2001 540 New Car Test Drive
BMW's 5 Series remains the quintessential midsize luxury sports sedan. Each model presents a distinct personality and price range, and all are wonderful cars in their own right.
The 5 Series sport wagons (525iT and 540iT) are fantastic. They offer much better handling than any sport-utility vehicle and better performance than most sedans; judged logically, they make a lot more sense than BMW's own X5.
A new 525i sedan drops the price of entry for 2001, and some minor styling revisions freshen the appearance of all models.
BMW's 5 Series comprises three sedans and two wagons. Retail prices for sedans: 525i ($35,400); 530i ($39,400); 540iA ($51,100); 540i ($53,900). Wagons: 525iT ($37,200); 540iT ($53,480).
525i, 530i, and 525iT sport wagon come almost identically equipped with a long list of standard equipment and leatherette (vinyl) upholstery. Montana leather upholstery ($1275) is optional. The 530i gets automatic air conditioning, instead of the manual controls on the 525 models. Both now come with 16-inch wheels, but with a different design to distinguish the 530i.
525i, as its nomenclature suggests, comes with a 2.5-liter fuel-injected six-cylinder engine. This is a new double overhead-cam inline-6 with BMW's Double VANOS system, which means it has variable valve timing for strong power and good fuel economy at all speeds (184 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 20/29 miles per gallon city/highway).
530i comes with a more powerful 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that generates 225 horsepower and 214 pounds-feet of torque. (This is the model we tested for this review; it's the successor to the 528i.)
All three models come standard with a Getrag five-speed manual gearbox, though the ratios are specifically tuned for each. An optional five-speed automatic transmission ($1275) is available that features adaptive shift logic and a Steptronic shifter; the Steptronic works just like a regular automatic in normal mode, but the driver can slap it over to the left and shift manually when desired for better control on winding roads or heavy commuter traffic.
540 models are powered by a 4.4-liter V8. This twin-cam four-valve design with the variable valve setup generates 282 horsepower and 324 pounds-feet of torque. Woof! The 540 models come standard with Montana leather upholstery, burl walnut trim, automatic air conditioning, xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps,.
540iA is a luxury model that comes standard with the five-speed Steptronic transmission, a self-leveling rear suspension, 16-inch wheels and 10-way power seats.
540i is a special sports model with a 6-speed manual gearbox, sports suspension with firmer springs and shock absorbers, specially tuned anti-roll bars, a lower ride height, and 17-inch wheels with larger rear tires. The 6-speed is distinguished with Shadowline exterior trim, 12-way power sport seats and a three-spoke sport steering wheel.
An optional Sport Package with sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and other hardware is available for all models; it ranges from $1,500 to $2,800, depending on the model.
All 5 Series models come with a comprehensive array of safety features: Seatbelts use automatic tensioners and force limiters, and automatically adjust the upper anchor point as the seat is adjusted back and forth. In addition to dual two-stage Smart front airbags (that can detect whether someone is in the passenger seat, all models come with front door-mounted side-impact airbags and BMW's unique Head Protection System, which deploys tubular inflatable cushions in the areas of the front occupants' heads. Rear seat side-impact airbags ($550) are an option and can be activated and deactivated at any time by the dealer. This is in addition to anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability program.
(See separate NewCarTestDrive.com review for the M5.).