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2011 BMW 5-Series

BMW

Price range: $53,900-$73,300

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is a critically important launch for this Bavarian auto maker. BMW may sell more 3-Series cars in the world, but the 5-Series, says BMW sales and marketing boss Ian Robertson, "is at the centre of the brand."

The 5-Series generates more than 20 per cent of the company's profits and accounts for between 25 and 30 per cent of sales in the key U.S. market (but just 2 per cent in Canada). Since 2005, the 5 has been the segment leader, out-selling the Mercedes-Benz E-Class among others. Going back to 1972 when the first-generation 5 arrived, BMW has sold more than 5.5 million 5-Series cars. This car matters.

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The 2011 5-Series officially comes to Canada next month. Company officials say it stands out for its authenticity. That authenticity starts with the design, says Adrian van Hooydonk, the Dutch-born design chief at BMW. The new 5 also shares its basic underpinnings with the larger 7-Series introduced last year.

"This is a vehicle that moves and we want to show it in the design," says van Hooydonk.

Visually, the next 5 resembles the 2010 7-Series, but aside from its smaller size, the 2011 5-Series is different in other ways: the signature twin-kidney grille is wider; the bonnet is lower; and the double-round headlamps are cut off at the top with light rings.

Beyond the look, the 2011 5 is bigger than ever. The wheelbase is up 80 millimetres to 2,968, while the length is up 40 mm. More wheelbase means the car is bigger inside and all that extra space goes to the back seats. The body is 55 per cent stiffer than the outgoing version. The 5 has been engineered to be balanced and responsive, and to feel light, though at 1,905 kg with the V-8 engine it is not particularly svelte.

Naturally, there are gizmos: BMW's driver-selectable Adaptive Drive for tuning driving characteristics, along with Collision Warning to help drivers manage serious braking situations and Active Cruise Control. The latter combine to warn drivers of an impending smack-up and if there is no reaction, the system automatically applies the brakes. Night Vision will also be part of the package. You'll be expected to "ooh" and "ah" about Top View with its 360-degree bird's-eye view shown in the control screen.

Finally, power. Canadian buyers initially will get just two choices: the 535i with a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six (300 horsepower) and the 550i with its 4.4-litre twin-turbo V-8 (400 hp). Both engines are being sold with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or eight-speed automatic. Later in 2010, the BMW 528i will debut with a 240-hp inline-six-cylinder. In the future, a gasoline-electric hybrid and diesel variants are possible.

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At the outset, only rear-drive models will be sold, though an all-wheel-drive xDrive is certain, as is an M5 derivative.

The 2011 5-Series is obviously important and BMW has treated it as such.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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