpm.  The extra torque with the turbo four is noticeable, improving throttle response especially in low-speed city and suburban environments where sudden bursts of speed can help you change lanes without waiting for someone to let you in!  BMW quotes a 0 to 100 km/h time of 6.5 seconds for the rear-drive 528i and 6.6 seconds for the 528i xDrive—not too shabby for a 1,780-kg mid-size sedan.

2012 BMW 528i xDrive
2012 BMW 528i xDrive
2012 BMW 528i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

There’s another factor that improves the four-pot’s performance: BMW’s standard Dynamic Driving Control with Eco-Pro.  This driver-selectable vehicle system varies throttle response, transmission shift points, steering effort, and suspension firmness for maximum fuel economy, maximum comfort or maximum performance depending on your mood. The Eco Wimp, er, Eco Pro mode improves fuel economy by retarding throttle response and shifts, as well as recharging the battery when coasting or braking.  Comfort, Sport, and Sport + modes sequentially increase throttle responsiveness, shift times, shock firmness, and steering feel, and Sport + mode even adjusts the Dynamic Stability Control to allow “controlled drifting”, a feature which was probably designed for stunt drivers in BMW commercials.  I found myself driving in Comfort or Sport mode most of the time because Eco Pro was just too lazy and Sport + was just too harsh.  Still, I observed that the 528i sedan’s performance settings were more reserved than those of a 650i Coupe I drove recently.

Compared to the 528i’s previous inline-six, the new turbo-four engine is louder at idle—though not loud—with a rougher sound, though vibrations are well damped.  Put your foot down, and you’ll be surprised at the performance, which can be mostly attributed to the extra torque contributed by the twin-scroll turbocharger.  While there is a slight delay from a standing start, once the turbo spools up, the 528i takes off.

Official fuel economy numbers for the new 2.0-litre four (presumably in the default Comfort mode) are better than last year’s engine:  the 2012 528i consumes 8.6/5.7 L/100 km city/hwy while the new-for-2012 all-wheel-drive 528i xDrive sips a little more fuel, 8.8/5.9 city/hwy.   That compares favourably to the six-cylinder 2011 528i, which was rated at 9.6/6.2 city/hwy.  Still, my onboard fuel consumption display was showing an average of 11.4 L/100 km with 7,233 km on the odo—driven, admittedly, by aggressive, testosterone-fueled auto writers who only had a week to realize their BMW fantasies.

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