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BMW 535i Model Bloat: A Case Study

Jim Yu October 4, 2012 In General 60 Comments

In driving a friend’s 2011 BMW F10 535i, I was overwhelmed by the number and complexity of the luxury and automated features. Add to that the extra safety features, and we’re talking (insert a celebrity who has gained a lot of weight)-sized model bloat.

Don’t get me wrong, the new 535i is an incredible car. It’s fast and sporty and exudes quality. But it’s just so darn big, and yet the interior is a bit snug, almost cramped. The plethora of buttons, controls, and odd icons are dizzying. It took me a minute just to figure out how to use the toggle transmission lever. The tranny, by the way, has eight forward speeds and five clutches.

I compared the stats for the various 535i iterations and came up with this chart:

Despite the longer wheelbase, the newer models are not necessarily roomier inside. And the increase in power has almost been completely offset by the extra weight. This begs the question: With respect to luxury sports sedans like the 5-series, is the model bloat worth it?  

Images source: The F10 picture is courtesy Autoblog. The 5-series line-up photo has been passed around so much online, I have no idea who originally uploaded it. I shall assume it’s BMW.

  • ramLlama

    So, just throwing this out here, but I have a feeling that the increasing rear legroom vs decreasing front legroom is due to increasing sales in BRIC countries. In India, at least, when you are wealthy enough to own a 5 series, you do not drive yourself. You sit in the back and get chauffeured.

    Any thoughts on this? Does this sound plausible?

    As for whether it is worth it, the questions is for whom. For BMW, sure! People like bigger cars, they are status symbols. And BMW is now a luxury car maker who sells on their old sporting pretensions. I have no doubt that this car is more than capable, but it is more luxury than sport as opposed to previous years.

    • They increased the rear leg room because neither my E38 nor my E34 had any.

      China has extended wheel base 5-series.

    • Interesting theory. Audi even has an A4L in China.

  • david42

    This would be much more obscure, but I'd love to see the % from each generation that were ordered as a stick-shift. With the F10, it's zero, of course.

    • Currently the 535i, 550i, and the M5 are available with manual transmissions.

      The questions of how many of them actually are…

      • david42

        Ah, I stand corrected.

        If my recent experience with trying to find a manual transmission F30 3-series is relevant, then the answer still (almost) 0. I was trying to help my friends find the aforementioned 3-series stick-shift, and they learned that in the entire US, there are 18 such vehicles–and that includes all those scheduled to arrive in the next 30 days!

        • Maymar

          For what it's worth, I deal with a BMW dealer who must have about five 2012s in stock with the manual. That said, they're all 320i's (Canadian market), so probably price-leader specials. Not a problem for me though, as I'm a cheap bastard, and 0-60 in the low 7s seems plenty swift enough.

    • Officer Farva

      I'm still trying to figure out what the big deal is about manual transmissions.

      I'd love something in-between as I have no knowledge of manuals (though my father could theoretically have trained me as he did use manual transmissions at one point in his life).

      Other than that, if it goes fast, I don't give two shits how it gets there.

      • skitter

        The only way to figure it out is to learn to drive one.
        If you're ever in Atlanta, I give lessons.

        • jeepjeff

          I typed up three different things and deleted them. It's too subtle to describe in a blog comment.

          Which means, you're right. You just have to learn to know what you're missing.

      • BAMacPherson

        Luckily there are all kinds of in betweens available now. With manually shifting automatics, to automatic-shifting manuals.

        No one can explain why the people who love manuals, love manuals. Its like trying to explain the amazingness of sex, to someone who's never experienced it. You've just got to be in the right car, on the right road, with the right music and some candles and… wait…

        • Ate Up With Motor

          I don't think it's quite that ephemeral. The complaint I've often had about automatic transmissions is one that I've found myself repeating often in other contexts: just because someone (or something) does something for you doesn't mean they necessarily do it well.

