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2011 BMW 528i sedan. Photo by David Arnouts.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: There are plenty of times when you wish this engine was the turbo model, with 300 hp, instead of this base engine. But I suspect that one of the times you won’t mind is at the gas pump. The indicated mpg was sitting at 26 when I parked it. That’s impressive for a 3,800-pound, full-size sedan with all of the luxury trimmings, a full suite of safety gear and all the extras.
When you’d rather have a little more punch is when the lane opens briefly and you need to scoot, except there just isn’t that much left in the power band. At low speeds and from launch, the gearing seems set up to help get the car moving in a hurry; I note the lack of extra power at higher speeds. Of course, most drivers would likely adjust their expectations over time, but if you’re a demanding type, you’ll want to be cognizant of it.
I like this 2011 BMW 528i a lot, and I particularly appreciate that BMW finally integrated some normal American cupholders into the center console. They are usable, too. Not that that’s why you buy a BMW, but at least it doesn’t detract any more. There’s a whomping audio system, too.
MOTORSPORTS EDITOR MAC MORRISON: Interesting that Bob thought that this 2011 BMW 528i is a bit underpowered, though it’s true that it runs out of breath as the speed increases.
I certainly don’t think it is a problem, however. In fact, I continually found myself thinking, wow, this engine only makes 240 hp and 230 lb-ft of torque? Really? I was quite surprised because this powertrain is so smooth and responsive that it feels as if it has more power than it does. Throttle response is good, and the eight-speed gearbox helps the cause, too.
Let me put it this way: I could no doubt live happily with this BMW. The enthusiast driver in me would certainly want a stronger engine, but in real-world terms and with the better fuel economy that comes with the 528i, the car is worth looking into if you desire full-on BMW luxury and cache but don’t necessarily feel a need for loads and loads of power. You still get classic BMW feel and handling here, too, not to mention the revised exterior (best 5-series look in years) and a top-notch interior to match.
However, there are several legitimate competitors that you’d want to check out. An Audi A6 with the 3.2-liter V6 starts at about the same price, $46,075. For that money, you get 265 hp, 243 lb-ft and standard quattro AWD. You also get significantly worse fuel mileage, at 14 mpg city/21 mpg highway. But the A6 is a lot quicker than the 528, and many will appreciate the sure-footed quattro grip that doesn’t move the A6’s price much past the BMW’s.
Meanwhile, a Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan starts at a few thousand dollars more, at $49,725, but gives you 268 hp, 258 lb-ft and 17/24 mpg. Or you can go for the E350 Bluetec turbodiesel V6 at $51,775. The Bluetec engine makes 210 hp, 400 lb-ft and returns 22/33 mpg.
There are other nice sedans on the market, too, so purchasing a 528i (try to avoid a good chunk of the $14,000 worth of options on our test car) is going to depend greatly on the demands of individual potential buyers, probably more so than with higher-level variants of the 5-series and its natural competitors.
But if you want a BMW without the cost associated with most 5-series models, this car is worth more than casual and brief consideration. The good news is, this powertrain never leaves you feeling like you’re driving a bottom-basement wannabe version. And after driving it pretty hard and still achieving the mileage the car is rated for, I can say firsthand that it does pay you back at the pump, relatively speaking.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: There’s no engine I’d rather have than a really good straight-six. And this car has one. I also found myself surprised by the amount of torque the 528i had, though I suspect the eight-speed automatic helps provide just the right gear to take advantage of what’s available.
But what’s up with the standing-start throttle tip-in? The gas pedal is basically an on-off switch: There’s two inches of nothing and then the car’s all-in, with no in-between. I found it very difficult to drive smoothly from a stoplight, though once the car was moving, throttle application became much more linear. It’s bad enough that I’m suspicious of a developing problem.
But my goodness, what a chassis. The sensation at speed is one of being transported through a fluid in three dimensions, like an airplane. You’re firmly in control of every move, but the ground below is in sync with the air above and you’re suspended perfectly between the two. Combined with the precision of the steering and brakes, there’s a feeling of total confidence.
Inside, the car was beautifully outfitted and executed. But I’m still not a fan of iDrive even with the improvements; Honda and Hyundai offer much more intuitive variations on the joystick-and-knob infotainment interface. And what is wrong with the traditional gated automatic gearshifter? Even the parking brake on this car is a button--enough with the buttons already.
Final verdict? If this car had a six-speed manual, I’d have driven it over the border and vanished forever.
COPY EDITOR CYNTHIA L. OROSCO-WRIGHT: Fine overnight in the 2011 BMW 528i. There was a little bit of throttle hesitation off the line at slower speeds, but the car remained stable and firmly planted over the terribly rutted and repatched and rerutted strip of entrance ramp I travel daily. Yes, I was going slow, but even then, in some cars, the potholes have them dancing all over. Not this BMW. Solid and steady. Once up to speed, the ride was smooth and strong and the brakes slowed things down nicely when the need arose.
The cabin is comfortable and cozy, great materials all around, all of the controls are easy to reach and the iDrive system wasn’t such a pain to use. Even on the morning commute in pouring rain, the car tracked true, the rubber offered good grip and the large wipers kept the view clear. I’d certainly like to have this car for a weekend and head out for long drive.
NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: I took a cleansing Saturday drive in this BMW 528i and enjoyed the balance of luxury and sport overtones. This Bimmer is so well done inside and out, and the 7-series-inspired sheetmetal and almost pointy front end really stand out. The leather and touchparts inside are equally pleasing.
The engine has plenty of juice, and it works well with this silky eight-speed transmission. Like others have noted, the sedan does have a slow first step, as hitting the throttle results in a slight delay before power truly kicks in and acceleration begins. I notched 23.52 mpg for my fill-up, which is a touch disappointing, but I was pretty hard on this car.
The steering has a satisfying weight and communicates well with the driver to pilot such a large car as nimbly as possible. There’s a tactile feel in the hands, and it makes this four-door feel potent yet adaptable. The chassis is well-tuned and comfortable, and I was continually impressed by the body dynamics of the 5-series. Even when I accelerated through curves and into turns--twisting my insides in the process--the car stayed composed. This is a well-done luxury cruiser, and quite a bit of fun.
2011 BMW 528i Sedan
Base Price: $45,425
As-Tested Price: $58,750
Drivetrain: 3.0-liter I6; RWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 240 hp @ 6,600 rpm, 230 lb-ft @ 2,600-3,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,814 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 25/25.2 mpg
Options: Premium package 2 including rearview camera, rear sunshade, heated front seats, park distance control, iPod and USB adapter, navigation system, satellite radio and premium hi-fi system ($4,500); sport package including 18-inch alloy V-spoke wheels, sport leather steering wheel and multicontour seats ($2,200); premium package including universal garage-door opener ($1,800); convenience package including comfort access keyless entry ($1,700); cold-weather package including heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and retractable headlight washers ($1,050); xenon headlights ($900); dark graphite metallic exterior paint ($550); split fold-down rear seat ($475)
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