Ride & Handling

Both our test cars had the Sport Package, which includes several features that affect ride and handling, so bear in mind that the base suspension will perform differently. The package adds an adaptive suspension and active stabilizer bars, both of which are controlled by the Driving Dynamics Control rocker switch next to the shifter. DDC's four modes — Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+ — vary the suspension settings, along with accelerator sensitivity, automatic shifting behavior, power-steering assist and traction control. It's much simpler to use than the old approach, which included multiple buttons for the various systems. Now you can program the Sport mode to vary the chassis settings, the drivetrain behavior or both, making your preferences just a push or two away using the DDC buttons.

The 5 Series rides comfortably indeed in the Comfort mode, and it's not bad in Normal. I was surprised by that because the Sport Package equipped both of our test cars with 19-inch wheels and lower-series run-flat tires. Sounds like a recipe for jarred bones, but that wasn't the case. Cycle through the modes, and you can feel the ride firm up and soften, but it's not always as noticeable as you'll find in some cars, and that's fine. One gets the impression the system is designed for true performance differences, not dramatic effect, so it really depends on the type of road and driving conditions.

The handling is interesting. Both the 535i and 550i are true to BMW's founding principle of balanced front/rear weight distribution: The 535i is rated 50.9/49.1 percent and the 550i is 52.4/47.6 percent. The automatic is light enough that the manual transmission relinquishes only a tenth of a percent to the rear in either car. More important than the specs, the cars feel wonderfully balanced and controllable. Size be damned, you can four-wheel-drift these things all day. The standard electronic stability system can be dialed back or defeated entirely.

The standard suspension and different wheel sizes and tire types will all affect roadholding, but there's no mistaking when the dynamic basics are there, and in the 5 Series, they are. My main complaint is about the sense of involvement. Dynamically, the 5 Series does what you want it to and more, but it's less visceral than I'd like, and maybe even less than the version that ended in 2010. Generation by generation, BMWs are becoming less engaging to drive. Though it had its own shortcomings, the 5 Series of two generations ago, coded E39, felt more ultimate.

The electric power steering might play a part, as its feedback isn't as good as it was in the best of BMW's now-endangered hydraulic-assist implementations, but it's good enough that a casual driver wouldn't know the difference. (For the record, I'm talking about the standard steering; the active steering option, which is sometimes criticized for its feel, wasn't on our test cars.)

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