Torque, not horsepower, equals drivability. Accessible torque is what people need in everyday driving, not to rev the nuts off a car to make 200 horsepower. That's why diesel is brilliant. But years of negative stereotypes have painted a scarlet letter A all over diesel engines. It shouldn't.
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted me to drive the 535d so bad that they let me take it for a weekend of clean diesel enjoyment. The mountains of torque willed me along effortlessly.)
Diesel does quite a few things better than a traditional gas engine, but a couple stand out immediately. The fuel economy numbers are just bonkers — often returning better-then-hybrid performance without having to drive a car weighed down with batteries (38 MPG on the highway, if you were curious). Unfortunately, diesel is more expensive than premium fuel in most place and the savings aren't evident until years after owning the car, and that's a turn off even if the same is true of hybrids.
The other, and more noticeable benefit, is torque. Oodles and oodles of torque. In an executive sedan like a 5-series you're more likely to be cruising down a highway than at max revs blasting around a race track. The highway is where torque is your friend.
BMW (along with German competitors Audi and Mercedes) knows this, and in the last few years they've started offering a limited selection of diesel-powered vehicles to us yanks. We aren't getting the full range of offerings, which means we don't get the smallest or the largest, most powerful versions. Instead, we're getting a midrange 3.0 labeled as the 535d. No, it isn't the balls out wild M550d or the frugal 518d, but it should be enough to please most everyone.
The 535d has 256 horsepower, which isn't all that much, but has 413 pound feet of torque available from 1,500 RPM. What that means is effortless acceleration in any gear. It's a truly wonderful engine, and why BMW doesn't advertise that torque number everywhere and evangelize what it means is far beyond my limited understanding of the world.
BMW has done right to put that engine in the 5-series, which is the car that has been the premium sports sedan benchmark since someone first marked a bench. The newest 5-series isn't controversial like the E60 (For the record, I rather liked the E60. My mom liked it so much she had three of them) and is decidedly attractive.
But the competition, namely the 2014 Cadillac CTS, have caught up to BMW. Like any brand, BMW's focus is changing from being The Ultimate Driving Machine to a company that produces more eco-friendly, still fun to drive cars and provides mobility solutions (aka i3). A lot of people say BMW lost its way, but you don't see anyone saying that about Cadillac's focus on being a performance oriented brand, do you?
Even though I liked the E60 5er design, I was in a very, very small minority. Probably a minority of one. The haters, yes, haters, said that it had Dame Edna's glasses, looked surprised, and was far too overstyled. I can understand that, I just don't agree.
The F10 is a far more subdued design than the E60, but it doesn't suffer for it. The tail is a definite improvement over the E60, which appeared too tall and narrow a lot of the time. My 535d also had the M-Sport package, which includes 19-inch wheels and a new aero kit. It's very M5-esque and aggressive, which is what it should be. It's actually better looking than the M5.
The standard bumper is a little more boring and derivative, so if you get a 535d, get the M-Sport. That way people will wonder why an M5 sounds like a tractor.
In the E60, BMW got rid of a trademark feature: Angling the dash towards the driver. That angle was meant to signify a focus on the driver, a cockpit built around the person in the left (or right, if you drive on the wrong side of the road) seat. With the F10, that slight angle towards the driver returns.
You'd expect everything inside to be soft and supple, but also hard and sporty, and you'd be right, it does. Off the top of my head, I don't really have any complaints about any part of the interior. The M-Sport wheel has a lovely small center hub, the materials are all high quality, and, well, that's it.
OH! Wait, there is something. Like in the 3-series, the 5er is equipped with start stop tech to reduce emissions, thankfully it can be turned off. The problem is that the button to turn off start stop is attached to the button to start the car. Push the wrong one at a light, and you'll feel like a moron.
Not that I felt like a moron or anything ever. It's just amazing that for a company that worked so hard to get the ergonomics of iDrive right, they flubbed it so bad when it comes to where one simple button is placed.
The first time I stepped on the gas off the line, I spun the tires. It was the torque, the monstrous torque that is available basically at idle. It pulls hard and strong to a low redline (around 5,500), and then keeps on going. Instead of manic power delivery, it's more a smooth shove in the back, a freight train-esque experience of forward motion.
