BMW has a reputation for building great sports sedans, and, as a result, the German brand hasn't always been the first choice for ultimate luxury. It has worked to change that over previous generations of the 5-Series and this latest model might just be ‘the one’.
The all new 5-Series learns a lot of lessons from the larger 7-Series - it’s not quite as extravagant, nor as expensive but it is smaller and more agile, meaning there’s dynamic competence to go with the more plush fittings.
But the 5-Series faces strong competition from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class which boosts craftsmanship and opulence, and the Jaguar XE range, which sets new standards in sporty driving feel.
Vehicle Style: Prestige large sedan
Price: $136,900 plus on-road costs, $152,573 as tested
Engine/trans: 250kW/450Nm 3.0-litre 6cyl turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7 l/100km | Tested: 9.7 l/100km
With a wide range of models to pick from, finding the right 5-Series isn’t necessarily straightforward, and until the recently announced M5 arrives the turbocharged six-cylinder 540i we're testing plays the role of flagship in Australia for the meantime.
That means its starting price of $136,900 before extras and on-road costs won’t suit all buyers, and limo services and fleet purchasers might be more tempted by the cheaper four-cylinder petrol and diesel options - but for anyone that simply can’t be without a silken BMW inline six-cylinder engine, this is the one to get.
With 250kW of power and 450Nm of torque, the 540i doesn’t pretend to be a performance car - though it isn’t shy about showing its athletic attributes. What the latest 5-Series does better than before is also being a plush luxury chariot.
- Standard Equipment: Nappa leather upholstery, Sensatec-covered dash, colour head-up display, adaptive LED headlights, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, power adjustable front seats and steering column with memory function, keyless entry and start, cruise control with speed limiter, electric glass sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 10.25-inch touchscreen display, iDrive controller, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, ConnectedDrive online services, 16-speaker audio
- Options Fitted: Innovations Package (display key, gesture control, remote parking) $1600, massaging front seats $1800, Bowers & Wilkins audio $6400, front and rear seat heating $700, wireless Apple CarPlay $623, heated steering wheel $500
- Cargo Volume: 520 litres, expandable via 40:20:40 folding rear seat.
Open the door and BMW’s premium upswing, first seen on the larger 7-Series, is evident inside the 540i, particularly in the fine stitching detail and soft Nappa leather covering the seats.
Seat comfort is absolutely first class, with big, broad front seats as part of the ‘Comfort’ seat package, or more supportive Sport seats optionally available. The added front and rear seat heating and front massage function go even further to ensure occupant comfort.
The dash design updates the styling themes of the previous 5-Series, with a more contemporary design that better conveys a feeling of prestige thanks to upmarket finishes, smart-looking wood trims, and plenty of metallic highlights - the only sore-point might be the ‘Sensatec’ dash (BMW’s name for fake leather) which stands out as clearly artificial next to the finely grained Nappa leather used everywhere else.
Rear seat passengers aren’t short changed either - rear legroom isn’t quite stretch-out-and-relax generous, but passengers of all shapes and sizes can still ride in comfort, with two individual climate zones for rear seat passengers as well.
Infotainment, via BMW’s iDrive interface is the best it’s ever been, through an updated touchscreen and menu layout for easier use. Apple CarPlay connectivity is also available (wirelessly for the first time), and while it’s a must-have feature on cheap runabouts, BMW’s own system is far superior making the option unnecessary.
Also of questionable value, BMW’s Innovations Package, which bundles infotainment gesture controls, remote control parking and a Display Key. If your garage is a tight one and you’d rather park from outside the vehicle then you might see a benefit, but BMW didn’t supply us with the display key so we can’t comment as to how useful the system is.
Gesture controls are a handy way to adjust volume or skip tracks without taking your eyes off the road, but the system's accuracy could do with some fine-tuning and the steering wheel controls do all the same functions just as easily.
The boot also lacks useful space. At 520 litres it’s hardly small, but the load area is quite narrow, limiting practicality slightly. Three-piece folding rear seats at least allow longer items to be carried when required.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: Turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six cylinder petrol, 250KW at 6500rpm, 450Nm at1380-5200rpm
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: Adaptive dampers with wishbone front, multilink rear
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, 12.05m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 2000kg braked, 750kg unbraked
As part of BMW’s latest modular engine family, the 3.0-litre straight six under the bonnet of the 540i shares its basic structure with the smaller four-cylinder engines in the range and like those engines it features a twin-scroll turbocharger to enhance performance and efficiency.
