1997 BMW 540

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1997 BMW 540

Key specs

Base trim shown


1 trim

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  • i


Wondering which trim is right for you?

Our 1997 BMW 540 trim comparison will help you decide.

1997 BMW 540 review: Our expert's take


When it comes to a heavy dose of automotive Bavarian creme de la creme, few models satisfy like BMW’s new-for-’97 5-series.

Oh, sure. The Z-3’s have been grabbing all the headlines. But let’s face it, unless you’re James Bond — or Pierce Brosnan, for that matter — you probably can’t find one at your local dealer at a sane price anyway.

Just because the 5-series is a four-door sedan doesn’t mean it’s dull as dishwater. This is a BMW, after all, and that means sports sedan.

To get the most out of the new car, BMW went to work to make the structure more rigid. They enlarged the passenger compartment and made it more resistant to crashes. The front and rear suspensions were revised, and now ride on aluminum subframes. The steering is still a recirculating-ball type, but it transmits less road shock to the driver than rack-and-pinion, which the Mercedes E-Class has adapted.

All this is meant to handle the power coming from either a new 2.8-liter 190-horsepower double-overhead-cam six-cylinder or a 4.4-liter 282-horsepower double-overhead-cam V-8.

The six has sufficient power to motivate this sedan. It’s smooth and quiet, with enough reserve to make things moderately interesting. It is subtle.

The V-8 is much more responsive, and in many respects wakes this car up. The effect is overindulgent, serving up 310 foot-pounds of torque at 3,900 rpm. This makes spirited driving easy to dial up. The V-8 is more appropriate for a car of this stature than the six, but both are sophisticated and silent.

The willing chassis has BMW’s sporty, sure-footed feel. With typical Bavarian attitude, this road car takes no prisoners, charging down the autobahn … er … interstate without missing a beat. The car is much more fun to drive than the comparable Mercedes, thanks mostly to steering and suspension that are tuned more for sport than comfort. If a pillowy ride is your idea of nirvana, look elsewhere.

Brakes are discs at all corners with anti-lock. Their stopping ability is of the swift, silent type.

At 288 inches, the car is just about the right length. Although some competitors have more room inside, none matches this car’s road-going poise. But while inside, you’ll find the usual array of luxury and convenience features buyers in this stratosphere expect.

All four power windows are one-touch power up and down units. There’s a multi-function onboard computer, power tilt-telescoping steering wheel and — well, I could go on. But the image of the BMW as a stark driver’s car isn’t really accurate. There are enough power gimmicks here to challenge any car from Detroit or Tokyo.

The 10-way power driver’s throne is really comfortable, if somewhat stiff. It allows for long, relaxed stints behind the wheel.

When you’re not too busy tearing up the twisties, you’ll appreciate the fine audio system that BMW fits to these cars. Standard is a 10-speaker 200-watt audio system. Optional is a 12-speaker, 440-watt system with Digital Sound Processing. (That means you make Kurt Cobain sound like he’s singing in a jazz club).

In either case, the radio forms part of the control center for the onboard computer and cellular phone, meaning it won’t fit into other models, lessening its chance of being stolen. A trunk-mounted CD changer is available. Steering-wheel-mounted controls for the audio system and phone, available on the 540, are useful.

Safety is pretty typical of this league as well, with dual front air bags, anti-lock brakes and side-impact air bags as well. Traction control is standard.

The only down note — one that has always irked me — is that, on the 528, leather is an option (it’s standard on the pricier 540). The leatherette seems inappropriate for this league. Ditto some of the hard plastic that decorates the dash. But otherwise, there’s little to fault here.

The 5-series BMWs are in some ways BMW’s best cars. Sized r ght, with plenty of power and ability, they are the very definition of what a sports sedan should be.

What price for all this goodness? The 528i starts at a reasonable $38,900. But for that price, leather is an option, along with such goodies as the onboard trip computer, seat heaters, premium sound system and power moon roof. The 540i automatic starts at $49,900. The moon roof is standard, but some prime features are still extra. If you’d like your 540i with the six-speed manual, the tariff is higher. Base price is $52,350, plus a $1,300 gas guzzler tax that doesn’t apply to the automatic models.

But if you’re looking in this league, it’s hard to resist the siren call of these Bavarian sweethearts.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.9
  • Interior design 4.2
  • Performance 5.0
  • Value for the money 4.4
  • Exterior styling 4.5
  • Reliability 3.9

Most recent consumer reviews


Rare gem few are lucky enough to own

My 6 speed manual 540I is comfortable, accelerates like a rocket, has a top end speed I am not brave enough to push (130 is enough for me and she had a lot left— her legs are loooong). I rear-ended a small SUV at low speed (( broke a bumper clip only on the SUV) and although all the damage to her was cosmetic and she still drove fine my insurance carrier valued her at $3,800.00 and wrote me a check for $3,300.00. I just spent $15,700.00 (A darn new hood costs $1,600.00!) to make her gorgeous again. Does that tell you how I feel about this diamond? I smile every time I drive her and she has over 200,000 miles and sat motionless during the repairs for almost 2 years. If you own one I will wager you understand completely how lucky I feel I am to have “Rachel”, my black beauty.


Great car

I love this vehicle it's one of a kind the interior you can not find the navigation is personalized the sound system is amazing


Repair bills repair bills REPAIR BILLS

The 540I is an amazing car to drive. Tons of power and great handling make it an absolute blast. However, when something goes wrong, it is not cheap to fix, and when i say not cheap i mean seriously not cheap. I owned mine for 8 months and had to replace the radiator to the tune of $900 (from a dealer so that is higher than normal but aftermarket parts are few and far between so almost everything has to come from BMW). 6 days later the water pump went out at, if i recall correctly about $1400 and that was at 1/2 priced labor because the dealer felt bad for me, seriously.. The sunroof got stuck in the full open position about 2-3 weeks later, dealer was nice and didnt charge me to hook up a scan tool and reprogram it. The cup holders broke which is extremely common. The digital screen for the odometer and messages was missing 85% of the pixels. If youre fully committed to owning it, the 540I, especially with the 6 speed, is fantastic, just make sure you have about double the price in savings for when things start going wrong

See all 8 consumer reviews


New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by BMW
New car program benefits
48 months/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance
48 months/50,000 miles
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
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
Dealer certification required
196-point inspection
Roadside assistance
View all cpo program details

Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?

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