iPod-, iPhone-, and USB drive-toting users are also out of luck unless their 5 Series is equipped with the optional iPod/USB connectivity kit, a $400 option. Fortunately, ours was thusly equipped, but a vehicle in the 535i's price range really should include this feature as standard. Browsing our connected media was fairly easy and the iDrive controller allowed us to quickly spin through long lists of artists or songs. Voice command for song selection would be nice, of course, and faster, but it is not available.
The standard audio rig is a 12-speaker system, two of which are subwoofers mounted beneath the front seats, that outputs a combined 205 watts of power. HD Radio is standard, as is a single-slot CD player with MP3 capabilities.
Our vehicle was also equipped with a Premium package that upgrades the cabin materials to higher-quality leather, adds ambient lighting and an autodimming function to the windows, and integrating BMW's universal garage door opener for $1,800.
We were also able to test the 5 Series' Driver Assistance package. For $1,750, the 535i gains Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Detection, automatic high beams, and a feature called Parking Assistant. The lane departure and blind-spot-warning systems alert the driver that the vehicle is drifting out of its lane or that another vehicle is hidden in the 535i's blind spot by vibrating the steering wheel. However, the BMW's direct steering translates so much road feel and vibration already that it can be difficult to discern the warning vibrations.
BMW's Parking Assistant is an automated parallel-parking aid that, much like the similar system in certain Ford vehicles, will scan for available spaces using ultrasonic sensors. When a space of appropriate size is located, the Parking Assistant system will take over steering duties--while the driver maintains control of the shifter, acceleration, and braking--guiding the sedan into the space.
Other driver aid options included the rear-view camera with trajectory lines, a top-view display that shows a bird's-eye-view of the area surrounding the vehicle by stitching together imagery from multiple cameras, and a side-view camera mounted in the nose of the vehicle that is useful for peering around corners while inching out of a garage or alley and into traffic.
Finally, the Convenience package adds soft-close automatic doors, a keyless entry and ignition system, and a power-opening and -closing trunk lid for $1,700.
Economy and value
At the bottom of the 5 Series' tachometer features an inverted, nested gauge labeled EfficientDynamics. Under acceleration, this gauge displays a red bar that marks the vehicle's current fuel efficiency. When braking, however, the bar passes the 40 mpg mark and turns blue to indicate that Brake Energy Regeneration is active. Essentially, the 5 Series' alternator only operates while the driver is slowing the vehicle, reducing power train drag and improving fuel efficiency.
Brake Energy Regeneration, along with the tweaked turbo system and variable intake technology, allow the new 5 Series' power output to remain the same as the previous generation's, whereas fuel economy jumps up from 17 city/26 highway mpg to 19 city/28 highway mpg.
Interestingly, the 535i's base price of $49,600 is $1,650 less than the previous generation, putting the BMW within a $4,000 firing range of the Infiniti M37 and Lexus GS 350 sport sedans--at least, until you start adding the options.
As tested, our 535i gained $14,950 in options: the aforementioned Dynamic Handling, Sport, Driver Assistance, Convenience, and Premium packages. Navigation is part of a Premium 2 package, but ours was chosen a la carte for $1,900. The rearview camera and top/side view cameras are $400 and $800 options, respectively, and park distance control adds $750 to the bottom line. Finally, we added $550 for metallic paint, $400 for an iPod/USB adapter, and an $875 destination charge to reach our as-tested price of $65,425. That's about $15,000 more than the similarly equipped Lexus and $5,000 more than the better equipped Infiniti.
The 2011 BMW 535i is in many ways a much better vehicle than its predecessor. Though it definitely is a better value than the 2010 model, the middle child in the 5 Series lineup faces some stiff competition from the likes of Infiniti and Lexus. Potential owners looking for the best deal possible will definitely find the Lexus GS 350 tempting and technophiles looking for a sporty sedan might find themselves giving the Infiniti M37 a second look. That's not to say that the BMW 535i isn't without its charm. It is easily one of the best vehicles in its class for handling, fit and finish, and prestige.
The 535i earns top marks for comfort thanks to it high level of available infotainment technology and driver aid features. Top-notch fit and finish and the iDrive-based interface boost the design score. Performance is also rated highly, thanks to the sedan's increased efficiency and power delivery over the previous model and high-performing, if not a bit soft-feeling, suspension.
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