It’s a gem of an engine, ideally suited to the 540i being both highly refined, quiet, and smooth, while also proving adequate performance to whisk the large sedan along effortlessly.
BMW’s claims just 5.1-seconds from 0-100 km/h and if you do want to drive with vigour the accompanying engine note just evident enough to stir the soul slightly.
Comfort is BMW’s new frontier though, at times the previous 5 could feel slightly firm over suburban streets, but unflappable out on the open road. With the new generation, BMW has dialed back the handling precision (but only by a small margin) while managing to make a more comfortable cruiser with a far more plush ride.
Dynamic Damper Control suspension and Adaptive Drive anti-roll bar suspension are the obvious reasons why, linked via the Comfort and Sport drive modes to adjust ride as required (as well as transmission, steering, and throttle response), with an Adaptive mode able to pick and choose depending on the driving situation.
Refinement is impressive, the cabin remains hushed, even over coarse chip tarmac, and choppy road surfaces barely make their way through to the cabin in the form of either noise or movement.
BMW also offers four wheel steering, as a no-cost option, but not as standard equipment on the 540i. The car tested here, without the four-wheel steering system felt more predictable and secure on the road compared to the Integral Active Steering equipped car we drove at launch, indicating the system may not suit all drivers.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the BMW 5 Series scored the maximum 5 Star rating when tested in 2017. Testing conducted by Euro NCAP with scores adjusted to reflect Australian specifications - this rating applies to the 520d only with other variants ‘unrated’.
Safety Features: Standard safety features on all models include Driving Assistant Plus, a suite of technologies including active cruise control with stop-and-go, front and rear cross traffic warning, lane keeping assistance, side collision protection, rear collision prevention and crossroads warning, and Parking Assistant Plus with front and rear park sensors, semi-automated parking, surround-view cameras, and user-programmed navigation-based camera activation points for camera views.
Speed Limit Assist uses cameras to monitor speed signs and can relay the current speed zone to the driver, and with the speed limiter or cruise control, the current speed can be updated via steering wheel confirmation. Six airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain), ABS brakes, traction and stability control, pre-collision preparation, and autonomous emergency braking are also fitted as standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals are based around 12month/20,000km ‘condition based’ servicing. BMW Service Inclusive Basic pre-paid servicing covers oil, filters, and spark plug replacement for the first five years/80,000km (whichever occurs first) for $1640, or $4600 for Service Inclusive Plus which adds brake pads and discs, and windscreen wiper replacement. Full details, terms, and conditions are available from your BMW dealer.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Key rival, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has elegance in the bag with a high-tech interior that rivals the larger S-Class for presence, fit, and finish. The twin-turbocharged V6 of the E 400 feels strong, but doesn’t match the silken sweetness of BMW’s straight six.
Jaguar has hit new dynamic highs with the XF, with finely honed steering and excellent chassis balance, plus an exciting supercharged V6 in the XF S. Jaguar’s interior promotes minimalism over pomp, but to some eyes it can appear a little more basic.
Lexus doesn’t quite match the performance or luxury of the 540i, with the petrol-electric hybrid GS 450h and V8 GS F stradling the price of the 450i making the GS range the value choice, but it falls short on premium appeal and driving dynamics.
The Maserati Ghibli is a car for drivers. It sounds great, and looks sharp, but lacks for high-end features next to the BMW, feels less special on the inside, and comes up short on rear seat space. But get it on the right stretch of road and the sharp handling and aural presence make up for any practical shortcomings.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
BMW appears to have reached a new high water mark in the large prestige segment. As always there’s optional equipment that arguably could be standard, but even in its ‘bare’ state the new 540i promotes comfort, convenience, and connectivity like never before.
The fit and finish inside is exquisite, with finely detailed finishes, and superbly comfortable seats making the interior of the 540i feel like an upmarket lounge bar, and while there’s plenty of impressive touches, there’s still clear room above for the more expensive 7-Series.
Without being a performance car, the 540i is swift but serene, a delight to hustle through a series of bends, but no chore to have to run in and out of the city in - something its predecessor was less polished at.
Where once Mercedes-Benz may have set the tone for the large prestige segment, BMW looks to have sharpened its act, making the final decision for buyers all the more difficult.