A high-performance M5 sedan joins the 5 Series lineup, giving BMW a direct rival for the Mercedes-Benz E55, a muscle-car version of the E-Class sedan. The M5 returns to the United States after a seven-year hiatus.
Besides the M5, the 5 Series lineup includes the six-cylinder 528i and V-8 540i, both of which come as sedans and station wagons.
The M5's visual distinctions from other 5 Series sedans include a larger air scoop and oval fog lamps in the front air dam, four exhaust pipes at the rear and 18-inch tires mounted on wheels with a chrome satin finish.
At 188 inches overall, the 5 Series sedan is about an inch shorter than the E-Class and nearly 9 inches shorter than the Lexus LS400. All three have rear-wheel drive.
All models come with front bucket seats with 10-way power adjustments, automatic climate control and a power tilt/telescopic steering column. Leather upholstery is standard on the 540i and M5 and optional on the 528i. A split, folding rear seatback is optional on all.
Under the Hood
The M5 comes with a 400-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 engine and a six-speed manual transmission only. To help owners manage all that power, BMW throws in a free driver-training course at its new Performance Center next to the Spartanburg, S.C., plant where the Z3 and X5 are built.
A 193-horsepower 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder powers the 528i and is available with a five-speed manual or new five-speed automatic transmission. The 540i has a 4.4-liter V-8 with 282 horsepower and comes with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. In a switch from usual pricing practices, the 540i costs more with manual than automatic ($54,470 versus $51,670).
All models have two-stage front airbags whose deployment force depends on crash severity and whether the occupants are buckled, side-impact airbags for the front seats, and the Head Protection system a tubular side airbag that deploys from the roof liner to protect front-seat occupants. Rear side-impact airbags are optional.
BMW's Head Protection System uses a tubular airbag to protect a front-seat occupant from hitting the side window.
Traction control, an anti-skid system called Dynamic Stability Control and anti-lock brakes are standard.
The six-cylinder 528i offers most of the features and the same quality as the 540i at a considerably lower price but lacks the spirited performance one might expect from a $40,000 luxury car.