“Bimmer” or “Beemer”?

As long as you don’t call it a “Bummer,” the folks from BMW don’t really care how you refer to the car.

All show and no go?

Just in case the BMW six isn’t energetic enough for your liking, or if yourspirit is willing but your pocketbook is a tad weak for a V-12, those desiringa performance boost can now get a V-8 in the 5-series for the 1994 model year.

Will the Bulls win four titles in a row?

Oops. Sorry. Back to BMW.

For the 1994 model year-which arrived in late May at BMW-a 3-liter, 252-horsepower, 32-valve V-8 rests under the hood of the 530i sedan and wagon,while a 4-liter, 282-horsepower, 32-valve V-8 is restless under the hood of the 540i sedan. That’s the same 4-liter found in the BMW 740i for the first time in 1993.

We test-drove the 540i with its $1,000 V-8. It’s not that the 4-liter is a $1,000 option; the 16 m.p.g. city/23 highway rating brings with it a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. So tack the $1,000 onto the $47,000 sticker.

For that $1,000 you are rewarded with the ability to scoot from the stoplight ahead of most other vehicles. And it’s the first few feet of travel that are really a hoot, thanks to the five-speed automatic transmission teamedwith the V-8.

The automatic is designed for those who want responsive shifting similar toa five-speed manual without having to play with a clutch. It’s essentially thesame five-speed automatic found in the 740i.

Technically, BMW says, first gear is “lower” than usual for that burst of power off the line, while second gear is close to where you normally would have found first. What?

It means that if you press the pedal floorward you dart down the pavement. Rather than listen to transmission whine and commotion for a block while you wait to leave first and move to second, you instead hear the transmission shift in just a few feet into second gear as you move up the performance scale. Once up to fifth gear you are in overdrive for quiet operation and laid-back r.p.m. while trying to offset the loss of fuel you encountered getting there.

It would be easy to focus on the V-8’s power and the five-speed’s smooth, quiet operation and say, “The 540i is a swell car, and to whom do we make out the $48,000 check?”

That would be giving the suspension system short shrift. What makes the V-8and five-speed such a pleasant combination is that the suspension keeps the wheels cemented to the roadway whether the blacktop is straight or winding. Incorners and sharp turns the body sits flat, and that puts you in such control that you can accelerate into and out of that twisting stretch of highway rather than backing off the throttle.

BMW boasts the 4-liter will move the 540i from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 6.8 seconds. We were more impressed with how the suspension allowed the engine to gain the glory while the suspension did the dirty work in the trenches. The suspension lets the 540i behav e predictably, a high compliment for any car, regardless of the speed at which it performs.

Regular readers will note that we’ve not been a big fan of BMW, which initially gained fame as “the poor man’s Mercedes” until the rave press clippings so swelled the automaker’s ego that prices escaped the reach of the blue-collar crowd and nestled alongside those of Benz.

The 5-series tears down most of the barriers that over the years prevented us from liking the car. However, it is not without fault. BMW insists that seats be stiff as boards. With the engine, transmission and suspension workingin such harmony, why does the automaker insist on seats that inject a sour note?

The 540i is obviously designed to be driven aggressively, yet the overly firm seats wear out the driver who puts the car through its paces for any length of time. There’s no harm in having a seat bottom and back with a littlegive to it or side bolsters that grip gently to hold you in place in t hose tight maneuvers rather than nudge you in the ribs.

And there’s no cupholder. BMW says you will be so busy driving you won’t have time to reach for liquid nourishment. Perhaps on the autobahn, where speeds of 125 m.p.h. send you into the slow lane, but not on the Kennedy Expressway during reconstruction and not at the mall while you bide time in the parking lot while the significant other spends next month’s salary. That’snose-in-the-air snobbery by BMW. For $48,000, we’d expect BMW to provide a cupholder and let the driver decide whether to use it.

Final gripe: We hope BMW makes a slight change in the driver and passenger armrests. They are artsy, and that’s good, but they also protrude about an inch more than we’d like for optimum leg and thigh room. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone came up with a foldout armrest that was available when you wanted it but hidden in the door when you didn’t?

Standard equipment includes speed-sensitive power steering; power brakes with four-wheel anti-lock; driver-side air bag; steel-belted, 15-inch radial tires; intermittent windshield wipers with car-speed-controlled wiping rate; heated windshield-washer jets; dual power/heated outside mirrors; remote activated (with key fob) central locking and window and sunroof closing; powerseats; leather seats, door panels and center console; walnut trim; impact sensors (to unlock the doors automatically and switch on interior lights in anaccident); tinted glass; power windows; rear-window defroster; air conditioning with separate driver/passenger controls; automatic ventilation that can be programmed to switch on when the car is standing; power sunroof; metallic paint; cruise control; AM/FM stereo with cassette; fog lights; and prewiring for phone and compact-disc player.

An inclement-weather package is a $1,660 option and includes heated seats and a traction-control system that improves driveability and handling on slippery surfaces.

Add $405 for freight.

BMW hopes consumers with thoughts of checking out the $50,000 Lexus LS400 or Infiniti Q45 sedans instead might opt for the 540i, which, with its 108.7-inch wheelbase and 185.8-inch length, is roughly the size of the Infiniti J30, smaller than the Q45. It would certainly help reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan if they did.

By the way, “Beemer” was a designation coined by BMW motorcyclists, while “Bimmer” was the word chosen by BMW car fans. The folks from BMW favor “Beemer” when referring to their machines. We’ll accept “Beemer,” but still consider it a bummer that there’s no cupholder.

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