BMW 535i REVIEW
Sitting just beneath the V8-powered 550i in BMW’s mid-size line-up is the 2010 BMW 535i, which arrived this year in an all-new skin with all-new underpinnings and a new lease on life.
Besides the new platform, the interior is completely different and the 3.0 litre turbocharged six fitted to our test car is also newly-minted.
Changes are wholesale and virtually nothing carries over from the model before. And there is not a downside in sight. The F10 5 Series is greatly improved over the preceding E60 model in every respect.
What’s the appeal?
Buyers trading in their E60 for an F10 5 Series will find much to like. The interior feels bigger, the design is less polarizing (although more conservative as a result), and there are numerous dynamic improvements.
Our tester, BMW’s 535i executive express, comes with a very upmarket feel and with cabin detailing that has more than a slight whiff of ‘Eau de 7 Series’ about it.
What features does it have?
The 335i also scores active cornering lamps with high-beam assist, a rear-view camera, eight-way electrically adjustable front seats, keyless entry and a 12-speaker premium audio system with USB/iPod inputs.
Our test car also came fitted with a number of options: ‘surround view’ parking display, lane departure warning system, lane change warning system, a 10.2 inch display for the top-line Navigation System Professional, a TV receiver, heated front seats, power-operated bootlid and a sunroof.
What’s under the bonnet?
The twin-turbo inline six that powered the previous-gen 535i (which wasn't available in Australia) has been retired, replaced by a new single-turbo straight six.
Power and torque are up by 25kW and 85Nm from the old motor’s output, with the new engine peaking at 225kW and 400Nm.
An eight-speed automatic has taken the place of the old six-speeder, and comes with a set of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles on the 535i.
Suspension has also seen major revisions. With the F10 5 Series built atop the new 7 Series architecture, BMW has ditched the old 5’s MacPherson strut front suspension in favour of a more capable double A-arm setup.
The rear rides on an all-new multi-link suspension set-up, and active rear steering is available as an option.
There’s a host of electronic aids that give the driver greater control over the chassis, including Dynamic Driving Control and Dynamic Damper control (both standard on the 535i).
The combination of both systems allow the driver to select from four modes – Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ - which alter the damper firmness, throttle mapping or both.
Sport+ also dials back the stability control system, allowing greater slip angles in spirited driving.
How does it drive?
At speed it is flat and composed, with thread-the-needle precision at the wheel and quite superb chassis balance.
Few car makers can engineer a chassis for the keen driver in the way that BMW can and, for a large sedan, BMW’s 535i is deceptively swift and a seriously good drive.
That inline six may have one less turbo compared to the engine it replaced, but less is more in this instance. The power curve is exceptionally linear, turbo lag is minimal and there’s loads of torque across a wide rpm band.
Power output is a healthy 225kW. Although not quite enough to make the heavy Bavarian a full-on rocketship it’s nevertheless enough to hustle it up to 100km/h in an appreciably quick 6.1 seconds.
With eight speeds to choose from, the 535i’s transmission has a gear for nearly every scenario. It’s transparently smooth and under gentle driving blends changes with seamless fluidity.
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A criticism? We think it doesn’t downshift readily enough even in Sport+ mode. It sometimes leaves you in a dead part of the powerband after exiting slower corners. Better, we found, to use the shift paddles and manage the ratios yourself when giving the 535i some beans.
Body control, on the other hand, is excellent. Roadholding is well above par in any of the chassis modes, but pitch and roll are the least apparent in Sport mode. The electrically-assisted steering is nicely weighted and communicative – particularly in Sport.
In the daily grind, Comfort is the chassis mode of choice. The others make the dampers too firm for Australian roads, and even Comfort mode struggles to properly soak up hard-edged road imperfections.
While it makes the 5 Series easier to drive in heavy stop-start traffic, and improves fuel consumption, it can feel a little lifeless in these modes.
Tyre roar from the run-flats can also spoil what is an otherwise serenely quiet cabin, although it’s only coarse asphalt that disagrees with the rubber.
Another issue is poor outward visibility courtesy of the high boot and extremely thick A and B-pillars.
The large wing mirrors compensate for the poor rearward visibility to an extent, but the thickness of the pillars means the optional ‘surround view’ parking display and lane change warning system are highly recommended for 5 Series buyers.
What did our passengers think?
