3. BMW 5 Series – Variations on a theme
Base price range: $51,195-$95,095
The BMW 5 Series boasts one the most extensive model lines in the luxury-car business, and every one features a fine balance of sportiness and luxury. On tap is a full range of gasoline, diesel, and gas-electric hybrid models in both midsize-sedan and nearly full-size four-door hatchback Gran Turismo form, and in rear- and all-wheel-drive. The Gran Turismo has far more back-seat room than the sedans, plus an expansive cargo bay with a wide tailgate for easy loading and unloading; consider it a livelier alternative to a five-passenger crossover SUV.
Throughout its expansive range the 5 Series continues to drive with more verve than the competition, although rivals have narrowed the gap considerably in recent years. Within the 5 Series family, the sedans handle better than the Gran Turismo, thanks to a lower center of gravity and lighter curb weight. As with the Audi A6, the 5 Series engine roster is fully turbocharged. The base 528 sedan comes modestly powered by a 2.0-liter 240-horsepower turbo-four, with the 535 sedan and GT models getting a needed boost from a 300-horsepower turbocharged inline-six and the top 550 versions putting a more ferocious 445 horsepower to the pavement via a twin-turbo 4.4-liter V-8. Meanwhile, those with “greener” tastes can avail themselves of the 535d sedan with its invigorating and economical 3.0-liter turbodiesel six or the ActiveHybrid5 that teams a six-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor-generator to maintain both quick acceleration and respectable fuel economy. (Between the two, the 535d is both about $5,000 cheaper and gets better fuel economy at 26/38/30-mpg city/highway/combined, versus 23/30/26 for the hybrid.) What’s more, there’s a truly quick and nimble M5 ultra-high-performance version at the top of the line with as many as 575 raging horses under the hood; this continues to be the only 5 Series variation that can be fitted with a manual transmission. A long list of top-shelf amenities is available.