2008 BMW 5er Series

By Jonathan Spira on 1 December 2007
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The luxury sports-sedan segment is one of the most competitive in the auto industry, as car makers try to outdo each other with cars that provide luxury features and sporty handling.  From Acura to Cadillac to Mercedes-Benz, each manufacturer tries to one-up the competition with improved handling and new features.  But they all have one car in their sights when they design a new model: the BMW 5 Series.small rear

BMW invented the sports sedan category in the 1960s with the legendary 2002, BMW helped create the luxury sports-sedan segment as well with the introduction of the first 5 Series in 1972.

For 2008, BMW’s 5 Series lineup includes several all-new models and engines, as well as a refreshed design (BMW calls this an LCI, or “life cycle impulse”), with new six-cylinder engines, subtle refinements to the body, an updated iDrive cockpit controller, luxuriously appointed interiors, and new front and rear lighting.

The 528i replaces the 525i with an engine that delivers 230 hp and 200 ft-lb of torque.  A 528i with a six-speed manual transmission does zero-to-sixty in 6.5 seconds (the automatic version takes 7.1 seconds).

The 530i becomes the 535i and this is where things really get interesting. The engine is the twin-turbo 3.0 liter six found in the 335i (see our review of the 335i in the March 2007 issue), with 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque.  That puts the 535i at 5.6 seconds (manual) in the zero-to-sixty (5.7 seconds for the automatic).PA240259

The 550i continues with the 4.8-liter, 360-hp V8 engine.  The 550i sport package includes a new aerodynamic package that makes the V8 more closely resemble the V10 M5.  It comes with staggered 19” wheels with non-runflat  performance tires mounted on double-spoke Style 172M rims.  It also includes Active Roll Stabilization, a suspension control system that reduces body roll in cornering,  a short shifter for the manual transmission, a retuned sport suspension calibration, and 20-way power multi-contour front seats .

All come with a standard six-speed manual transmission with the E-shift automatic transmission as a no-cost option.  For the 535i and 550i, a sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel is optional.

Outside of the U.S., one of the most popular models in the 5 Series range is the 535d (BMW has announced that it will launch a line of 50-state diesel-powered cars in the U.S. in 2008 but hasn’t said which model range(s) will be available with a diesel engine).PA270030

In Europe, BMW has been offering diesel models since 1983 and 67% of BMW sales there are diesel models.  The 535d gets an incredible 35 mpg (the 535i as sold in the U.S. gets only 26 mpg on the highway).  BMW hasn’t offered a diesel model in the U.S. in well over a decade because emissions regulations wouldn’t allow the cars to be sold in all 50 states.  Now, with cleaner diesel fuel and improvements in technology, this is no longer an obstacle.


Sometimes the BMW interior can be somewhat Spartan. The new 5 Series, thanks to the use of more leather on the door panels and the sides of the console, has a more luxurious feel compared to earlier 5ers.  Storage space has been generously increased; door pockets are deeper and there is a storage tray just forward of the shift knob, suitable for sunglasses.

The multi-contour seats set a new standard for driver and passenger comfort.  They include an articulated upper backrest, four-way lumbar support, active head restraints, and adjustable side and thigh support.  It took me a day or so to set it for optimal comfort but once set (the car can memorize several settings for driver and passenger), nothing is more comfortable or convenient.


iDrive, BMW’s oft-criticized cockpit controller, has been improved with new graphics and screen colors, programmable memory keys, or “Favorites” buttons, and it no longer has haptic feedback.  The deletion of haptic feedback, or resistance at the end of a menu choice, makes for faster response times (although the haptic feedback would have been useful had it been better deployed originally).  The six Favorites buttons allow the driver to program frequently used commands, such as a destination, a favorite telephone number, or a preferred radio station.  Despite its quirks, iDrive is still the gold standard compared to what the competition has to offer.PA240273

Satellite navigation with iDrive benefits from Real-Time Traffic Information, which provides traffic info for 44 markets. There should be a decent amount of overlap on the East Coast, so as you travel, for example from New York City to Hartford to Boston, you will be covered for most of your trip. The system can supply up to 300 events (which was tested to be more than sufficient for Los Angeles), and the database is refreshed every four minutes.

