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2008 BMW 5 Series - First Drive

Honing it to an even finer point

Karl Funke
Sep 1, 2007
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*One big problem with building a car is that you're going to have to try and improve it eventually. For a car as well sorted as the modern 5 Series, this would appear to be a mountainous task. But BMW has responded fearlessly with the E60's mid-life facelift, making the model range better in nearly every way: sharper looking, more powerful, more efficient, and more convenient.

For 2008, the 550i and M5 remain with minor cosmetic revisions, while two new models-528i and 535i-supplant the outgoing 525i and 530i. Both are available with xDrive all-wheel drive under the 528xi and 535xi designations. All 2008 models feature reconfigured light clusters and reshaped front and rear aerodynamics, along with interior 'freshening' which includes a new standard steering wheel, revised wood and leather trim, and an ergonomically sculpted auto shifter on Steptronic models.

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The range of engines adheres to BMW's high-rev concept, meaning they are most happy and effective in the middle or top end of the tach. Even the 500-hp M5 sees its peak torque and most urgent acceleration at a lofty 6100 rpm. By the time you top fourth gear, you'll be well into triple digits. There may be no greater exercise in frustration than driving an M5 (legally) in the United States.

The most remarkable development would be the 535i, with the N54 turbocharged engine first introduced in the 3 Series coupe. BMW's twin-turbo tuning wizardry eliminates any low-end lag and delivers 300 lb-ft of torque at just 1400 rpm, and the engine continues to a 7000-rpm redline. In some eyes, the N54 overshadows even the 550i's 360-hp V8.

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SMG is no longer available in anything but an M5, but the Steptronic gearbox has been overhauled to provide faster shift times by a claimed 40 percent. Sport-minded 535 or 550 buyers may opt for Sport Steptronic with even crisper shifts and steering wheel-mounted paddles. All models are also available with a six-speed manual as a no-cost option-including the M5 through a concession specifically for the North American market. And those in the market for a 535xi can also go for the 535xi Sports Wagon, which includes its own unique list of equipment like roof rails, a dual-panel panoramic moonroof, and a self-leveling air-spring rear suspension. It's also the fastest BMW wagon offered in North America to date.

The 528i receives a new naturally aspirated version of the classic in-line six. Its 3.0-liter N52 features aluminum and magnesium composite construction and 230 peak-hp. Kept on the boil, it moves the 528 down the road at a reasonable pace. It has enough power-but just barely. Similarly, the 550i's V8 seems happiest in the middle and upper range. It's powerful, but acceleration builds in a decidedly languid manner. On a hard sprint, the 550i's inherent meatiness would eventually leave the 535i, but at wholly sane speeds the twin-turbo model appears to be the most logical choice-more torque down low, better fuel economy, and about $9,000 off the sticker price.

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New technical options have been introduced throughout the range, like the Lane Departure Warning system and a 'Stop and Go' feature on Active Cruise Control. The former uses an integrated camera to monitor lane boundaries and alert the driver through vibrations in the steering wheel when the car wanders. Active Cruise now allows the car to come to a complete stop and still maintain its speed setting, so it remains useful even in heavy traffic; just nudge the gas and the system will bring the car back up to speed. There's also an available USB adapter for an MP3 player, along with programmable 'favorites' buttons for iDrive that can be used to store anything from radio pre-sets to navigation destinations.

All '08 models also benefit from 'Enhanced' Dynamic Stability Control with added braking functions. These include Brake Fade Compensation, which mitigates rising brake temperatures by increasing hydraulic pressure relative to pedal force; Brake Drying, which, in wet conditions, scrubs surface water from the rotors without applying actual braking force; and Brake Standby, which can sense impending hard braking by monitoring how quickly the driver's foot comes off the accelerator pedal.

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The new 5 Series, like the old 5 Series, covers a fairly wide price range, from just over $45,000 for the base 528i to more than $80k for an M5. Funds can be drained with a plethora of optional equipment, like Active Steering, navigation with real-time traffic information, heads-up display, and multi-contour sport seats (which are amazing), along with bundles like the Sport and Premium packages. Considering the breadth of the range and the list of options, it's unlikely you'll meet someone with the exact same model as you.

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2008 BMW 5 series
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive; AWD on 528xi and 535xi

Six-speed manual; optional six-speed Steptronic automatic

F: Struts, double-pivot lower arms, coil springs, anti-roll barR: Four-link integral, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Four-wheel ventilated discs, aluminum calipers

L/W/H (in.): 191.1/72.7/57.8 (0.5 in. higher for AWD models)Wheelbase: 113.7 in.

3.0-liter in-line six, dohc, 24-valve
230 hp @ 6500 rpm
200 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm

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The Price Tag: $50,175/$52,375

3.0-liter in-line six, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled300 hp @ 5800 rpm
300 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm

The Price Tag: $50,175/$52,375

4.8-liter in-line six, dohc, 32-valve
360 hp @ 6300 rpm
360 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm

The Price Tag: $59,275

5.0-liter V10, dohc, 40-valve
500 hp @ 7750 rpm
383 lb-ft @ 6100 rpm

Seven-speed SMG; optional six-speed manual

The Price Tag: $83,675

By Karl Funke
177 Articles



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