1994 BMW 540

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1994 BMW 540 review: Our expert's take

The saying is that good things come in threes. At Bavarian Motor Works you can add, “and in V-8 form.”

The German automaker brings to market for 1994 three new V-8 models in its 5-Series line of automobiles. As BMW’s midsize line of sports-oriented vehicles, the 5-Series already had a sterling reputation for quality and performance with in-line six-cylinder engines, and now it is offering a pair of V-8s for the really go-fast contingent.

Actually, there still are a couple of six-cylinders available in the 5 cars, a 525i Sedan and a 525i Touring sports wagon. But it is those 5-Series models with two more cylinders that are going rattle a few chains on the open road.

These are a 530i Sedan and Touring, and a 540i Sedan.

Using the last two numerals as a reference to engine size for the 5s, the 530i is powered by a 3.0-liter V-8. And the rocket ship 540i uses the 4.0-liter V-8 that powers the 740i and 740iL BMWs.

Both V-8s are exotic speedway-type motors sporting four overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. When you push on the button with these babies, all sorts of things begin to happen, especially with the larger displacement engine.

The 243-cubic inch (4.0-liter) V-8 hauls the 3,800 pound Sedan model from zero to 60 miles per hour in 6.7 seconds, all the more impressive in view of the fact it’s done with a “five-speed” automatic transmission. A manual gearbox is not available.

“Many of the world’s luxury car makers are going to five- speed automatics,” said Dennis Reinbold, president of Dreyer & Reinbold BMW. “Detroit doesn’t seem to want to do this, but we think it’s a better transmission.”

The performance really is not all that surprising, as the 243-cube V-8 puts out 282 horsepower, a performance figure well above the accepted performance benchmark of one horsepower per cubic inch.

For the flat-to-the-floor coterie of motorists, top speed is electronically limited to 149 mph. If it weren’t for the limiter, this thing would almost fly.

Of course, it takes money to go this fast, something on the order of $47,500 base sticker. If you don’t mind going a little slower for $6,000 less cost, the 530i is the same basic automobile with a smaller engine.

You’re not exactly dragging your heels here, as the 3.0-liter-powered sedan has a 0-60 rating of 9.1 seconds, and a top speed of 139 mph.

The 183-cubic-inch, 32-valve V-8 is rated at 215 horsepower, and like its larger sibling has a power figure exceeding one horsepower per cubic inch. This model also is available only with a five-speed automatic.

American automobile manufacturers have not been at all enthusiastic about a five-speed automatic, believing that with the complexity of technology and additional cost the five- speeder doesn’t offer that much over a four-speed.

BMW doesn’t agree with this analysis, and backs up its belief with a quite advanced electronically controlled automatic that is a major step forward in automatic transmission performance.

The 5-Ser ies offers an automatic that responds to driving conditions via an ATC system whose cognomen stands for Adaptive Transmission Control. Going beyond BMW’s three-mode system of Economy-Sport- Winter, ATC increases the number of modes to nine and makes mode selection automatic.

In addition to the Adaptive mode, where the automatic does all your thinking for you, there is a Manual mode whereby a driver can manually shift the five-speed automatic from first gear through fourth gear. The Manual mode is designed for those who want to do more than just steer.

“It (the automatic) is as smooth an anything you’ve ever encountered,” Reinbold said. “There’s just nothing like it on the market.”

There is more to the 530i and 540i than the engine and transmission, of course.

Stylewise, the exterior of the V-8 models is distinguished by new, wider BMW “kidney” grille centers, trunk-lid identification badge and, for the 540i, new honeycomb-pattern alloy wheels. Interior luxury is en hanced by ga thered leather upholstery and high-gloss walnut trim.

In the case of the 540i, the telescopic steering column is power adjusted and is combined with a three position memory system.

As midrange, midsized automobiles, the 530i and 540i constitute midlevel marketing penetration.

“It’s hard to judge which sells the best,” Reinbold said, “because sales are split between them. But together they make up about a quarter of our overall sales.

1994 BMW 540i Sedan Base price: $47,500.Type: front engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger, luxury, midsized sedan.Engine: dual-overhead-cam V-8, 4.0 liters, 32 valves, fuel injected, 282 horsepower, 295 foot-pounds of torque.Transmission: five- speed automatic.Acceleration: 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds.Top speed: 149 mph.Mileage: 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway.Dimensions: wheelbase 108.7 inches; length 185.8 inches; width 68.9 inches; height 55.6 inches; curb weight: 3,800 pounds.Options: all-season traction control, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.0
  • Interior 4.0
  • Performance 3.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Exterior 4.0
  • Reliability 5.0

Most recent consumer reviews


Good Car

I got what I was looking for, almost got scammed twice though. Be careful, if it seems to good to be true... it is.

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Maximum age/mileage
Certified Pre-Owned Elite with less than 15,000 miles; Certified Pre-Owned with less than 60,000 miles
Basic warranty terms
1 year/unlimited miles from expiration of 4-year/50,000-mile new car warranty
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196-point inspection
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