BMW 540i review: the five evolves

 

The BMW 5 Series continues on, now into its seventh generation. This new car promises to be more things to more buyers with advances in tech and luxury but does it still hold an appeal to
keen drivers?

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier

Although most buyers here choose a luxury SUV over a sedan, the four-door concept still has its merits. BMW’s 5 Series has a history as the segment benchmark and is often cited as the driver’s choice. However, with the new model, it seems BMW just had to match Mercedes-Benz’ technical advances and a desire for ever more refinement and luxury. So building something that is more appealing to more people should be easy, right?

Well BMW are pretty good at such things but is the 5 Series still our cup of tea? Does it still drive as well as it always has? We had the 540i on trial to find out. The new 5 is now slightly larger while the styling apes the latest 7 Series. The form is apparently more slippery, elements like the active grille shutter, air curtains in the bumper and air breathers helping but it’s an increase in underbody panelling that’s chiefly responsible.

The poundage has been lessened and not with fancy carbon construction but with a higher infusion of high-tensile steels in the chassis, along with aluminium components and body panels. Some models are said to be up to 100kg lighter, even though they are brimming with extra gizmos. The range here starts with the 140kW/400Nm four-cylinder 520d at $99,900, standard specification running to a smart key, LED lights, seat heaters, faux leather, a 10-inch display, sat nav, all the connected drive features and the full range of safety and assistance systems.

The $133,900 six-cylinder 530d delivers 195kW and 620Nm and adds bigger wheels, Sport line trim, real leather, adaptive LEDs, head-up display, gesture control for the iDrive, sport seats, upgraded sounds and wireless device charging. The 540i uses a 3.0-litre turbopetrol six to deliver 250kW and 450Nm and costs $142,900.

It gets the M sport kit with lowered suspension and adaptive dampers, the aero body bits, bigger wheels and brakes and comfort front seats. There’s a plug-in coming, wagons too, and maybe the AWD M550i with 340kW and 650Nm. The 540i’s cabin impresses, the intent for a more luxurious atmosphere clear with the level of finishing and detail being raised. The latest iteration of iDrive gets a wider 10-inch hi-res display and there’s gesture control present here, the value of which is questionable, while there’s voice and touch control too. Its head-up display is larger, and clearer, though still all but invisible with polarised lenses.

The new 5 is now slightly larger while the styling apes the latest 7 Series.

The parking camera now automatically switches between all sorts of angles and views to better guide you on tricky manoeuvres. Seems BMW couldn’t resist matching Merc with an optional air ionisation and fragence system. Storage is still at a premium though there are bigger door pockets and better cup holders.

There’s a wireless charger pad too but actually retrieving your phone from the wee hidey hole can be fiddly. The seats are comfort plus with oodles of adjustment to find the perfect position. New 5 has a big cabin, there’s lots of width up front and more legroom in the rear. Entry to the rear is improved through wider doors and the seat is nicely shaped. The boot is marginally larger at 530 litres, the hold is crazy long, if not overly wide, and there’s a 40/20/40 split folding rear seat.

The 540i uses a direct injection 3.0-litre straight six with a single twin scroll turbo, mustering 250kw and 450Nm from 1380-5200rpm with a promise of 6.5L/100km on average, though 13L/100km is the reality. But otherwise, the engine is a marvel. Once warm, it’s super-smooth at idle, you can’t actually tell its operational without looking at the tacho. In the quest for added luxury via refinement, the 5 is packed with sound proofing, the engine bay and transmission tunnel sporting a new form of acoustic insulation to reduce noise. It’s very hushed on the go, the nice rasp of the six is subtle.

It’s deceptively quick this, without feeling like it’s trying, and it barely raises its voice despite its obvious urge. The low- to midrange torque passes the job seamlessly to the power as the revs mount, and it keeps delivering right up near 7000rpm, while the eight-speed auto manages the flow expertly. The 5 introduces even more drive options with no less than three Sport settings and a new Adaptive mode.

The 540i features adaptive dampers and Comfort mode is just that, the 540i mooching about, feeling almost too aloof for a 5 Series, the set-up doing its best to isolate bumps and suspension noise while the steering is super light for general ease of use around town. Over the reference back roads, we found the Sport setting for the dampers worked well enough, save for the odd harsh thump from the rear when trying to put the power down on bumpy surfaces. We opted for the Adaptive mode, which seemed to relieve the problem while still offering a fair degree of roll control.


It’s a big car but is well balanced, and so it still turns sweetly, as one expects a 5 Series to do. The traction control allows little leeway, but the TC sport setting sorts that, and with the auto in S mode, it can be trusted to work independently. The steering however is too light on feel, even in Sport mode, to truly engage. That said, the 5 still manages to whip along just fine, and in a relaxed manner too, which we guess is fitting for its drive toward a more luxurious, refined experience. The 5 brings more digital advances too.

Its Eco drive mode will tap into sat nav data to better prep the driveline for the road ahead, and the auto start-stop system also uses nav info and the stereo camera to prevent the engine switching off excessively at roundabouts or T-junctions, but that’s not always the case. The active cruise now works from 0-210km/h, and flows better in stop-start traffic. There’s auto lane changing on dual carriageways (indicate, and the car will move itself across lanes) and a speed limit-assist function for the cruise meaing when you toggle the switch, the system will automatically set itself to the new prescribed limit.

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The only system we felt moved to disable was the lane keeping function when away from the motorway; you don’t want to be constantly wrestling with the steering. Opt for the technology package ($1450) and you’ll get the funky display key (a bulky device that can’t be attached to a key ring and you’ll cry when you eventually drop it on the concrete), wireless Apple CarPlay (nothing for Android though) and the remote parking feature

This we managed to work ourselves, but we couldn’t really see how useful this function would be in NZ. The 5 Series has improved from a digital and luxury perspective; it’ll do more things for you, while pampering in utmost comfort. It’s a competent drive, completing most tasks with ease but without much emotional appeal.

It’s like a small 7 Series in many regards, which probably better fits the evolving buyer profile of these luxury cars.

The Stats

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Model BMW 540i  Price $142,900

Engine 2998cc, IL6, T/DI, 250kW/450Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive

Vitals 5.26sec 0-100km/h, 6.9L/100km, 159g/km, 1744kg