Sitting proudly in the midsized luxury sedan segment, the BMW 5-series has always been on a bit of a pedestal. Not only has it always been considered one of the best sedans money can buy, the 5-series has always been the de-facto choice as it relates to driving engagement. In an era of evolving technology, connectivity, and maximization of efficiency, the vast majority of automakers have made immense compromises in the fun-to-drive department. Fully redesigned for this year, we sampled the latest example, a decked-out 2017 BMW 540i xDrive in Bluestone Metallic, to evaluate how the 5er fares against the others in its class.
Codenamed “G30”, the new 5-series is the seventh-generation of the car. Replacing the F10 which ran from 2011 to 2016, the new model is evolutionary. The styling is evolutionary, though it’s impossible to tell at this point whether it will age as gracefully as the E39 (fourth-generation, 1996-2003) model. With the right set of wheels, the design of the new car can really pop, and is accented nicely by the LED lighting front and rear. This particular vehicle with the M-Sport accents has a black rear diffuser that finishes off the look in a dynamic manner.
Opting for the bump over the four-cylinder 530i is worth your while. The new 3.0L turbocharged inline six-cylinder on the 540i is completely new for 2017. With 335 horsepower at 6,500RPM and 332 lb-ft at 1,380RPM, the 540i hustles to 100km/h in under 4.5 seconds and blasts through the quarter mile in 13.1 seconds. The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic bangs through the gears sounding like a dual-clutch, and the standard xDrive all-wheel-drive means it’s impossible to get even the slightest bit of tire squeal off the line. This is one seriously fast car, and if that isn’t enough for you, the M 550i is on its way with eight cylinders and even more power.
The power comes on early and strong, with lovely noises past 5,000RPM. Toggling the drive mode selector into the Sport and Sport Plus modes brings upon tighter steering, firms up the suspension and adjusts throttle and transmission mapping for the best possible performance. Selecting Eco Pro mode has the exact opposite effect, and incidentally, brings out the car’s softer side. The M Sport Brakes equipped on this test vehicle ($750) haul the big sedan to a stop in an admirable fashion, but this is an option only required if track use is planned – not all that likely for the typical 540i buyer.
Ride quality is where the 540i feels more like a luxury sedan than a sports sedan. This test vehicle came to us with Adaptive Drive with Dynamic Damper Control, a $3,500 option. Even in firmer settings, the 5-series still glides over road imperfections, and the brilliant chassis soaks it all up, leaving the driver to sit comfortably in his/her chair getting an Upper Body Exercise massage. On acceleration, the front end comes up a little bit more than we’d like, and drops on braking. This is typical for a luxurious sedan, but not one with the “Ultimate Driving Machine” moniker on it.
The steering is excellent too, but it’s luxurious, not sporty. Think Mercedes-Benz E-Class (reviewed here) and Volvo S90. This new 5-series, like most other modern BMW products, has electrically-assisted power steering. Road feel is at a bare minimum, but there is good weight to the wheel and it’s by no means as light as a Lexus or the Volvo S90 (reviewed here). The 5-series also feels better to push around corners than the Audi A6, where understeer begins to show approaching the limit.
At the time of this writing, BMW’s official fuel efficiency estimates for the 540i have not been released, though the EPA suggests 11.4L/100km city and 7.4L/100km highway, when operating on 91-octane premium fuel. We evaluated the car in a variety of situations, though the test took place on Pirelli SottoZero winter tires. The 540i xDrive consumed 9.5L/100km with an average speed of about 47km/h. Strictly highway runs saw as little as 7.8L/100km, with exterior temperatures in the car’s favour. The gasoline-only 5-series has a 68L fuel tank.
Scrumptious is the best word to describe the interior layout on this fully loaded 540i. Unmistakably BMW, there is a new steering wheel design, which brings the heated wheel button to the bottom spoke on the wheel itself (this is a bit ugly, but that’s purely subjective). Ergonomics overall are very good, with ample adjustments in the power seats and the very useful massage feature. Airplane-style butterfly headrests add that extra degree of comfort that approaches 7-series levels of luxury. High quality leathers, woods, and metallic accents are used throughout, with no evidence of cost cutting, cheapness, or embarrassing panel gaps. Subtle updates have been made, such as turn signal and wiper stalks that have physical detents, rather than defaulting to the center position in all settings.
