Buy a 5 Series from this generation for access to a world-class showcase of technology, backed by a world-class driving experience.
The latest version of BMW’s long-celebrated luxury sports sedan (with internal designation “F10”) hit the market for model-year 2011 with plenty of selection, packages, powertrains and world-class luxury features. Competing with the Audi A6, Lexus GS, Mercedes E-Class and other popular premium sedans from around the globe, this 5 Series spawned several spin-off variants in various markets, including a wagon, an ActiveHybrid model, and a Gran Turismo (GT) hatchback. A high-performance M5 variant was also available.
This article will focus on the more popular, mainstream versions of the F10 5 Series.
Feature content included high-end audio system provisions, heated leather, navigation, head-up display, automatic climate control, rear window sunshade, push-button start, xenon lighting, iDrive command console interface and more.
Largely, you buy a 5 Series from this generation for access to a world-class showcase of technology, backed by a world-class driving experience. As it goes with many high-end luxury cars, reliability and low running costs aren’t among the top reasons to consider a used copy.
This generation 5 Series offered a mostly turbocharged engine lineup. At launch, the base engine was a 3.0L straight-six, naturally aspirated, though from 2012 and on, it was replaced by a more powerful and efficient 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower. The 535i got a 3.0L straight-six turbo engine, good for 300 horsepower. The 550i got a 4.4L twin-turbocharged V8.
Look for automatic paddle-shift transmissions, and note that models with the xDrive designation feature all-wheel drive (AWD). A diesel-powered model called the 535d was also available.
What Owners Like
In most cases, owners rave about fuel efficiency, pleasing performance (especially from six- and eight-cylinder models), a smooth drive, great handling and steering, and a multitude of luxury features, with the stereo and climate control system being commonly rated as favorites. Quality interior assembly and overall style and design are highly rated, too.
What Owners Dislike
Common complaints centre around the fussy iDrive command console, and some owners note that the 5 Series’s cabin isn’t quite as roomy as it looks from the outside. Notably, rear-seat legroom may be at a premium for taller passengers.
The Test Drive
First up, here’s a 51-page thread on a popular owners forum outlining issues with the turbocharged V8 engine, an apparent recall campaign by BMW that involved checking and possibly replacing numerous components within that engine, and a discussion that largely points towards the need to shop carefully for a model with this powerplant. If you’re set on a BMW 550i, purchase any and all extended warranty coverage available, and ask a BMW service advisor about bulletin number B001314.
In comparison, here’s a discussion thread suggesting that the 535i model, with the turbo straight-six engine, is an ideal pick if you’re looking to own a 5 Series from this generation for the long haul.
Two other notes regarding the V8-powered BMW 550i from this generation. First, the coolant level of this engine should be scrutinized carefully, and a professional inspection should be conducted for coolant leaks, which may result from a leaky coolant line feeding the turbochargers. This can be pricey and complicated to repair, as the turbochargers are housed within the “V” of the engine. Some more reading here, and here.
Note that warning lights, malfunctions, check-engine lights or a “DRIVETRAIN MALFUNCTION” warning in the instrument cluster are potential signs of well-documented issues with this engine. They could reference a serious problem, or be caused simply by low or poor battery voltage. In any case, take any warning lights as a sign to investigate further. Given the complicated nature of this vehicle, any pre-purchase inspections should be carried out at a BMW service centre, not a private shop.
On the topic of battery voltage, here’s another modern car with owners that report numerous battery-related issues, ranging from current draw when the car is off, which kills batteries overnight, to faulty factory-installed batteries. Here’s some more battery-related reading. Two notes: first, this generation 5 Series is a great car to leave on a trickle charger when it won’t be driven for a while, and second, remember that software updates can often fix issues with undesired current draw when the vehicle is parked.
Note that since the 5 Series uses an electronic gear shifter, engaging neutral to push the car, perhaps to a boost vehicle if the battery dies, is not possible. Keeping a fully charged booster pack in your new-to-you 5 Series is a great idea.
If the 5 Series you’re considering is equipped with the Head Up Display (HUD), be sure that it works properly. If it doesn’t, the likely reason is that it’s been switched off from within the iDrive console, and simply needs to be turned back on. Here’s some more reading.
Engage the backup camera, and any other cameras fitted to the model you’re considering, several times over the course of your test drive. The 5 Series you’re considering can have up to a half-dozen cameras installed on its body. If you note a “Camera Malfunction” error message, according to owners, a replacement camera may be required. More details here.
If the model you’re considering is equipped with the Dynamic Drive system, which includes adaptive dampers, be triple-sure to have a mechanic check the system for overall health. Some owners have reported serious and difficult-to-diagnose issues with the system, possibly caused by a faulty fluid pump within that allows metal shavings into the oil that courses through the system, causing a world of problems. Here’s some more information.
Have the cooling system of any model with the 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine checked for fluid level, condition, thermostat and water pump health, just to be safe. Finally, check the tires and wheels on all models for signs of damage, especially bulging and bubbles on the inner and outer portion of the tire sidewall, which indicates damage that should be addressed immediately.
A final note: remember that nobody posts on owner forums about how their 5 Series functioned flawlessly on a given day, and that the issues listed above are likely from a small sample size of overall 5 Series owners. Use these tips as a guideline towards safe shopping only.
The potential for complicated and pricey repairs, and especially on 5 Series models with the high-output V8 engine and advanced handling systems, means shoppers are advised to stick to a more basic four- or six-cylinder model where possible, and to protect themselves with any extended warranty coverage that may be available. A used 5 Series from a BMW Certified Pre Owned program, with full extended warranty coverage, is your safest bet.
A healthy list of recalls.
Crash Test Ratings
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2011-2013)
NHTSA: 5/5 Stars (535 Sedan)