Reviewing a luxury car often sparks an internal battle. It's difficult to admit (without those all-too-familiar pangs of parental guilt) that I really do like something that is more refined, a little more lavish and a lot more expensive.
The 2012 BMW 5 Series is all those things, and it can fill a practical role with family-friendly attributes like a spacious cabin, improved fuel economy and a large cargo area. How's that for justification?
The real draw to any BMW is the driving experience, and for parents who love to drive, the 528i will be appealing. I've been spoiled by a BMW before and was looking forward to my weeklong test drive. Surprisingly, I didn't fall in love with the 528i, though the interior did a good job of trying to sway me.
Everything about the sedan looks great and functions the way it should, but it didn't feel like a BMW in some ways. The 528i's ride felt softer than other BMWs I've driven; it just didn't have the tight, athletic feel on the road. There is an optional Sport mode that helped things a little, but it wasn't the same. For the not-so-picky, the 528i will deliver a pleasurable ride. It's a BMW, so precision handling and quick acceleration are to be expected.
In an effort to improve fuel economy, the 528i now has a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and start/stop technology, which turns off the engine when the car is stopped and the driver's foot is on the brake. The engine starts up automatically when the brake pedal is released. I personally didn't find my mileage averages to be significantly affected by it — the feature can be turned off — and frankly, the start/stop system's execution was jarring. I was expecting something a little more seamless coming from BMW.
The BMW 528i sedan starts at $46,900. My test car was equipped with the Premium, Technology and Sport packages, raising its price to $58,775.
The 528i is a handsome sedan. It's a little longer than its earlier generation, and at a quick glance, it could almost pass for a 7 Series, which isn't surprising since they're built on the same platform. The 5 Series manages to straddle the lines between luxurious and sporty and comes across as youthful but classic.
There were no ease of entry or exit issues with the 5 Series, either. The doors are solid but not too heavy for children to open, and the step-in height is ideal for just about anyone. A big surprise was my test car came with an optional power tailgate.
The cargo area is large and can easily swallow gear and groceries simultaneously. Should you require more cargo space, you can upgrade to the optional 60/40-split folding backseat.
For 2012, the 528i now comes with a four-cylinder engine, rather than a six-cylinder. The turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 240 horsepower. It gets an EPA-estimated 23/34 mpg city/highway. What's not so great is the 528i's turbocharged engine requires premium gasoline.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
BMW has some of the best interiors and the 5 Series doesn't disappoint with its quality finishes, thoughtful details and impressive displays. The 528i's interior features aren't flashy — its cabin possesses an understated elegance — and isn't so fancy that it can't withstand the day-to-day grind of a busy set of mini-passengers.
Another reason why the 5 Series could be a great family car: The backseat is big. After all, luxury and comfort go hand-in-hand, and nobody is going to feel squished riding in the 528i's backseat. It's a realistic five-seater, affording ample legroom for all, but if you've got child-safety seats back there, it only accommodates two.
In the front row, I enjoyed the ergonomic, multicontour driver's seat. I spent more time than I'd care to admit perfecting the most ideal positions for back, lumbar and even thigh support. Tech-savvy parents will appreciate the technology BMW brings to the inside of their cars; the iDrive system is confusing for some, but I find it simple to use after a brief learning curve. I love the way you can customize the displays to show exactly what you want to see (I'm a big fan of the wide-screen map with the split screen showing my gas mileage).
The BMW Connected application is also available for your smartphone, enabling you to check the car's fuel levels remotely, access your calendar events from inside the vehicle, and stream your favorite web radio stations. With the optional BMW apps, you can have your friends' status updates and tweets read to you as you drive, but that's a slippery slope. It's best to just enjoy your drive in the BMW and leave the social networking for later.
My biggest beef with the 5 Series' interior is that for a big ol' car, it sure is skimpy on storage. Maybe it's trivial, but I was annoyed that I couldn't even score a storage cubby big enough to hold my sunglasses case and wallet at the same time. There's a giant armrest in between the two front seats, but once opened, it's just a shallow storage cutout with all the iPod and USB connection cords that usually get in the way. And as a mom who always commutes with a beverage, I wouldn't trust my latte in the front row's small, flimsy cupholders for a second. There are two cupholders in front and an armrest in the backseat containing two more. There's a traditional glove box, too, but that's about all for storage. That's a big disappointment for those of us who enjoy traveling in luxury with our little luxuries, too.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
The 2012 BMW 5 Series, except for those with all-wheel drive and a V-8, has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety due to its highest rating of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the 5 Series was also awarded an overall score of five stars out of five. It earned five stars in the side-impact and rollover crash tests and four stars of five in the frontal crash test.
Safety features include rear-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains.
There are many other safety features, but they'll cost you. I was shocked that my test car, which had the optional Premium, Sport and Technology packages and was more than $12,000 over the base model price, did not come with blind spot warning and lane departure warning systems or adaptive cruise control. The 528i also has optional all-wheel drive, auto-dimming headlights, night vision, parking sensors and a backup camera.
What eases the options sting somewhat is installing child-safety seats is a breeze. There are two sets of Latch anchors in the backseat, and they are easily accessed thanks to conveniently hinged covers. Flip up the cover and the Latch anchor is ready for use, with no digging into the seat cushions. I consider not sweating and struggling to install my daughter's rear-facing car seat the biggest luxury of all.
Get more safety information on the 2012 BMW 528i here.