          My experience with automatics over the years has often involved tricking them into doing what I need them to do, rather than what their mechanical or electronic control systems think they should do. Even with transmissions that ostensibly offer manual shift controls, that can be a hassle, which has led me to conclude that I'm better off doing the shifting for myself. It's more work, but less frustration.

      • Once you learn, there are few instances where an automatic is better.

        The best I way I could describe it is the difference between good food/beer/wine/liquor and just ok.

        By almost any analytical measure, they're equivalent, but once you can recognize the difference, it's hard to go back to Bud Light.

        That said, I have almost no taste in wine, so I can appreciate people's inability to appreciate things.

      • TurboBrick

        The best way to describe is that to me, automatics have always felt like they have a really mushy power delivery. With a stick shift the whole business of changing gears is a more crisp event and it doesn't feel like your driveshaft is made out of rubber until the rpms pick up. You can really feel the difference between the power profiles of different engines at slow speeds, i.e. Volvo straight-5 or a PRV feels like a locomotive compared to small 4-cylinders.

      • Roto

        Actually most people will notice zero performance difference between manual and automatic with the possibility that the latter may be slightly faster. Other than that, the auto usually will get better MPGs. But some people just prefer manuals. (Ferrari for example offers no manuals because their particular auto is much faster than any manual.) That's about it.

      • Maymar

        There's a lot to it. Personally, I find it makes a small engine quite a bit more usable – there's often less power lost, it's a more direct connection, and if you ever want to pass, you can kick down a gear or two in preparation, instead of mashing the gas and hoping the transmission responds promptly. In traffic, you can use engine braking to moderate your speed a little more. And then there's just the extra sense of connection to your car, especially with a really good shifter. If you can, find someone with a Civic to teach you stick.

  • MVEilenstein

    What I see is a big jump in low-end performance (0-60, 1/4 mile). However, the car has gained over half a ton, gained little room in the cabin, and is very large.

    It's changed from a cheetah to a lion.

  • buzzboy7

    I'll take an E34. I've just never been a huge 5 series fan. For a luxury sedan, the E28 was "almost" there, the E39 was really nice but a bit round for me, and past that it's just a big sloppy floppy pig looking piece of lard.

  • Irishzombieman

    That car on the right's hankerin' for a hoagie.

    <img src="http://imageshack.us/a/img845/7449/nicholsonq.jpg"&gt;

  • The above photo should be todays BMW product lineup.

    You want responsive and lightweight? Take the E28. You want refined, low-drama thrust? F10. If I cound buy a new E39; the car that sits right in the middle as the best of both worlds; I'd do it like a shot.

    • skitter

      This is a noble idea, which becomes both more and less practical when you can lego-swap parts between generations.

  • JayP2112

    I'd like to see this comparo made with the Golf.

  • Devin

    When the F10 was first introduced I said it looked like a fat kid in a cake store, I stand by that assessment.

    • Irishzombieman

      I hate it. And the one next to it.

  • If you're looking for a smaller 5-series, just go and buy a 3-series.

    Crazy, right? No, the current 3 is similar in size to the E34 and E39. It also happens to be an excellent car.

    • JayP2112

      BMW is going to run out of numerals- what happens when the 1 gets to be 3 sized?

      • Devin

        With the i series, they've already gone into imaginary numbers.

        • At some point they may start to get complex.

          • JayP2112

            Just don't get irrational.

            • BAMacPherson

              That won't happen around here… get real.

    • Jay

      Same for the W204 compared to the W124, just about.


    I've finally seen a few F10s around, and they are freaking HUGE. Definitely bigger than my friends E38 740i (SWB). And yet, like you said,surprisingly small inside. I'd take an E39 over an F10 every day of the week. Last of the truly great looking BMWs, before Bangle sank his poison claws into them, and a nice balance of luxury and simplicity.

    • The dichotomy between the F10's outside bigness and inside smallness is mind blowing.

  • E39 was my personal favorite. It is impressive how bad model-bloat is.

