Interior

Where BMW has always done things right is on the inside. Sliding into the driver's seat — my test car had the optional contour seat package, a $1,200 option — is akin to being let into a room at the Ritz. The black dashboard is leather-trimmed with highly polished wood accents. The armrest is padded in thick leather, which feels great. The smell of new leather in a BMW is a favorite sensation, and it was still there even though nearly 5,000 miles had been put on the car before it reached my hands.

The steering wheel is nicely padded and it's heated. I drove in damp 40-degree weather most of the time I had the 5 Series wagon and loved the feature; it meant I didn't need gloves.

There are a number of ergonomic eccentricities BMW is for some reason holding onto. Cupholders pop out of the dash instead of sitting in the center console, meaning my coffee thermos or Diet Coke rests right above the stereo. The passenger's cupholder is better-placed, but both move more than you'd like, especially if you have a to-go coffee cup with an open top. Consider yourself warned.

You could also spill coffee on the new iDrive controller, which happens to be one of the few changes to the 2009 model. This latest controller adds a number of buttons encircling the main control knob so you can easily jump between audio, phone and navigation screens. I much prefer this setup, and now I'd say the iDrive system is as easy to use as similar systems from Audi and Mercedes. You couldn't say that last year.

Backseat room is very good, but you sit a bit upright and there's a large hump for the middle passenger to straddle. Parents will find plenty of room for child-safety seats and very easy-to-use Latch connectors with flip-up covers. In other BMWs, you have to remove the covers, greatly increasing your chances of losing them.

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