2011 BMW 535i Review

BMW Expert Reviews

By Dan Tsuchiya


  • Aluminum body panels for weight savings
  • Improved handling through suspension changes
  • Bumper mounted cameras
  • Fuel efficient for a 2 ton car


  • Blandness has set into the 5 series styling
  • Manual transmission drivability not top notch
  • Pricey in comparison to competition
  • Seat coolers are missing

The sixth generation of the 5-series BMW has finally graduated in the handling and technology areas to keep up, if not ahead of its competition. Large improvements have been achieved through technology provided by its bigger brother the 7-series including a double wishbone style front suspension and cool safety features like bumper mounted cameras. The 300 hp inline six now has direct injection and a twin scroll single turbo which provides torque from 1200 RPM.

2011 BMW 535i

Driving Impressions:
I’ve been a big fan of the BMW’s and have owned or driven many of them (3’s, 5’s, 6’s, 7’s, M3, M5.) BMW, also known as the driving machine, adheres to their reputation again in the 2011 535i. Our test model had the slick-shifting six speed manual transmission and was able to achieve 21 MPG in town and about 27 MPG on the highway through normal driving. Even spirited driving returned a respectable 18 MPG.

From the moment you push the Start button, the engine roars to life and you get a feeling like you are in a large luxury vehicle. However, once on the road, the 5-series feels like it’s shrinking as the dynamics of the suspension, brakes and engine work together to provide a confidence inspiring drive. Pick up some speed, toss the car through turns, no problem. The new electronic steering, though a little dead on center, provides precise input and you can carve through canyons like it was a 3-series or Z4. Large brakes slow the car amazingly well. When you lay in a 300 hp engine with 300 lb-ft of torque, the drive can get playful pretty fast.

When you get on the throttle, power really builds above 2500 RPM and would estimate the 0-60 to be around 6 seconds. Not bad for a car of this heft. It really shines on the freeway and passing at speed with great car control. The new double wishbone style of suspension allows for larger brakes and stopping this cruiser, even with four adults in the car, is effortless.

2011 BMW 535i

BMW gives you choices here “comfort-normal-sport1-sport2” and with increasing stiffness in suspension as well as responsiveness of the throttle. The difference between sport and sport 2 is minimal on the street, maybe if I had it at the track the story would be different. The Michelin tires performed well in the mountains and the car ate up turns in the Sport mode with ease. No it doesn’t handle like a C6 Corvette, but it has top notch handling for a sedan.

Great quality you come to expect from a $65k vehicle, perfect lines and great paint. They also incorporated soft close doors, illuminated door handles, self open and close trunk lid, and a power sunroof sunscreen — all great features even though some weight was added. I looked around the engine compartment and the engine design has become easier to maintain (for those future DIY folks) because the twin scroll single housing turbo takes up less room than twin turbochargers.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
This car is pretty substantial; almost the size of the 7-series two generations back, but the handling is superb for a vehicle this size. The door sills are a bit higher in this model than previous ones so the vehicle feels like it wraps around you. The dash and center console are fairly large providing even more of the envelop feeling….you feel safe, but at the same time you may feel a bit claustrophobic (especially shotgun) until you get used to it.

BMW 5-series interiorGetrag 6-speed manual transmission2011 BMW 5-series 10-way power adjustable front seat

The front seats give you multiple adjustments for thigh support, headrest fore/aft, four way lumbar, and heat. All the things one would need to make a true driver’s car. BMW claims to have increased rear seat room by 0.5 inches and the legroom in the back is decent, but nowhere near the 7-series. If you are over six feet tall and driving, the back seat passengers will be cramped. The Bavarians have always been a bit behind their competition in the air conditioning area and this new 5-series is no exception — no air-cooled front seats.

The much maligned iDrive, now in its fourth generation, is much easier to operate and a lot more intuitive than previous iterations. They also installed an MP3 adapter, but didn’t sync well with our iPods and iPhones. Save yourself the additional $400 for the MP3 option and use it towards a good aftermarket system afterward.

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