Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
More than three decades after launching its midsize sport sedan, BMW continues to innovate the iconic 5 Series, making it faster yet more fuel-efficient than its predecessors while retaining all the comfort and luxury implied by its reputation. Base models are now powered by turbocharged 4-cylinder, while the new M5 employs a voracious V8.
You'll Like The 2012 BMW 5 Series If...
If you desire a balanced approach to performance, comfort and practicality – and want all three in a reasonably sized sedan – few cars can match the menu provided by BMW’s 5 Series. And if, perchance, you’re one of the few capable of coordinating your left foot with your right hand, BMW is one of the very few automakers providing the above with a manual transmission – in the 535i and 550i.
You May Not Like The 2012 BMW 5 Series If...
With the advent of sporty crossovers, and the growing popularity of sport coupes, the sport sedan is at an interesting point in the automotive paradigm. The 5 Series remains practical and sporting, but its practicality is limited by its architecture, and its “sportiness” is limited by its 3-box profile. Also, its sensible starting point – mid-$40Ks – can quickly become nonsensical with the addition of but a few options.
BMW created an all-new 5 Series for the 2011 model year, but the hits just keep on coming. For 2012, BMW dumps the 3.0-liter six in the base 528i and substitutes a 2.0-liter turbocharged four. With a bump in horsepower, torque and efficiency, this would seem to be a win/win/win for the consumer. However, Americans have been historically reluctant to spend big bucks on small powerplants. Hopefully, the dynamic has changed with escalating gasoline prices and growing awareness of global warming. The larger Gran Turismo uses 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder engines.
The 5’s interior space has grown slightly, while the overall impression has grown almost exponentially. Already a strong suit, BMW paid special attention to ergonomics in the new 5 Series, with all displays, knobs and buttons located in the central portion of the cabin. And while the choice of interior materials reflects a new maturity on the part of BMW management – this, of course, is where consumers spend most of their time – we’d take issue with the standard-spec leatherette upholstery on a car with a base price of over $45K, stretches. 2012 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo models have a higher seating position for the driver, giving it the feel of a quasi-crossover. Additionally, GT models feature an innovative dual-access tailgate that can open partially like a trunk lid or fully like a hatchback to accommodate larger items.
In assessing the new 5 Series, it’s helpful to have some background. Its chassis and body development was done in conjunction with the all-new 7 Series. As a result, the “5” is more grown-up, with a wheelbase (116.9 inches) reportedly the longest in the 5 Series segment. The proportions and overall impressions (which, according to BMW, include a “charismatic front, elegant side…and muscular rear”) of this new 5 Series aren’t radically different, but if you liked the smaller footprint of the previous iteration you might wish to wait for the next 3 Series (coming to the U.S. in the first quarter of 2012) – it is also “more grown-up.” The Gran Turismo has more, shall we say, controversial looks. Big, bulbous, and with slightly higher ground clearance than the sedan, it’s not exactly anonymous. Whether the GT is a beauty or a beast will be up to how you see it.
Regardless of drivetrain, the 2012 BMW 5 Series family provides a balanced approach to over-the-road performance. And when equipped with all-wheel drive, BMW’s mid-size sedan and Gran Turismo are blessed with “all-road” performance, going tough when the going gets tough. With your choice of a turbocharged four, in-line six or V8, you can truly tailor a BMW 5 Series to your performance requirements and, of course, budget. The entry-level 528i is blessed with a surprising amount of urge (0–60 in 6.2 seconds), a modest appetite for fuel (22 mpg city/32 highway) and a throaty – almost lusty – personality on the open road. With that, the sweet spot is probably where the 5 Series began, with a healthy six (535i) propelling you at triple-digit speeds (where allowed).
We noted in our profile of the 2011 5 Series that the cost of any 5 is heavily dependent on which model you select. That cost is also heavily dependent on how you elect to equip it. As with virtually all German sedans – save, perhaps, VW’s revised 4-door lineup – costs can escalate quickly once you start checking the option boxes. A random sampling revealed that a 2012 BMW 528i equipped with metallic paint, the Premium and Tech packages, keyless entry, side and top cameras (!), and destination came to over $54,000. And this is the MSRP (base $46,700 plus destination) of BMW’s affordable 5 Series! All-wheel drive (xDrive) adds approximately $2,000, the 535i is over $53,000 and the 550i xDrive has a base MSRP of $64,000. GT versions start just under $58,000 for a 535i Gran Turismo with a 6-cylinder and rear-wheel drive to nearly $70,000 for an all-wheel-drive 550i xDrive Gran Turismo with a V8 engine. Whichever 5 Series you choose, bring big money or great credit.