Unlike traffic systems from other carmakers, satellite radio is not required; only the navigation feature is necessary for it to work. There is no recurring fee (BMW advertises that four years of service are “included”) nor will there be a fee thereafter; the service will run at no charge as long as BMW and Clear Channel maintain their relationship for the offering.

A new and already popular option is the iPod/USB adapter located in the center console.  USB flash cards as well as iPods and iPhones can connect directly to the car’s audio system; the player is controlled through the iDrive controller and the driver sees detailed information on the Bordmonitor above the center stack.

BMW continues to be the leader in offering easy-to-use Bluetooth technology for its cars, although Ford will give BMW a run for its money with the new Sync system from Microsoft.  It’s easier than ever to pair a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone with the car and, for compatible phones, the voice command system will allow you to speak the name of anyone in your phonebook to initiate a call.

The voice command system supports hundreds of commands, practically anything iDrive can control, making it useful for entering new destinations and changing radio stations.

Multicast HD Radio offers drivers new choices for in-car listening.  With HD radio, a broadcaster can present two or three digital stations in its existing frequency.  Unlike satellite radio, there is no charge for the actual service.

The High Beam Assistant goes far beyond the Autronic Eye first offered by General Motors in 1952. A camera sensor mounted on the front of the rear-view mirror registers the headlights of oncoming traffic as well as the tail lights of cars in front, in addition to general lighting conditions on the road and uses the information to automatically switch the high-beam headlights on and off.

The lane departure warning system tells the driver, via vibrations on the steering wheel, to correct the position of the car. It uses a camera mounted on the rear-view mirror to see road-lane markings, even at night. Active Cruise Control with Stop-and-Go uses three radar sensors that monitor objects ahead of the vehicle to maintain a safe distance between vehicles, allowing the driver to concentrate on other aspects of driving. If more cars had this feature, it would improve the flow of traffic as well.  The stop-and-go feature allows the system to function in situations such as traffic flowing at low speeds where it will bring you to standstill if necessary.  The standard Cruise Control comes with a new braking function that activates the brakes when required, for example driving downhill for a long distance. Based on driving dynamics the Curve Speed Limiter reduces road speed in bends whenever necessary.dsc01232

Heads-up display projects useful data (speed, cruise control, navigation instructions) onto the windshield.

To further assist the business traveler on the road, BMW Assist, included for four years, now includes remote door unlock in addition to safety services such as automatic collision notification, enhanced roadside assistance, stolen vehicle recovery, and TeleService, which sends a message to your BMW Center if your car requires service or maintenance, allowing the workshop to contact you for an appointment and also make the necessary parts ready.

In my travels, I have found the optional BMW Concierge service invaluable, whether it’s to find a place to hold a meeting in a foreign city, hotel and restaurant recommendations and reservations, and changing flights.  My favorite feature is the destination download feature: the BMW Assist center can download a destination (such as restaurant they recommended) and phone number to the car..

Although not yet available in the United States, BMW Online is a WAP portal that is fully integrated into iDrive. Online content (and this varies by market) includes a city guide, which includes hotel and restaurant information (once you make a selection, the nav system will guide you there); news and weather (including local, national, and international news as well as business news and market reports), and a business directory, allowing on-the-fly lookups, the results of which can easily be transferred to the nav system for guidance. BMW Online includes a personal e-mail account; you can reply to e-mails using predefined personal responses or compose a reply on the fly. You can also access a non-BMW POP3 or IMAP e-mail account if you configure it in your account details. One of the best features for the business traveler is the address book. The system loads your personal address book from your PDA or PC and all data is synchronized between your e-mail account and the nav system.