Smaller-bodied people may find the wide-ish front seats lacking in lateral support, but that’s really only an issue when driving at the 535i’s (very high) limits.
The rear bench features seating for three, but the centre position has an extremely firm backrest (really, the underside of the centre armrest), and is best left unoccupied.
Head and shoulder room in the rear is good, but toes can get a little crowded by the front seat base.
There’s also plenty of transmission tunnel intrusion, meaning whoever’s unfortunate enough to have to occupy the middle seat has nowhere for the feet.
Generally speaking though, the new 5 Series feels noticeably larger inside than the previous-gen 5. Clearly, the move to the 7 Series chassis has paid dividends here.
While the front occupants are spoiled by a plethora of mod-cons, the rear passengers don’t miss out.
Our tester had the optional four-zone climate control system installed, which gives the outboard rear passengers independent control of their own quadrant’s temperature.
There’s also map lights, two cupholders and door bins in all doors. Headrest-mounted DVD players are also available as an option
Interior quality and feel
The 535i’s interior is one of its best assets. There’s a genuine sense of opulence in the new 5 Series’ cabin, a sensation that seemed absent in the last-gen model.
A sports leather steering wheel with paddles is standard on the 535i, and is nicely sculpted to fit the hand. High-quality soft-touch plastics abound, with wood trim polished to an exceptionally high sheen.
The layout of the centre stack is button-heavy, but the controls are all grouped logically and it doesn’t take long to figure out what does what. The backlit black panel display for the climate control is an aesthetic highlight.
Everything feels solid - this is an interior that will age well. Bar a few minor differences in shape and size, the dash layout is nearly identical to that of the 7 Series, and the prestige of BMW’s high-roller large sedan rubs off nicely on the 535i.
Luggage room can be expanded by dropping the 60/40 split fold rear seats, and a ski port enables long items to be carried without having to fold either seat.
In-cabin storage isn’t that great, despite the size of the interior. The centre console bin is surprisingly compact, the glovebox is fairly small and the door bins are both shallow and short.
There’s plenty of spots to put small items like a wallet or a phone, but keeping anything larger out of view while the car is parked may be a challenge.
How safe is it?
Standard safety includes front, side and side-curtain airbags, three-point seatbelts on all seats and active head restraints.
Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all par for the course in this segment, and BMW’s traction control can be switched between three settings – on, off or ‘Dynamic’, which allows a little bit of sideways fun before intervening.
Our test car was also fitted with the optional lane departure warning system and lane change warning system, which uses on-board cameras and radar sensors to tell the driver whether they are deviating from their lane or if another vehicle is hiding in the car’s blind spot.
Fuel consumption and green rating
The turbo six is such a torque-laden motor that we’ve little doubt the 535i could achieve BMW’s claim, however the temptation to tap into that turbo power is overpoweringly strong – much to the detriment of fuel economy.
The Federal Government’s Green Vehicle Guide rates the 2010 BMW 535i 6.5 stars out of 10 for greenhouse gas emissions, and 8.5 out of 10 for particulate emissions.
How does it compare?
However, as is the norm, BMW’s old nemesis Mercedes-Benz is the source for the 535i’s most logical competitor.
The E350 sedan bears the same $128,900 price-tag as the 535i and is a close match in terms of accommodation, build quality and chassis sophistication.
However, the E350 doesn’t get a heads-up display, fancy surround-view cameras or an eight-speed transmission. Its naturally-aspirated V6 engine also loses out to the BMW’s turbo six in both power and torque.
The 535i comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre vehicle warranty, with a three-year paint warranty and 12-year bodywork warranty.
A complimentary three-year roadside assistance subscriptions is also offered.
There are two non-metallics (Alpine White and Black), and ten metallic paint colours offered in the 5 Series sedan range. Metallic paint is a no-cost option on the 535i and 550i.
The 2010 BMW 535i sedan retails for $128,900 before on-road costs, with BMW’s online price calculator estimating an on-road price of $141,025.
It’s also a genuine step up from the old 5 Series. With the 2010 model, BMW has moved the 5 Series nameplate further upmarket in terms of quality and overall finish.
The looks may be more conservative than the last-gen 5 Series, but beneath the business-suit exterior lies an athlete at heart.
Few large sedans can match its on-road balance and responsiveness. Sumptuous but restrained, it’s a luxury sedan for well-heeled driving enthusiasts, and we highly recommend it.