Nearly twenty years ago when I was a teenager obsessed with Hondas I remember someone telling me how a slightly used BMW 540 would be far superior to my Integra Type R. The 540 would be slightly quicker and offer amenities not found in the high performance sport compact. I couldn’t fathom this reasoning at the time. My adolescent brain didn’t process anything other than Honda or Volkswagen (the two main rivals of the era) and showing up at the track with something my father would have driven would be like showing up at a local street hockey game wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
Fast forward to today and my late thirties-self would absolutely like to have those extra amenities not found in today’s high performance econoboxes. As my thinking has evolved so has the 5 Series with its latest iteration being the 2017 model. This generation makes great strides in many areas over the previous offering and is superior in almost every way.
The overall look hasn’t changed all that much but there is definitely a beefier feel to it. BMW has still managed to shed up to 100 kilograms of weight (depending on the configuration) compared to the 2016 5 Series through use of what they call their EfficientLightweight design concept. The design takes advantage of aluminum and high-strength steels to accomplish this goal despite the vehicle being slightly larger on all fronts. The chassis itself is stiffer and further to this is the addition of variable-ratio steering with speed-sensitive electric assistance and even rear-wheel steering. I’ve read much to do about the new 5 Series’ lack of steering feel but I don’t buy it. The steering input is regulated via an electronic controller depending on speed. In normal drive mode its fine but switch into Sport Plus mode and the thing tightens up like you wouldn’t believe and delivers an experience worthy of any track car.
At the heart of the 540 is the succulent turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six making 335 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, capable of powering it to 100 km/h in just 4.8 seconds. What’s astounding is the fuel economy is almost on par with the MINI Cooper I just tested. I managed just 8.4 L/100km and trust me when I say I didn’t go easy on this vehicle. The motor begs to be punished so much so that you can get into trouble very easily. Highway cruising is so enjoyable because the ride is smooth and silent yet you have the ability to rocket to illegal speeds in the blink of an eye. What’s more distressing is that no matter how fast you decided to take the 540, it always feels as if you’re driving 80 km/h. For people who need to “feel” the speed this can be a problem.
The interior pampers you with luxury at every level with the softest leather covering the most comfortable seats. BMW’s M Sport steering wheel has long been my favorites so we’re approaching a level of euphoria here that’s difficult to describe. Things that were just so-so include that electronic gearshift, the tiny start button that’s maybe a little too tucked away and the fact that BMW’s infotainment system is a mess of menus that seem to go far too many levels deep. Another rather irritating aspect was that the car never seems like it’s off when you turn it off. Hit the button and the engine cuts but the infotainment system keeps going like nothing happened even when you exit and walk away from the vehicle. Pressing the off button should kill everything the first time.
One of the neat gadgets available as an option is the “smartphone” key fob. The fob has a touchscreen interface that gives you various information about the vehicle however the kicker is that you can actually move the car forward and backward via the remote. This is handy if you need to get into a tight parking space but other than that it’s mostly a gimmick to show your friends. The fact that you need to be within two feet of the driver’s door in order for the remote to be able to connect to the drive system is a bit of a fail though.
The 2017 BMW 540i starts at $69,000 and with the plethora of options available most people will be paying quite a bit more. The tester was equipped with the Premium Package, Interior Comfort Packages, Driver Assistance Package, M Sport Brakes, adaptive suspension and numerous other goodies and topped out at $90,400.