I spent considerable time behind the wheels of 2008 model year 535xi, 550i, and 535ds.  All three handled well but the 550i, equipped with the sport package and sport suspension, had a more refined ride, handled bumps better (despite 19” wheels), and felt faster, undoubtedly as a result of the V8.  The exhaust note on the 550i sounded far more refined than the 535xi.

As with other BMWs, with the new 5 Series the driver feels a connection to the road, evidence of what BMW calls Freude am Fahren (the Joy of Driving).  The steering wheel feels perfect in your hands and the car responds to both the driver input and the road perfectly.  The ride is both sporty and luxurious at the same time (a hard thing to achieve); the cabin is hushed but with the radio off, the music of the engine is audible.

The 535xi had that typical inline-6 smoothness and no turbo lag was noticeable.  An alternative to standard rear-wheel drive BMWs, the xDrive all-wheel-drive system offers superior traction under a variety of driving conditions.

The 535d was a completely different story.  With its 3-liter inline six cylinder engine with twin turbochargers (small one for low revs, large for high revs) that work in sequence to eliminate turbo lag, the 535d has so much power that you simply would have to look at the model badge on the trunk to confirm it’s a diesel.  The engine is rated at 272 hp at 4400 rpm with peak torque of 413 lb-ft at 2000 rpm.  BMW even engineered the exhaust note to sound like a gasoline-powered BMW straight six.  The 535d is at its best in overtaking mode.  BMW says that 0-100 km/h takes just 6.5 seconds

The 2008 550i is the flagship of the 5 Series and deservedly so.  Its power and grip were impressive.  This is a car, without a hint of ostentation, is smooth on the road and has the best fun-to-drive ratio one could want.

While it comes with an excellent six-speed manual transmission standard, a Sport Automatic transmission (SAT) is an extra $500 above the no-charge automatic transmission option.  The $500 buys you shift paddles on the steering wheel and a choice between two driving programs, normal or sport.  For those who want the best of both worlds, the SAT makes the car even more fun to drive  with fast shifting and rev-matching for downshifting.

I have mixed feelings about the new E-shift electronic shifter that was present on several of the cars. It’s downright clumsy to have to press the shifter’s side button to toggle forward into reverse and back for drive.  In theory it sounds perfect but in practice, such as a valet in a parking garage,, someone unfamiliar with the shifter’s nuances could easily think he was shifting in one direction and end up going the other.

All BMWs come with BMW Ultimate Service. This program includes the four year BMW Maintenance Program, which covers all scheduled maintenance work (oil changes, brakes, etc.) as well as a four-year 50,000-mile warranty.  All 5 Series vehicles come with BMW Assist with TeleService.


535i 535xi 535d 550i
Base price/price-as-tested $49,400/N/A $51,600/$61,825 €45,378.15/€N/A $58,500/$79,320
Drivetrain Front engine, rear-wheel drive Front engine, all-wheel drive Front engine, rear-wheel drive Front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 3.0 liter turbocharged inline 6 3.0 liter  turbocharged inline 6 3.0 liter  turbocharged inline 6 diesel 4.8 liter V8
Transmission Standard 6-speed manual or automatic; optional 6-speed Sport Automatic Transmission with paddle shifters and two programs Standard 6-speed manual or automatic; optional 6-speed Sport Automatic Transmission with paddle shifters and two programs 6-speed automatic transmission only Standard 6-speed manual or automatic; optional 6-speed Sport Automatic Transmission with paddle shifters and two programs
Curb weight (manual/automatic) 3660 / 3703 / TBD TBD / 3946 1735 kg 3946 /3968/TBD
Length x width x height 191.1”x72.7”x61.3 191.1”x72.7”x61.3 4841 mm x 1846 mm x 1468 mm 191.1”x72.7”x61.3
0-60 mph (manual/automatic/SAT) 5.6 sec/5.7 sec TBD / 5.6 sec 6.4 sec (0-100 km/h) 5.4 sec/5.5 sec
EPA city/highway fuel economy (mpg) (manual/automatic) TBD/TBD /  17/26 TBD/TBD / 16/24 6.7 ltr/100 km (EU rating) 15/22 / 15/23

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