2011 BMW 528
The dead silence of the interior of the 2011 BMW 528 is that of a recording studio: Heavy, comforting and yet slightly oppressive. On tickover, there is simply no engine
noise at all and on a smooth road, just a faint, companionable background hiss from tire and wind noise. That is silence great for a studio, but slightly disconcerting at first for a driver expecting some feeling of connection with the world outside through the five senses and the capacious windows.
The ultra comfortable seats (always a BMW strongpoint) and the feel of the sheer mass of the car (weighing in at nearly two tons) give a sense of security and silent safety — a sort of womb with a view. There is even an auto-nanny to cater for your needs; and incidentally, many of your “need-nots,” of which more later.
There are not many cars that have maintained, over five iterations, such a high level of quality and excellence. Generation six steps away from the rather adventurous styling of the last model to a more conservative look that returns in styling to the BMW sedan family fold.
Compensating for the weight, the output from 528i's 3.0-liter straight-6 engine is up by 10 hp to 240. It has good low-end torque but hard acceleration reveals the mass and resultant inertia of the car; it is swift off the mark but not crisp.
The mass shows again in the handling. Long sweeping curves feel entirely under control — cornering on rails would be scarier. However, rapid changes of direction on sharply curving roads, while positive, feels as if the car is working hard. So it should; it is a touring and urban car, not a sports car.
In the rear, there is comfortably enough room for a pair of six-foot adults to be comfortable on the contoured and padded seats. The trunk, at 14 cubic feet of luggage capacity, is however smaller than average for this segment.
This said, however, the latest 528 is a lovely solid piece of work. Sportier than the Mercedes E-Class, less cluttered inside than an Audi A6 and roomier than a Jaguar XF, the 2011 BMW 5 Series continues the family condition of being one of the best vehicles you can drive.
The 528i comes standard with 17-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof and power and heated side mirrors. Inside the cabin are the accoutrements you would hope for: eight-way power front seats; driver memory functions; dual-zone automatic climate control; a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel; the iDrive control interface; Bluetooth and a 12-speaker CD audio system with HD radio.
The test car had the Dynamic Handling package that included adaptive suspension. Required for this package is the Sport package, which includes 19-inch wheels, performance tires and special exterior trim.
However, having been taught to drive HGVs with the axiom “Mirror, Mirror, Signal, Mirror, Mirror” thumped (literally, and by Big Tone who was twice UK Truck Driver of the Year and big!) into my skull, I have something of a mirror fixation.
It is party personal and partly pure driving preference.
The test car (528i) had simply dreadful mirrors. The seemed to be flat glass; they were small, covered a tiny rear view section of the road, had huge blind spots and in my opinion, were positively dangerous. In anything approaching heavy traffic, they were in effect, useless. BMW: please listen up.
The iDrive auto-nanny for all her wisdom and reversing cameras will not make up for the loss of driver vision alongside the car. Mirrors in the realvworld outside the womb are very good things to have, even if they do mess with the design-team’s vision. Nanny does NOT know best here, and search as I may, there seemed no way of turning the thing off permanently and just resorting to eyeballs. She was advising and giving options for all sorts of things most drivers will never need. It’s a car, not a games or entertainment console.
Mirrors a small thing? Yes, so is the single bolt that holds a hang-glider together; and when that breaks, the resulting epithets must be very similar to those uttered when the rotating front wheel of a sewage tanker that had been lurking in the blind spot looms a few seconds before impact.
In addition, when you look at the excellent analogue instrument console and see the clarity and precision of the information that is truly relevant to the business of driving, the thought: “Why do they bother with iDrive?” tumbles into your mind.
Of course, the mirrors and wealth of electronics will not put a soul off buying a BMW — well, one perhaps — because it is an excellent driving machine that perfectly and capably carries the best of the traditions of the 5 series on to the next generation.