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2017 BMW 540i review: More luxury than sport sedan
In addition to the 530i, 530e and M550i xDrive, BMW just announced that an extremely powerful M5 xDrive is coming early next year. But the 540i briefly had the honor of top motor available in the 5-Series, and it held its own. The turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six is good for 335 peak hp from 5,500 to 6,500 rpm and 332 lb-ft of torque between 1,380 and 5,200 rpm. When equipped with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system, BMW claims a 4.7-second 0-60-mph sprint. An eight-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.
Reading the list of features, gadgets and doodads on the 2017 BMW 5-Series is like reading a description of all the tech in Bill Gates’ house. Here’s a sampling: Dynamic Damper Control with Adaptive Mode, Integral Active Steering, adaptive full LED headlights, multicontour seats, Gesture Control and Intelligent Voice Control. That’s before any safety “Assistants” and “Warnings” are mentioned, of which there are many. But it’s not about the features in the car, it’s about the car.
Press the start button on the dash and it’s tempting to get out and check the model name on the trunk. This is the 540i, but at startup it makes a distinctly four-cylinder chunky hum. One of the earliest and strongest first impressions a car can make is engine sound at start-up. It’s a less than stellar first impression.
But hit the gas and you know it’s the six. Just set the Driving Dynamics Control Switch to sport and leadfoot it. A deeper, muscular sound rushes its way from the dual tailpipes, and shifts snap off in quick succession. It moves, quickly. BMW tuned this exhaust with two characters — hearing both of them helps you understand the car’s two personalities.
The first is a quiet, isolated mobile cabin awash with tech. It rolls smoothly down the road and absorbs bumps nicely; even sharp heaves minimally affect the pleasant ride. Navigation, telephone, media sources and other features can be controlled by using the iDrive dial, asking via Intelligent Voice Control or waving your hands around to trigger Gesture Control.
A 1,400-watt, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins sound system is available on the 5-Series.
While cruising, you sit in a plush, 20-way adjustable multicontour seat that heats, cools or even massages on request. iPhones charge and connect to Apple CarPlay wirelessly. Hands can remain on the 5’s steering wheel, which is heated, but there seems little need with Active Lane Keep Assist tugging it arrow straight if it deviates from the center of the lane. And feet needn’t be near the pedals. Active Cruise control manages the gap, even in moments of stop-and-go traffic. It’s a pleasant, if non-involved driving experience. Serene.
The other personality is that of a sport sedan — the label BMW built its reputation on. To find it, dash off to roads that curve around lakes and undulate through forests. The kind of spot to find your car enthusiast Zen and achieve higher consciousness. In this area too, BMW added new features to increase capability. The Dynamic Damper Control system varies damper settings to match the road surface and can be set to a sportier tune. Steering agility and stability increase from a rear steering system called Integral Active Steering. Similar in concept to the other systems, in higher-speed driving, the rear wheels turn slightly in the same direction as the front.
But while the capability increases, it’s hard to say the experience improves. All this extra stuff does well to reduce the nuisance of humdrum driving, like commutes, but also filters out some of the visceral feel enthusiasts seek when the going gets fun. Electric power steering assist makes it hard to truly regain the tactile connection to the road drivers once enjoyed. And steering weight is too light, even in sport. Movements in the car feel one step removed, like you’re witnessing the road go by as opposed to feeling it underneath you. It’s not a particular weakness of the 5-Series, but it used to be a particular strength.
Our example was a loaded 540i xDrive adorned in Alpine white paint and night-blue Dakota leather. Base price is $59,745, but with the aforementioned bevy of options, final price came to an eye-widening $82,360, though that money bought seven add-on packages and eleven standalone options. For reference, an E-Class 4Matic starts at $55,575.
BMW’s built a handsome sedan packed with a posh interior full of features. It’s comfortable, quiet, convenient and elegant. Modern luxury leans heavily towards service and more free time. In that way, the new 5-Series thrives, giving the owner the ability to both multitask and relax. It’s an impressive achievement and great for the midsize luxury sedan-buying market — save for a specific subset, the diehard enthusiast. In isolation, each component performs well and shows improvement. But the cohesion of these parts into a single unit of driving enjoyment doesn’t quite add up as it did before.
The 5-Series competes with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6.