Although the product team behind the 5 Series continues to move the sedan up-market (and its pricing upscale), we’re encouraged by the high-end spec of the 5 Series chassis. Twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers, 4-wheel vented disc brakes (with composite front rotors) and electronic limited-slip differential speak to BMW’s performance intent, while a driver-centric cockpit design will better reflect the driver’s intent. On the ground, run-flat all-season tires make the spare tire (and its added weight) unnecessary, while in the 528i a standard 8-speed automatic transmission makes shifting unnecessary.
We continue to like sport sedans that are “sporty,” and BMW works to differentiate its mid-size sedan from others – notably Audi, Mercedes-Benz and (to a lesser extent) Cadillac – with a range of options designed to enhance handling and performance. At the top of the performance heap is the M Sport Package. At a suggested retail of $4,800 you can equip your 2012 5 Series sedan with 18-inch double-spoke wheels with performance run-flat tires, Dynamic Damper Control, an aero kit, multi-contour seats, an M steering wheel and a limited, albeit performance-oriented, color palette. There is also a less comprehensive Sport Package, as well as the option of a 6-speed manual on the 535i and 550i.
6-SPEED MANUAL TRANSMISSIONBMW remains one of the few automakers fully invested in the customer’s driving experience. The availability of a 6-speed manual is clear evidence of same; we only wish it were available in the 528i, where a manual connection with a turbocharged four would bring more joy to our motoring experience.CINNAMON BROWN/BLACK DAKOTA LEATHERWe’re suckers for a striking color combination, and this interior – with its warm, rich hues and heavy texture – would look ausgezeichnet (excellent) when juxtaposed against some overtly Teutonic exterior color.
Under the Hood
Variety, thy name is 5 Series. With the 2012 introduction of a new 4-cylinder turbo, BMW offers a “holy trinity” of powertrains. And that which is the most compelling, the 2.0-liter four is also the least expensive. It delivers 240 horsepower, 260 lb-ft of torque and 32 mpg in the EPA’s highway cycle. In short, what’s not to like? Perhaps the lack of an available manual transmission with the turbo four, but that absence can’t last forever; the rumble for its return starts right now. The turbocharged inline-six has, of course, its fans, while the 4.0-liter turbo V8 seems – in a still-funky economy – a tad too much.2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4240 horsepower @ 5,000-6,000 rpm260 lb-ft of torque @ 1,250-4,800 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/32 mpg (automatic)3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-5,000 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 mpg (manual, RWD), 20/30 mpg (automatic, RWD), 20/29 mpg (automatic, AWD), 20/28 (Gran Turismo, RWD), 18/27 (Gran Turismo, AWD)4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8400 horsepower @ 5,500-6,400 rpm450 lb-ft of torque @ 1,750-4,500 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 15/22 mpg (manual, RWD), 17/25 mpg (automatic, RWD), 16/24 mpg (automatic, AWD), 15/22 mpg (Gran Turismo, RWD & AWD)
Some 35 years ago BMW stretched its brand with the U.S. introduction of the 530i, marking the debut of its first “mid-size” sedan in the U.S. With more room than the iconic 2002 and more sporting than the larger 2500/2800/Bavaria, the 5 Series was arguably the first attempt by a German automaker to craft a modern sport sedan comfortable for four while still entertaining for one. In 2012, BMW grows the 5 Series by shrinking its standard powerplant, going from the traditional in-line six to a twin-turbocharged "TwinPower" 2.0-liter four. With 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, acceleration is up by 5 percent, while efficiency is some 20 percent better than its predecessor. For those who want extra room for cargo, BMW recently introduced the Gran Turismo, which features a large rear hatch and, like the sedans, available all-wheel drive. And of interest to BMW M enthusiasts is the return of the M5, powered by a twin-turbo 560-horsepower V8. It arrives in the summer of 2012 as a 2013 model.