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BMW 528i feel-good vibe: drive fast and listen to loud music

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CHUNKY 18×8-inch wheels with 245/45R18 sport tires give good balance of control and compliance.

Launched in 2010, BMW’s F10 5-Series is the sixth iteration of the iconic mid-sized executive sports sedan, and it came with a bevy of improvements which helped significantly differentiate itself from the Bangle (bungle?) era of BMW’s.

A key difference especially for model year 2012 and beyond is in the nomenclature: older BMW sedans with their numbers affixed after the first digit denoted their engine displacement. Thus, this 528i should have read 5-Series, 2.8-liter displacement engine. Not anymore.

New N20 engine

Replacing BMW’s N52 in-line six is the new N20, a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine which features Valvetronic and BMW’s Twin-Power twin-scroll turbocharged engine which features a slew of mechanical and electronic upgrades to make it far more efficient, like a purely electric water pump circulation system to help relieve parasitic powertrain loss and help improve engine response, an ECU controlled oil pressure and cooling system which circulates and cools oil as needed to help allow the N20 to run as lean and as hot as possible to help decrease exhaust emissions further, balancer-shafts to help smoothen the inline four to deliver silky-six cylinder smoothness, a forged crankshaft for lightness, strength and responsiveness, Valvetronic valve timing and VANOS cam phasing—all an engineering geek’s wet dream!

For average car nuts, all these advancements mean a 245-hp peak output and a 350 Newton-Meters of torque from a low of 1,250 rpm all the way to 4,800 rpm, far more area under the curve and a wider, more usable torque band. Which is crucial, for it now starts lower down the RPM range, helping improve in-city traffic driving, where cut-and-thrust ability is key. It also loses about 9 hp from the N52 straight-six engine it replaces, but gains 40 Newton-Meters of torque. It’s gasoline direct injection helps boost efficiency in this case, and allows the N20 engine to run a high (for a turbocharged application) 10.1 compression ratio and also further reduces exhaust emissions. Summing up, by swapping a physically lighter and more efficient engine, BMW engineers seem to have found the right mix of both efficiency (a balance of power and miserly consumption, resulting in lower emissions) and performance, as the lighter nose helps improve balance and dynamic responsiveness for the driver.

The F10 5-Series also solved the perennial complaint about the general lack of rear space for passengers, thanks to generous legroom out back. Covered in special Dakota Saddle Brown Leather, the F10 5-Series feel special, although many people who saw the interior felt that the brown was a daring, modern, brave and adventurous choice to say the least, being an acquired taste. There were no qualms over the improved iDrive, which I finally have to admit is now at par with Audi’s MMI in terms of intuitiveness and convenience. Once programmed, it would automatically sync  via Bluetooth with my smart phone and play MP3 music cleanly and powerfully through the impressive 14-speaker sound system, you could almost feel the texture in a fully digitized sound recording. Either that or my ears were constantly ringing from playing the music all the way to 11, such is the 5-Series’ feel-good vibe you just want to drive fast and listen to loud music.

GPS/Satnav system

BMW has also released a beta-version GPS/Satnav system integrated into the iDrive. It’s pretty clear and accurate and has practically all roads in Metro Manila mapped and covered, but once you leave Metro Manila, the screen goes blank save for main thoroughfares and highways. It’s a nice touch, and it makes me feel that finally, the rest of the world has taken notice of Manila and decided to map our capital, at least initially. According to Karl Magsuci of Asian Carmakers Corp., the local BMW-authorized distributor, they want to see the GPS/Satnav system become implemented into all local BMW cars with iDrive, and hopefully BMW AG will have finished mapping the rest of the country soon. iDrive Aside, you also have the gearshift mechanism for the ZF-8 Speed transmission which resembles a joystick from a fighter plane: flick it to the left and change gears manually, tugging down to upshift and pushing forward to downshift.

The suspension is still a forged all-aluminum multilink rear and new for the F10 sixth-generation 5-Series, a short-long arm front suspension with double ball-joints for improved ride and handling, not to mention steering feel, accuracy and overall performance, replacing the humbler Macpherson strut front design on older 5-Series. You can tell that the 5-Series steers even sweeter than before, with a light and delicate feel, thanks to electronic power steering also making its debut on the F10. Attached to each corner are 18×8-inch aluminum wheels shod with 245/45R18 Continental Summer Performance Tires. Though the fat sidewalls look less bling and more fat cat, it helps improve stability and traction on rough surfaces and also delivers a comfortable, yet still connected, ride.

Soaks up imperfections

On a deserted stretch of road, the 528i comes alive: It soaks up mild imperfections, laps up miles upon miles of motorway driving, keenly carves corners, both sharp and sweeping, and despite being highly digitized (the full army of safety electronics such as traction/stability control, ABS-EBD brakes with Brake Assist, the list goes on), it delivers a highly organic, analog experience especially when you switch the Driving Experience Control beside the gearshift to SPORT mode. The rear wheels turn up to as much as three degrees to help turn-in and improve corner exit stability as well, a feature we’ll be seeing not just in BMWs but in other cars in the future.

In SPORT and SPORT+ the dampers firm up, steering wheel gets heavier and engine mapping becomes more aggressive to match your mood. The traction and stability controls also

TIGHT rearend dispenses with bangle (bungle?) butt

switch off in SPORT+ mode.  And yet in traffic driving mode, switch to the ECOPRO Mode and the 5-Series becomes as miserly as a pensioner, charging the battery only under braking, and has a fully-electric air-conditioning system unlike other cars which have  crank-driven compressors. It also has louvers behind the kidney grill that closes to prevent flowing air to cool the radiators when not needed, such as when driving at high speeds (to reduce frontal area up front which increases drag) and to get the engine warmed up as quickly as possible, which helps save fuel.

There are more technical features, such as the standard eight airbags, active headrests, the active steering (reduces lock-to-lock turns in low-speed situations to iprove agility, but increases lock-to-lock turns to reduce nervousness at high speeds), the engine START-STOP function to help save fuel, the list goes on. But I never really noticed them. I only found out about them when I read through the brochure. What I do know is, the 528i is really, really a jolly good fun to drive. I had it for a week and I still think I’ve barely skimmed through its charms and joys.

I take the BMW for a drive whenever I had an opportunity because it feels good, nevermind that it looks really good to be with. Joy is indeed the driving force in BMW’s these days. I’d like mine in white with the 19-inch M-Sport wheels and Tiptronic Sport Transmission with paddle shifters, please.


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