A new fifth generation of BMW’s midsize 5 Series sedan arrives for the 2004 model year. It is a bit bigger in size and exhibits a fresh but familiar “new look.” Mounted on a wheelbase that’s 2.3 inches longer than its predecessor, the rear-wheel-drive 530i is 2.6 inches longer overall, 1.8 inches wider and 1.3 inches taller. Space in the rear has been increased, and the automakers says entry into the backseat is easier. Trunk capacity has grown by 26 percent. A new, weight-saving, all-aluminum front-end structure is used.
Three 5 Series models are available. The 525i is equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-six-cylinder engine; the 530i gets a 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter six-cylinder; and the 545i is powered by a 4.4-liter V-8. The inline-six-cylinder engines were used in the prior generation, but the V-8 is larger than before. Three six-speed transmission choices are offered: manual, Steptronic automatic and a Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG). BMW says the new six-speed-manual gearbox works with a sportier shift action by using shorter throws for a more satisfying feel.
BMW offers quite an array of either standard or optional equipment, which includes Active Roll Stabilization, Xenon Adaptive Headlights, Adaptive brake lights, run-flat tires, an evolved iDrive control system, a head-up display, Active Cruise Control and Active Steering.
The styling of the 530i and its companions follows on the heels of the company’s controversial 7 Series but appears to be more subtle — and, therefore, perhaps less subject to criticism. Short overhangs and what BMW calls “lean-forward dynamics” highlight the design. Though the basic concept is considered to be traditional, BMW says the design language is all new and consistent with other recently introduced models that feature ultraclean bodysides.
A prominent twin kidney grille provides a connection to BMW tradition. Surrounded by painted surfaces, the grille is flanked by quad headlights inside luminous rings and beneath clear covers. Deeply wrapped lighting units are present in the front and rear. The turn signals have clear lenses. Amber LED front parking lights are thin and wedge shaped. The bodies incorporate BMW’s traditional reverse kink at the rear door windows. The contemporary rear end features a high trunk lid.
Adaptive brake lights are standard. A full aluminum suspension is installed, and all models have rack-and-pinion steering. Active Steering is included in the Sport Package. The brakes on each 5 Series model have been upsized, and ventilated discs are installed all around. Standard tires measure 17 inches in diameter, and 18-inch run-flat performance tires are included in the Sport Package.
Five people fit inside the 530i sedan. Backseat passengers have 1.3 inches more shoulder room than before, and1.8 inches of additional legroom. Leatherette upholstery and Titanium-finish trim are standard, but leather upholstery with wood trim is available. Both front occupants get 10-way power seat adjustment with a memory feature.
A “double wave” theme is used for the dashboard. The tachometer now incorporates a variable warning segment that activates at lower rpm when the engine is cold. A three-spoke steering wheel holds multifunction controls. Rain-sensing wipers and a 10-speaker stereo with a CD player and twin subwoofers are standard.
A simplified version of the iDrive control system, which was first used in the 7 Series, uses a 6.5-inch color display screen. Either the driver or the front passenger can use a knob atop the console; a new Menu button is featured there. When a navigation system is installed, additional iDrive functions are provided. One year’s service for the BMW Assist Program is provided with all 5 Series models. Radar-based Active Cruise Control is an option.
Under the Hood
The 530i’s 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam inline-six-cylinder engine develops 225 hp and 214 pounds-feet of torque. A 530i equipped with the standard six-speed-manual gearbox can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, while the six-speed Steptronic automatic requires 6.9 seconds. The automatic unit incorporates Manual and Sport modes.
A six-speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) will also be available in combination with a Sport Package. Shifted electrohydraulically, the SMG unit incorporates an automatic clutch. Gear changes may be specified using a console-mounted lever or twin paddles on the steering wheel. A Sport button is provided. BMW’s engines meet ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) standards.
Integrated Advanced Head Protection is standard. All 530i sedans have a flat-tire monitor. Dynamic Stability Control, which is activated with a console switch, can improve traction under difficult conditions. Active Roll Stabilization is offered as an option as part of the Sport Package, and this technology yields flatter cornering. Active Head Restraints are also available.
Finesse is the operative word for BMW’s latest 5 Series, which features both refined ability and enthusiasm for the road. You can expect a smooth, totally controlled ride even on rougher pavement, despite the sporty tautness of the 530i’s suspension.
Acceleration with this midrange engine is energetic but short of startling. Performance fans may prefer the 545i on that score. The 530i is quiet and runs on a well-subdued engine that’s heard only slightly when shifting with the manual gearbox. As expected in BMWs, the six-speed unit works masterfully. The automatic transmission operates smoothly and easily.
The seat bottoms are surprisingly short, and the firm seats practically force you upright against a hard back that supports emphatically. Occupants near the rear doors get ample headroom and legroom, but riders sink down and the center spot has a terribly hard seatback. The gauges are superior. The manufacturer promised and delivered a simplified version of iDrive that was easier to use than the original, but it is still unnecessary and too unwieldy.
Once you get used to the new active steering, it’s great and produces confidence. You can almost read what it’s thinking. At first, an active-steering sedan feels as if it’s just a bit out of kilter while heading straight down the road.