2004 545 New Car Test Drive
BMW's 5 Series delivers just about everything you could ask for in a luxury sedan. It offers the features, comfort and convenience of full-size luxury sedans, the sporting character of smaller ones, and a better compromise between interior space and physical bulk. The BMW 5 Series has long been a big seller in the most popular, most competitive class of luxury cars. It's the benchmark for critics and auto industry engineers alike.
For 2004, the 5 Series is redesigned down to its aluminum wheels for the first time in eight years. BMW's premise for the all-new 5 Series seems to be more: more room, more equipment and more sophisticated technology, including BMW's controversial iDrive computer interface. Unfortunately, the new 5 costs more, too, and it follows the contentious styling theme introduced on BMW's full-size 7 Series.
BMW's smaller 3 Series may be the bigger seller, but the 5 is the company's original sports sedan and the oldest nameplate in its line-up. Since the 5 Series nomenclature was introduced in 1975, BMW has completely overhauled its mid-line sedan five times. The redo for 2004 is as extensive as any the company has undertaken. Because this sedan generates a quarter of BMW's profits worldwide, the engineers in Munich spared no expense in the redesign.
In a sense, the most important things haven't changed. BMW's 5 Series remains a true sports sedan in any of its three variations, the 525i, 530i, and 545i. All three boast precise handling, impressive power and outstanding brakes. Its appeal to luxury car buyers may ultimately come down to that new look.
Luxury carmakers typically offer one or two variants in this class, but BMW has had at least three 5 Series sedans for more than a decade. That tradition continues for 2004.
The least expensive is the 525i, powered by BMW's smaller, 184-hp inline six cylinder engine, retailing at $39,995. Next up it the 530i, with a larger, 225-hp six and a sticker price of $44,995. The ultimate 5 is the V8-powered, 325-hp 545i, and its price jumps a full $10,000 to $54,995. BMW also offers the 545i 6-speed at $58,295, which features a manual transmission and sport package.
These prices are up to six percent higher than 2003, even as the auto industry as a whole (including luxury brands) has held the line on increases. BMW justifies its increases with advanced technologies introduced in the new 5. Further, the company claims that given the 'value ratio,' or equipment for the money, prices have actually held steady. We're not sure what that means, but we know customers could buy a 2003 5 Series for less than they'll pay for a 2004.
That said, even the 525i comes standard with lots of luxury features. These include fully automatic climate control with active micro-filtration and separate temperature and airflow controls for each side of the cabin; an AM/FM/CD player with 10 speakers and two sub-woofers; a power tilt-and-telescope leather steering wheel: keyless entry with a multi-function remote and Vehicle & Key memory, which sets seat and climate controls for the driver whose key opens the car; and head and fog lights with automatic control. There are three 12-volt power outlets in the cabin and one in the trunk. There's also a rechargeable flashlight in the glovebox.
However, base prices for both the 525i and 530i do not include an automatic transmission ($1,275) or leather upholstery (part of the $2,400 premium package). All variants come with the BMW Assist package, including a one-year subscription to the service. BMW Assist provides tele-matic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance, locator and concierge services.
The 530i accounts for nearly half of 5 Series sales in the United States, and adds three items to the 525i's standard-feature list: the bigger six-cylinder engine (3.0 liters vs. 2.5), slightly larger brake discs and 17-inch alloy wheels (vs. 16-inchers on the 525i).
The 545i's standard equipment includes still bigger brakes, a six-speed automatic transmission, leather upholstery, a power glass sunroof, a three-function garage door opener in the overhead console and more elaborate auto-dimming interior lighting. And, of course, the V8 engine.
The 2004 5 Series is the first line of automobiles offering a full range of six-speed transmissions. All three 5 Series are available with a clutch operated manual, a conventional automatic or BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox ($1,500). While it will shift automatically, SMG is not an old-school automatic with a torque converter and a manual shift feature. It's more like a standard manual transmission with an automatic clutch. The SMG's clutch operates electrically without input from the driver, who shifts up or down simply by moving the gear lever or clicking paddles on either side of the steering wheel. SMG can also shift automatically, yet it delivers the improved acceleration and fuel mileage of a manual transmission because it eliminates the inefficiencies of a torque converter, called friction losses.
Our primary test car had the standard 6-speed manual, but it included many of BMW's more popular options, starting with the premium package (leather, dark wood trim, auto-dimming lights and the garage opener). The test 530i also added the sport package, with Active Steering and Active Roll Stabilization and 18x8-inch cast alloy wheels with 245/WR-18 run-flat tires ($3,330). It had BMW's Park Distance Control ($700), which warns a driver of low-lying or poorly visible objects with an electro.