Vehicle Overview
A 4.4-liter V-8 engine provides the power for the strongest member of BMW’s midlevel 5 Series family. Although they look virtually identical, the 525i and 530i sedans use inline-six-cylinder engines and the high-performance M5 sedan gets a larger, extra-potent V-8.

For 2003, BMW’s Head Protection System for rear passengers becomes standard. A new Sport Package, which is standard on the sedans, is equipped with the six-speed-manual shift; this addition includes front and rear spoilers, black side moldings, an M-type suspension II, a black roof liner, an M-type footrest, 18-inch wheels and visible exhaust pipes. Titanium rings go around the gauges in the instrument panel. BMW’s optional navigation system has been upgraded to DVD-based operation.

All 5 Series models are rear-wheel drive, unlike the 3 Series sedans, which may be equipped with all-wheel drive.

Like its 325xi twin, BMW’s 540 wagons competes primarily against other European-brand luxury wagons from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Saab and Volvo.

The 540i rides a 111.4-inch wheelbase. Even though they seem more like midsize models, which is how classifies them, the 540 models fits into the compact-car category according to interior-volume standards by the Environmental Protection Agency. Measuring approximately 188 inches long overall, the 540i is nearly 9 inches shorter than the Lexus LS 430. In appearance, each 5 Series sedan closely resembles its smaller and larger mates, all of which sport BMW’s familiar twin-kidney grille. The 540i sedan has a standard moonroof and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights.

From the front doors forward, the 540 wagons look identical to BMW’s 5 Series sedans. In overall appearance, they resemble the company’s smaller 3 Series and larger 7 Series, led by the familiar twin-kidney grille that’s been a BMW hallmark.

A wood-trimmed interior and seating for five occupants is provided. Upholstered in leather, the front bucket seats have 10-way power adjustment for the driver. Standard equipment on all 540 models includes rain-sensing wipers, dual-mode automatic air conditioning, remote keyless entry, a 10-speaker audio system with a CD player, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, heated power mirrors and an alarm. Sedans can be equipped with an optional split, folding rear seatback and BMW’s navigation system.

The 540 wagon includes dual-zone automatic air conditioning, heated power mirrors with a memory feature, a CD stereo, a power tilt/telescoping steering column, keyless entry, a central locking system, a split, folding rear seat and a retractable rear cargo cover. Cargo volume behind the rear seat totals 32.7 cubic feet, but folding the backseat increases space to 65.2 cubic feet.

Under the Hood
Topping the regular 5 Series lineup, the 540i models get a a 4.4-liter V-8 engine that produces 290 horsepower. It teams with either a five-speed-automatic or six-speed-manual transmission. A manual shift actually costs more and is available as part of a Sport Package that includes a tauter suspension and 17-inch tires.

Dual-stage front airbags deploy according to crash severity and whether occupants are buckled up. Side-impact airbags for the front seats and BMW’s Head Protection System — which consists of curtain-type airbags that deploy to protect front-seat occupants — are standard. Side-impact airbags are optional for the rear seats. Safety features include antilock brakes, traction control and BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control system. Optional Park Distance Control detects obstacles to the front and rear of the car while parking.

Driving Impressions
Even more than in the less-expensive 525i and 530i models, BMW manages to blend big doses of both sport and luxury in the 540i. Drivers can expect the precise maneuverability and control of a 3 Series, coupled with a level of luxury that approaches that of the big 7 Series. The suspensions are undeniably firm, especially if the sedan is fitted with the Sport Package, but ride comfort remains pleasant over most pavement surfaces.

BMW manages to blend big doses of both sport and luxury in the 540i wagon. Drivers can expect the precise maneuverability of a 3 Series coupled with luxury that approaches the 7 Series. The suspensions are undeniably firm, especially if a Sport Package is installed, but ride comfort remains pleasant over most pavement surfaces.

In all 540i models, the V-8 engine unleashes a veritable sea of strength to deliver supremely confident highway operation. Easy-to-read gauges follow the familiar BMW layout.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 12/18/02