2017 BMW 540i xDrive
BMW has a new 5 series- we take it for a spin
Words by: Adam Allen
What have we here?
Didn’t you read the byline? What you are looking at is BMW’s 7th generation 5 series, or for those well versed in BMW model codes, the G30. It is bigger than its predecessor in every way but interestingly it is not much heavier, thanks to the liberal use of aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steel. While we wouldn’t describe the outgoing model as having serious room for improvement, fans of the brand lit up forums and comment sections throughout the internet bemoaning the loss of the intangibles that made the E39 generation so enthralling and what effectively set the benchmark of what a sports sedan should be for others to follow. Widely regarded as the high-water mark of the 5-series history, it could pull off one of the rare traits so highly coveted in a sports sedan- it would be a relaxed cruiser most of the time but more than willing to have fun when called upon. At the other end of the spectrum was the recently retired F10 vintage who could best be described as the 5-series generation that was built with the intent of wooing buyers away from Lexus showrooms- luxurious, sure, but not quite able to rise to the occasion for those who want to boogie now and then.
Have they succeeded in capturing some of the old E39 magic?
Let’s get this out of the way- the new 5’er is a much better realized sports sedan than the F10. The engine and transmissions are basically carryovers from before but the chassis and suspension has received a thorough update- enough that we felt the difference even before leaving the parking lot at BMW HQ. There’s a fluidity that has been restored to the controls, and the car doesn’t feel as isolating as it has in recent years. There is still work to be done, however. The steering, while much improved, still doesn’t let the driver in on what’s happening at the front contact patches. The lovely snarl emitted by the turbo inline six is there but far too subdued for our tastes. When you have one of the best engines going and happens to sound incredible throughout its operating range, you gotta let that baby sing.
Let’s hear more about the engine.
BMW has been screwing together inline six engines pretty much since the brand’s inception, and they’ve been slapping turbos on them for the last decade. With that kind of pedigree, you expect the 3.0 litre six banger to be good; you don’t expect it to be nigh on perfection, which it is. Vibration? None whatsoever. Non-linear power delivery? Not here, bub. The inline six is so good that we began to question if it actually ran on the principles of internal combustion. When you wonder if the magic going on under the hood is even possible employing conventional reciprocating parts that’s as good as any validation to BMW’s engine designers that they’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a real sweetheart that offers enough brio to move the 5 around with ease, sounds fantastic while doing so and the icing on the cake is it can even run efficiently; we saw 11.7L/100km in mostly city driving and with manual gear shifting, done only so we could hold lower gears longer to relish the dulcet tones of the exhaust note.
What’s it like inside?
With this redesign, the old interior was scrapped in favor of one that not only employs millimeter perfect fit and finish, but one that apes the environs of big its brother, the 7 series. The latest version of iDrive 6.0 with its sharp response times and beautiful graphics are how you control most of the car’s functions, and every driver assistance system under the sun is part of the deal. And while we’re not big fans of the technology in general, BMW’s Heads-Up Display is among the best you will encounter anywhere. Some of the standard kit is a bit gimmicky- we’re looking at you, gesture volume control and remote-controlled parking using the key fob- but the Interior Comfort Package ($2,500) is not. It included such must haves as ventilated Comfort seats with massage function that do an impeccable job of spoiling occupants on long journeys that you’ll wonder how you lived without the doodads previously. It’s also much quieter than before thanks to acoustically laminated glass and strategic use of what BMW refers to as Intelligent multi-material mix. All we know is that it all works to make the 540i a more comfortable place to digest many kilometers in one setting than ever before. Despite the low profile 30-series tires that appear to be painted onto the wheels, ride quality is excellent.
What might go wrong?
It’s probably clear that we laud this new 5 series as a huge step forward over the last generation, but there are a few areas that BMW might want to address as it winds its way throughout its production cycle. Although the handing prowess is more geared towards enthusiasts than before, we would like to see more feedback from the steering. We’re starting to tire about waxing on and on about the precision that used to be ingrained in every BMW steering rack, but BMW says their customers are asking for this stuff and the almighty dollar trumps the daydreams of those who place driving fullfilament as priority one every time. With that being said, the current tuning strategy looks like it’s here to stay. We complained about the inline six being muzzled a bit too much- perhaps maybe offer a dual mode exhaust option in the future for those who want to relish in its auditory perfection. Perhaps we’ll see some styling flourishes that put some ground between the 5 series and the 7 aesthetically- other than size, they look pretty much identical.
Should I buy a 540?
If your budget allows you to look within this market segment, there are a plethora of options that will surely satisfy. Competition has forced manufactures to up their game to the point where excellence is prevalent everywhere- despite this, we think that this new 5 series deserves to be mentioned at the top of the heap. It has succeeded in distancing itself from its predecessor while raising the bar for the Audi A6 and Mercedes Benz E-Classes of the world to match it for comfort and performance. The 540i is sort of the Goldilocks car in the model range- the 530i powered by a turbo four is good but no match for that silken inline six, and the bonus of stepping up the mid-level engine is that you get more stuff for your money. At the top of the range is the M550i and when it’s equipped with xDrive, it can savagely catapult itself to 100km/h faster than the current M5. That may be too much car for some, unless you have a network of desolate roads or a private racetrack in your neighborhood. Head down to your local BMW dealership and take a 540i for a spin; we think you’ll find it just right.
2017 BMW 540i xDrive – Specifications
- Price as tested: $90,400
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre inline-6 turbo, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 335 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 332 @ 1,380 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 1,892 kg (4,171 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 11.7/100km (22 mpg)