    • Abwap

      A wee bit too much romantticizing the past here imo. The performance is significantly better and try a serious crash in one of the older models vs today and see how you feel. If it is too big and luxurious for you, get a 1 series.

  • Stu_Rock

    At 73 in wide and 193 in long, there's no reason to call these cars huge. That's solidly in the midsize range. At 4300 lb, they are admittedly pretty heavy.

    One should only get emphatic about cars being huge when they're longer than 220 in or wider than 78 in.

    Of course if the interior room is not commensurate with the exterior girth, that's a significant design error.


      The stats on the new 535 are all almost identical to those of the E38 7 series of just 10 years ago, and that was hardly what you'd call a small car. Width is basically identical. Total length on the SWB E38 was just 3" longer at 196". The 535 is heavier than all but the 750i E38s, which were long wheelbase and had a very heavy V12 on board. I wouldn't say it's huge, but just 10 years ago it would have been considered a large full size car. So compared to past 5 series, it is a massive car.

      • Stu_Rock

        Are you European? No 7-series has ever been a "large full size" car. Not even the newest F02 760Li. The SWB E38 is a "just barely full size" car.

        A true full-size car in North America should be both wider than 75 in and longer than 210 in.

        • Your Antarctica article is still on my To Do list. I'll get to it. Thanks.

          • Stu_Rock

            No worries. I've been really busy and never got around to doing an edit / HTML clean-up either.

        • Stu_Rock

          I love that I'm getting downvoted for defining "full size."

          I do agree that the new 5-series is huge compared to old 5-series. On its own, it's just not a big car.

          • Kevin Kiley

            downvoted again. definitions are fascist!

            • How am I even supposed to know what your comment means?

              • Stu_Rock

                Clearly he is saying that creating definitions of terms leads to a common language, which is the first step in establishing a core nationalistic ethic upon which a totalitarian government can build institutions that unite its people with shared economic and social purpose. Clearly.

  • hwyengr

    I still fire up Ronin every now and again to hear the E34 M5 screaming in all it's glory.

    • Jay

      Literally 15 minutes before I opened up this post I started writing a mock plot synopsis of Ronin 2 : )

      Perhaps coming soon to a Hooniverse article near you.

      • There better be a souped up Citroen C6.

  • Jay

    By the way, what do you guys get for the algebra equation depicted on the stickshift? I've got, ummmm, 22, I'm pretty sure.

    Oh, and how much does just ONE of those clutches gonna cost when the car's off warranty and is in hoon ownership?

    • Hopefully by then someone will have a 6L60e adapter ready.

  • alain

    seeing that chart makes me <3 my e28 535i even more (especially since the engine is far from stock with bolt-ons) most cargo volume of them all! for dead hooker/spare part storage!!

  • Frere P.

    A graphic illustration of the old joke about each new BMW being better than the one that will follow it.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Sad progression, especially the eleven hundred extra pounds. I wonder how much of that is in electric motors and electronics?

    • Maymar

      Don't forget the additional safety reinforcements and equipment.

  • because americans like 'em big.

  • peter boehler

    How much weight gain is attributable to regulated mandatory safety equipment that was not a factor for the earlier models? Weight gain requires power gain to retain performance, but power has gone beyond that to make it faster for competitive reasons. Biuyers do not NEED the extra power, but marketing tells them they do need it. It would be interesting to see comparable real world fuel efficiency changes over the years but I fear we cannot get apples to apples on that. Modern engine management and system manipulations may mean the faster heavier new car is also somewhat more fuel efficient, but I do not know the facts.

  • frink84

    the e28 535i actually comes in at 3430cc with the m30b34, while the 533i had the m30b32 with 3210cc.

  • I personally feel that the bigger the item is, does not necessarily mean the better it will get. I find it to be pretty much redundant if BMW were to come up with new models that are bigger in size but the overall performance level is almost similar to the previous model. It is a waste of resources and definitely not worth launching. It's true that every automaker needs to keep up with the ever-evolving technology, but a constant bloat at each new model launch, is not necessary if it doesn't serve any benefit.