The automatic climate control is easy to use, and the Ambient Air Package (as part of the $2,500 Interior Comfort Package) brings subtle yet pleasant scents into the cabin. BMW’s Gesture Controls allow the driver to adjust the volume and other tasks like skipping audio tracks or muting the sound by waving their fingers in the air. This can be a bit gimmicky but the track skip is a feature most will appreciate. The Harman/Kardon sound system reproduces audio with good clarity, though it’s outclassed by the Mercedes’ Burmester and Volvo Bowers & Wilkins setups. Thankfully, BMW will add the Bowers & Wilkins stereo to your 5-series for an extra $4,900.
BMW’s iDrive paired with the suite of features ConnectedDrive brings is easily one of the best automotive infotainment systems available today, both in terms of ease of use and overall technology offered. Still controlled using the rotary iDrive controller as opposed to a touchscreen, the system offers split screen modes and a beautiful display. BMW is also the first manufacturer to offer Apple CarPlay capability without requiring a wired USB connection to the phone. Simply pairing our iPhone 7 via Bluetooth mirrored the phone to the car screen. The downside here is that this is optional; part of the Smartphone Connectivity package.
As part of the ConnectedDrive setup on the 5-series, one of the neatest bits of tech is the Intelligent Parking feature. Using the massive display key and a slightly complicated procedure, the 540i can actually park itself into tight spaces without anybody in the car. While standing within a few feet of the car, you can use the fob to start the engine, move it forwards or backwards, and it will slowly creep into the designated spot. There are many safety features at play here, including using full radar and camera tech to prevent any accidents, and the car will only move if you’re holding your finger down on the fob. Release it and the car stops.
This Intelligent Parking feature first premiered on the new 7-series (reviewed here), though the last time we tested one, it wasn’t activated for North America just yet. The feature is particularly noteworthy because such a concept was produced by Q Labs in the 1997 James Bond flick “Tomorrow Never Dies”. Pierce Brosnan used an Ericsson JB988 cell phone to remotely drive his BMW 750iL in a similar manner. It’s just neat to see BMW bring to life something that’s, to some degree, straight out of a Bond movie. The Remote Parking Package is a $1,500 standalone package on this vehicle.
BMW prices the 540i at $69,000 to start, decently equipped already at this price point. This vehicle added the $6,500 Premium Package Enhanced (soft close doors, ConnectedDrive, Harman/Kardon, ceramic controls, Parking Assistant Plus, Comfort Access, and more), $1,900 Driving Assistance Package (forward collision warning, lane departure warning, steering and lane control, traffic jam assist, cross traffic alert), and the $2,500 Interior Comfort Package (ventilated Comfort front seats with massage, Ambient Air Package). Standalone options include M Sport Brakes, Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection, Nappa leather, and Smartphone Connectivity Package. The total sticker hit $90,400 – a lot of change for the six-cylinder model.
One of the best explanations for the softer personality of the new 5-series is that modern customers prioritize isolation and comfort. This is understandable as those who purchased the E39 and E60 (2004-2010) models new roughly two decades ago are likely approaching retirement. Some may even have dedicated weekend toy vehicles (possibly from BMW’s own M portfolio). Whatever may be the case, the new car provides isolated opulence and oodles of luxury.
The 2017 BMW 540i xDrive is playing in a segment where, as it currently stands, there’s no such thing as a poor choice. The new Mercedes-Benz E-Class (reviewed here) is simply sublime at being a luxury sedan, and the Volvo S90 took home our Car of the Year trophy at the end of 2016. The Audi A6 and Lexus GS are both approaching the ends of their respective model cycles, but even in their current forms, they offer nearly everything their target audience wants. The new 5-series offers bits of technology only seen elsewhere in BMW’s brand portfolio, and combined with the brand’s heritage, will certainly help push these vehicles out of showrooms quickly.