2011 BMW 528i Review

Side view of white 2011 BMW 528i

A white four-door sedan...the entry-level model of its series.

Doesn't sound exciting...but it all depends on what that sedan is. If you haven't recognized the photo yet, I'll let you in on the secret. It's the BMW 528i.

And it just may be the most perfect car on the road.

I've always enjoyed BMWs, but I've had three outright revelations while holding a steering wheel with a blue-and-white roundel in the center:

The first, at the tender age of 17, entrusted on a winding road in the Eastern High Sierra of California with a friend's older brother's 2002tii. 38 years later, that still stands as one of the best cars I've ever driven.

The second, in the early 80s, stepping into a 635csi coupe with a price tag of $40,000 (astronomical at the time) and thinking "no car is worth this", only to be convinced after 5 minutes in the foothills west of Reno that it was not only worth it, but that it was, in itself, a reason to go make that kind of money.

And the third, most recently,  a week in the Z4 sDrive35i, which has raised the bar for sporting two-seaters to a level I wouldn't have imagined.

And now, the fourth revelation. The new 5-Series.

Front view of white 2011 BMW 528i
It is, quite simply, the best sedan you can buy, regardless of price. However much more money you spend on something else, you'll be buying power or features, not excellence and value. Cars simply don't come more solidly built, more thoughtfully designed, more perfectly balanced than the 528 i.

The one we drove for a week, courtesy Chapman BMW in Chandler, Arizona , came box-stock...zero options. But on the 528i, standard includes a list of features that are extra-cost with most other cars, that is if you can find an 8-speed automatic transmission in another car. Electronic limited slip differential? Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS? Dynamic Brake Control? Dynamic Stability Control? Dynamic Traction Control? 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires? Rain-sensing wipers? Fog lights? Power-adjustable, heated and folding outside mirrors?  All standard.

Interior shot of 2011 BMW 528i

Not done. 10-way power adjustable driver's and front passenger's seat with four-way lumbar support and memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel and outside mirrors? Leatherette upholstery and dark wood (yes, real wood) trim? An AM/FM/CD/mp3 12-speaker (including 2 subwoofers) audio system with 205 watts of power, including HD radio (makes AM sound like FM and FM like CDs), prepped for satellite radio installation if you choose? Vehicle and key memory? Power moonroof?  Automatic climate control? Power tilt and telescoping steering wheel? Leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise control functions? Bluetooth? iDrive? Tire pressure monitor? All part of the package.

Rear view of 2011 BMW 528i

And now the best part...you get to drive it, too. BMW has forever made the sweetest six-cylinder engines in the world, and the 3.0 liter DOHC inline 6 under the hood of the 528i is no exception. Velvety smooth and pulls like a freight train. Its 240 horsepower is more than adequate for brisk acceleration (as in 6.6 seconds zero to 60).  That's 10 horsepower more than last year's model, and it packs and extra 30 pounds per foot of torque, too (see "pulls like a freight train", above).

Handling is direct and intuitive. Within minutes on the road, the car becomes a direct extension of your hands and your brain. There's immediate, controlled response. Chapman BMW asked me to keep the miles on this one below 200, so I didn't have a chance to take a nice drive on a winding road like Northern Arizona's Oak Creek Canyon (linking the town of Sedona with I-17), but I have no doubt the 528i would have aced it and had me even more impressed.

Icing on the cake: Pairing the 3.0 liter 6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission pays off big in the EPA mileage ratings: 22 city/32 highway.

Yes, 22 city/32 highway. And it's a bigger deal than you think. It means the 528i gets better gas mileage than many small economy cars. Really. Here are a couple of examples from upcoming TireKicker reviews:

Scion xB: 22 city/28 highway.

Kia Sportage: 22 city/31 highway.

So what's it cost?

Base price: $45,050. For the one we drove, add delivery charges, tax and license and you're done. No $45,000 isn't dirt cheap. But go back and look at that list of standard features. Add those to your typical $30,000 sedan and you're at or past $45K in a heartbeat. And is that car as well-built, quick, superbly balanced and does it get 22 in the city and 32 on the highway?

This one's a winner. And it proves BMW is about more than status. There's major-league substance here. Every other automaker should be taking notes.

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