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2011 BMW 528i Review [Video]
The problem with the BMW 528 is the last two numbers in its name
By Colum Wood, Photography by Colum Wood, May. 10, 2011

The official car of ballers on a budget, the 528i is back for 2011 delivering a BMW at a price low enough to finance – not lease. There is of course one major trade-off, and the car’s badge says it all.

FAST FACTS

1. The entry level 5 Series, the 528i is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-six with 240-hp and an 8-speed automatic.

2. Fuel economy is 22/32-mpg, thanks to that 8-speed transmission, as well as Brake Energy Regeneration.

3. A $5,000 savings over the 535i, the 528 retails for $45,045.

BASE ENGINE NOT WORTH THE COST SAVINGS

Living out its final days before it is scheduled to be replaced by a turbocharged 4-cylinder in much of BMW’s lineup is the 3.0-liter inline-six engine. Rated at 240-hp and 230 lb-ft of torque, the numbers don’t seem all that bad until you consider a Honda Accord makes 31 more ponies. Now we’re not saying the two are equals, it’s just that when you’re spending the big bucks to get a German luxury sedan, this just feels like a rip-off.

The opposite of a lot of engines, the straight six actually delivers good acceleration when pushed. It’s around town where it’s lacking. The absence of torque for such a large machine means you really have to plan ahead as short burst of power require plenty of time to prep. Exacerbating the problem is a new 8-speed automatic transmission meaning you’ve never in the right gear for anything but a Sunday drive and with so many more cogs to choose from the delay between tipping the throttle and the engine revving up feels like an eternity.

Thankfully there is a sport mode, which works admirably. The trade off, of course, is fuel economy. BMW rates the car at 22/32-mpg for an average of 26-mpg, but you won’t get anywhere near that in sport mode.

LARGER, MORE LUXURIOUS RIDE

Having continued to grow in size the new 5er has in many ways left its sports sedan origins behind in favor of a focus on the luxury driving experience. It’s still a capable enough machine when needed, but you wouldn’t guess as much under normal driving conditions. In fact, while it might not be as engaging as in the past, the longer wheelbase and quieter cabin make it a more ideal companion for the sort of driving most customers are looking for. This is further emphasized by the rather tiny looking 17-inch wheels on the 528, which deliver added comfort at the expense of handling.

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The added space between the wheels translates into a more relaxing ride. It’s quiet and smooth on the highway, with a hint of floating that is transformed into a road-hugging ride as the speeds climb.

IMPRESSIVE INTERIOR WHEN A FEW OPTION BOXES CHECKED

While not breathtaking, the 528’s interior is very nice – when equipped with the $1,800 Premium Package. If you don’t get that one upgrade you’ll be left with ‘Leatherette’, which might be fine, but owning a BMW without leather will downgrade you from just being cheap to having a low credit score. Our test car featured the ‘Cinnamon Brown Dakota’ hide, which combined with the dark wood trim, brushed aluminum accents and massive 10.2-inch display screen make the cockpit look the equal of any in its class, although still simplistically BMW. Put the price into the equation and there’s just no room to be anything but impressed.

When it comes to in-car controls, unlike in the past, owners will be glad they opted for the BMW. The iDrive system, updated and refined, is the most intuitive in the segment. The display screen makes all the controls easy to see and the iDrive knob is conveniently located on the center console exactly where you’d rest your hand. Plus, there are steering wheel controls and plenty of redundant knobs and buttons on the center stack for everything from the audio to climate control.

We don’t love BMW’s strange gearstick. No one does. It’s awkward in the hand and isn’t at all intuitive. Particularly strange is the park button on the top.

One real advantage of the new 5er is the rear seat room, which has grown in this new model to the point where it can almost serve limo duty. The car has gained roughly 2-inches in overall length, but there’s an extra three inches between the wheels and you feel much of that in the back seat.

BLAND STYLING A TURN-OFF

We’ve mentioned in past reviews of other 5 Series models that the exterior design is somewhat lacking. When all kitted out with extra accessories it’s a mean looking machine, but most trims look too subtle. It’s hard to distinguish the 5 from the 7 and the car certainly doesn’t stand out the way a Mercedes E-Class does.

As for the all-important pricing on this model, BMW lists the car at $45,045; essentially a $5,000 savings over the 535. You’ll definitely want to add on the $1,800 Premium Package with leather, auto dimming mirrors and a garage door opener. The Premium 2 Package is also a nice option, but it’s not really necessary, nor is it cheap. For $4,900 you get heated seats, satellite radio, iPod and USB adaptors, a rear view camera and park distance control.

THE VERDICT

Styling aside, there’s one main issue with the 528 and that’s its engine. Unfortunately it’s a deal breaker, being too severe of a trade off, even if the discount is a big one. With many cars you can opt for the smaller powerplant and not be disappointed, because chances are you wouldn’t use the engine’s full potential anyway. But in this case the straight-six is lacking for daily use.

For $5,000 more the Mercedes E350 looks like an attractive option, although if that’s the route you’re headed in, hold off until the upgraded V6 engine arrives, as it’s also hard to justify that car’s pricetag and engine pairing.

With a more luxurious ride plus a beautiful and well-equipped interior it really is a shame the not even the steep discount is enough to make the 528i a compelling option. Thankfully, there’s the 535i.

LOVE IT
  • More luxurious ride
  • Fuel economy
  • Well-equipped, high-grade interior
LEAVE IT
  • Engine lacking in power for everyday use
  • Bland styling

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