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"A four-cylinder in the 2012 BMW 5 Series? Have they lost their minds?"

We may have heard this refrain echoing across the country as people read that BMW replaced the iconic inline-6 engine in its midsize luxury sedan with a measly four-banger last year. But it turned out to be a welcome development in 2012:

The four-cylinder found in the entry-level 528i is direct-injected and features BMW's innovative twin-scroll turbocharger that prevents lag and maximizes performance across the rev range. The result is 240 horsepower, as well as 255 pound-feet of torque, a substantial boost of 30 lb-ft. The result is actually quicker acceleration, and thanks to its smaller displacement and the new automatic stop/start feature (also standard on the carryover 535i), the 528i achieves a truly impressive estimated 23 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined. Only the Audi A6 2.0T bests that, but it has a less powerful four-cylinder.

Besides the 528i's new motivation, the rest of the 5 Series range continues on for 2012 -- albeit with a recalibrated throttle that rids the car of last year's irritating lag when you pressed the accelerator. There are still buttery-smooth engines in the 535i and 550i, while a wealth of available equipment remains waiting to make your driving life easier (and push the price to stratospheric levels). Last year's complete redesign plumped out the car's dimensions and sense of isolation; in many ways, the latest 5 is a less sporting car than it once was. But on the other hand, it's also more spacious and comfortable.

In total, the 2012 BMW 5 Series is a top choice among midsize luxury sedans, but we can no longer say it's the easy choice it once was. The Audi A6, Infiniti M, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class are all stronger than the 5 in key areas and deserve close consideration. If there's one thing that shouldn't be held against the 5 Series, however, it's the new four-cylinder engine. It may seem weird, but times are changing and such downsizing is going to become the norm.

The 2012 BMW 5 Series is a midsize luxury sedan available in three trim levels that correspond with engine choice: 528i, 535i and 550i.

Standard equipment on the 528i includes 17-inch wheels, adjustable driving settings (alters suspension, steering, throttle and automatic transmission response), automatic and adaptive bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, foglights, automatic wipers, heated mirrors, a sunroof, cruise control and auto-dimming mirrors. Inside you get dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats with four-way power lumbar and driver memory functions, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and a power tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel. Electronic features include the BMW Assist emergency communications system, Bluetooth, the iDrive electronics interface and a 10-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.

Performance

The 2012 BMW 528i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 240 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. As with every 5 Series, rear-wheel drive is standard and "xDrive" all-wheel drive is optional. Also standard is an eight-speed automatic transmission and an automatic stop/start function that shuts down the engine when the car stops in order to save fuel. In Edmunds performance testing, a 528i went from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds -- more than a half-second quicker than the old six-cylinder 528i. BMW-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/34 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and 22/32/26 with all-wheel drive.

Interior design

Both drivers and passengers will be quite pleased with the 5 Series' cabin. There's nothing particularly fancy going on, but the overall look of the dash is clean thanks to the standard iDrive interface that eliminates the need for a gaggle of buttons. The layout features a center display screen and a configurable display in the gauge cluster. The iDrive controller, thanks to its physical buttons and menu structure, is pretty easy to figure out and provides a large amount of customization of the car's features. Opting for the navigation system is recommended, as its screen is larger and much better-looking than the standard center display.

Driving impressions

It wasn't too long ago that the high-performance M5 was throwing down 400 hp. Now you get that (plus a lot more torque) out of the latest 550i, which accelerates as quickly as a V8 sport coupe but without the pretentious bombast. Choosing the 300-hp 535i or even the less potent 528i is hardly like sitting in the cheap seats; most people will be more than satisfied with their power. Putting a four-cylinder engine in a large sedan like the 5 Series may seem like a bad idea, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell the 528i has only four cylinders firing underhood. In fact, it gives up only a half-second to the 535i when accelerating from zero to 60.

The 5 Series' quieter cabin, more comfortable ride and lighter steering in parking lots may appeal more to the masses than before.

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