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Monday, 8 November 2010

2011 BMW 535i - Long-Term Road Test Intro

When it comes to ordering long-term test vehicles, we often choose models that have fared well in previous evaluations, and we usually load them up with options—case in point: our $100,000-plus long-term BMW 750Li xDrive. The idea, of course, is to see if our infatuation with a new model can stand the test of time, and to test the newest and best gadgets and technologies.

Our long-term 5-series contradicts both conventions. Indeed, a 535i just finished behind an Audi A6 3.0T and an Infiniti M37 in a comparison test, and we didn’t go options crazy with this one. We selected two extras we couldn’t live without (the $2200 Sport package and the $2700 Dynamic Handling package) and two we could live without but didn’t want to (Cinnamon Brown leather for $1450 and an overpriced iPod connector for $400). We passed on the opportunity to test one piece of new technology by requesting a six-speed manual transmission over the new ZF eight-speed automatic, but we made sure to check the box for the new single-turbo inline-six because we haven’t had one for more than a couple of weeks at a time.
What we ended up with is a $57,225 sedan that many of us would actually purchase. Perhaps the only two options we regret not fitting to our car are heated seats and navigation, which would have added $2400.

New to Whom?

You might be wondering why our “new” long-term 535i has 18,000 miles on the clock. We are just getting around to this introduction because the 5 has barely stopped moving since we collected it from BMW’s North American home base in New Jersey last May. It has performed interstate duty en route to destinations as varied as Yellowstone National Park, Florida, and North Carolina. Nearly every weekend finds the car two to three hours from home.

The 5’s popularity for such trips is not difficult to explain. For starters, it rides well and is particularly smooth with the adjustable suspension set in comfort. The cabin might as well be a direct transplant from the 7-series—it is almost as roomy and has similar seats. Some staffers have bemoaned the lack of bolster adjustment, as in Sport-pack-equipped 3s and our long-term 750Li, but all are pleased with the articulated front seatbacks that adjust separately to support the upper back.
Perhaps the greatest long-haul attraction comes in the form of the single-turbo N55 inline-six, the details of which are chronicled here. With the cruise set near 80 mph, a few of us have seen efficiency in the low-30-mpg range—better than that of many smaller, less-luxurious vehicles. EPA ratings for the 535i are 19 mpg city and 28 highway compared with the twin-turbo 2010 car’s 17/26. Average in our less-thrifty around-town blitzes, and we’re traveling 24 miles for every gallon of gas burned.

We knew this car’s 4075-pound weight—nearly 200 pounds heftier than the old 535i—would hamper it in a drag race, but we were surprised by how much slower this car is. We clocked a 0.6-second increase in the 0-to-60 time, which grew to 5.8 seconds. The quarter-mile took an extra half-second, ticking past in 14.3 at 100 mph, 2 mph slower than the old 535i.

An Unfeeling Bavarian

Few complaints have made their way into the logbook. Among those that have, the overwhelmingly popular gripe centers around the 535i’s horrific steering—the same problem that cost it the aforementioned comparison test. There’s not even a hint of on-center feel, and it loads up artificially. The on-center vagueness seriously compromises the driver’s perception of the car’s capabilities. We’re holding out hope that BMW will remedy this soon, as the 5 uses an electric power-steering rack that can be reprogrammed with all the ease of updating Firefox on a PC.
The usual complaint with Bimmers—cost of ownership—has yet to affect us. As with all BMWs, service is free until 50,000 miles or four years pass. We’ve not had to take the 5 to the dealer once, although we do expect the onboard computer to request a service soon. The only additional cost we’ve endured thus far was adding a $9 quart of oil.
Judging by the rapid accumulation of miles on our long-term 535i, we should complete the 40,000-mile test in about nine months. Most long-termers need a year, perhaps a little longer, to hit 40K; talk about bucking conventions

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