Off the line is not where the BMW even shines the strongest. It's an in-gear pull on the highway from 60 to 80 MPH, or when the speed limit changes from 25 to 45 MPH, on a backroad. The slightest pressure on the throttle results in a seamless transition from limit to limit, making passing a breeze.
The tractability of this powerplant is a revelation. It doesn't need to spool up to make a pass, you don't need to downshift three times to get it into the rev range. It's already in the rev range when you're cruising, and that's exactly what you want in an executive sedan.
Good pedal feel, not too grabby, not too soft, just right. The Bimmer is heavy, that's what hurts it.
More on that in a second.
Within five minutes of getting in the car, I said the following words: "This thing is damn good." And a lot of that came down to the ride quality. It's firm, but not overly so. On the highway, it's eminently comfortable, like riding a diesel powered magic carpet.
There are very few cars that are as composed or controlled as a 5-series on the road. That's why you see so many of them.
Here's where I had the problem. It's still solid and predictable, don't get me wrong, but it just feels heavy.
With a BMW-claimed curb weight of 3,817 pounds (feels heavier to me), it isn't a lightweight car by any stretch — large or small — of the imagination. There are a lot of cars that hide that weight away, but the F10 5-series isn't one of those cars. You hurtle towards a corner, and when you turn in you think "holy crap, this feels heavy, will it make it through the turn?" I suppose I should applaud it for outperforming its weight, but I don't get along with a heavy car.
The Cadillac CTS, which is a couple hundred pounds lighter, just feels more willing, more lithe, more alive than the BMW does in the twisties. Weight loss equals a car that feels more connected, and here, the BMW is becoming too bloated to inspire that high level of confidence it once did when driving aggressively.
If I have to discuss how good this ZF eight speed is again, I think I'll hurl. The tuning is spot on, shifts are perfectly matched, it'll grab a handful of five gears if you need it.
Look. It's a great transmission. I don't really know what else to say about it.
Great stereo, meh engine note. Diesel has never been known as an evocative noise. Just listen to the Audi R18 at Le Mans, which is makes a woosh and not the high pitched wail we've heard for decades.
At 80 MPH, the most amazing noise that the car is making is the lack of all noise. This car is silent at speed, bar a little tire and wind noise. It's freaky.
iDrive used to be the bane of everyone's existence, even if you didn't own a BMW. It was slow, unintuitive, and terrifying to use. That's what happens when you're the first to pioneer a multimedia controller.
But this new version of iDrive... sublime. It's easy to use, it's intuitive, it's smart. It's right up there with Audi's MMI as the best interface you can have for a car these days.
Other than the iDrive and its myriad of features, this car had three drive modes, full LED lights (which are outstanding), cruise control, parking sensors, satellite radio, and all the other bibs and bobs you'd expect in a vehicle of this class.
The 535d starts at $56,600, which isn't cheap. And now, BMW seems to have taken a page from the Porsche handbook, where a base model car will not satisfy you. This modestly equipped 535d was $66,425. If I equipped this with a few more options like how I'd want it, this would be a $77,000 car.
That's too many monies.
In a number of ways, the BMW is still the best car in its class and one of the best cars that you can buy today in this segment. There isn't a quantifiable way to fault the car, because it does everything that you'd expect and it does a fantastic job at whatever you throw at it.
I can't say enough good things about the diesel power. This is now one of my favorite engines and makes for a brilliant car. I really see no reason to buy a 5-series with any other engine, this makes the 550i look pointless and the 535i appear overworked. Torque is what you need, and this delivers.
Would I prefer it to be lighter? Of course. And that's my main qualm with it. Engine, gearbox, chassis are all fantastic. But put it on a diet, get 200 pounds out of there, and then you have something that comes alive. Do that, and the BMW will stand alone at the top of the class. But like this, it has a Cadillac knocking at its door.
Engine: 3.0L Turbo Diesel I6
Power: 256 HP at 4,000 RPM/ 413 LB-FT at 1,500 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 5.8 seconds
Top Speed: 130 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,817 LBS
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 26 City/38 Highway/30 Combined
MSRP: $56,600 (As Tested: $66,425)