The new 525i from BMW is in one way a replacement for this German automaker's popular 528e and in another way a completely different car.

Newness, as we all know, may not always be better. But in the case of the 525i, it certainly appears to be.

Here is a sophisticated car with excellent engineering, attractive styling, much creature comfort and a price tag above and beyond the call of duty of what most car buyers expect and want to pay for a car.

And it will probably come as small comfort that the 525i, with the exception of the smaller three-series models, is the least expensive car in the BMW lineup. But when you start messing around with German supercars, one has to be able to survive in rarefied air.

The most noticeable feature of the 525i (test car supplied by Daniels Cadillac-BMW, Allentown) is its styling. There is still some family resemblance in the traditional twin oval grille, but the car's new look puts it in the '90s instead of the '70s. As with many other cars today, aerodynamics has a big influence on styling.

Everything, though, is so subtly done that the effort put into aerodynamics might be lost at a quick glance. Softly rounded curves, a smooth roofline with coupe-like rear window angle, gently sloping hood, bold wheel opening flares, integrated roof rain channels, bonded flush windshield and rear window, and nearly flush side glass all combine to give this four-door sedan a sporty look and a very low drag coefficient of 0.31. Little wonder it is quiet at higher speeds.

With a wheelbase of 108.7 inches, length of 185.8, width of 68.9, height of 55.6 and curb weight of 3,395, the 525i, compared to the 528e, has a longer wheelbase, is wider and weighs more but is slightly shorter. Rear seat leg room, however, has been increased by about two inches.

As is expected in an expensive car, the interior is quite, well, expensive looking. There are leather upholstery, contoured seats, thick-pile carpeting and all kinds of standard equipment. The instrument panel combines traditional with contemporary and is a real treat. The main cluster contains large, classic white-on-black analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel-economy, fuel- level and engine-temperature gauges, as well as extensive warning lights and a new alphanumeric Check Control display. Impressive by day, the backlighted analog instruments with floodlit pointers are even more so at night.

Something new, and this is a BMW exclusive, is the Service Interval Indicator. Instead of just going by a schedule outlined in the owner's manual, the indicator recommends maintenance on the basis of how the car is used, informing the driver when service is due with a row of indicator lights in the instrument cluster. If the car is driven hard, service will be called for earlier; if driven gently, the recommended service interval will be longer.

The interior and its systems just seem to g o on and on. So, just one more. The ignition has a delayed power source allowing the windows and sunroof to be operated even when the key is turned off. Big deal, you may say. But how about this: Even if the driver takes the key from the ignition and gets out of the car and then realizes windows and sunroof are open, all is not lost. Everything can be closed with a twist of the key in the driver's door lock.

One thing, though, that might have been given a little more thought is the location of the seat belt anchor on the front seats. They are very low and take some maneuvering to insert the three-point belt into them. Things are even tougher with the fold-down armrests in place.

Now for the fun part. The 525i is one sweet handling car. The big factors in supplying this front engine/rear drive car with good road ability are: (1) a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front and Track Link semi-trailing arms in the r ar; (2) a body shell with improved rigidity, and (3) a 50/50 weight distribution.

The new 50/50 weight distribution also provides for improved traction - light years ahead of the 528e. This was proven during the most recent winter storm.

Also helping handling by building driver confidence is the 525i's ABS (anti-lock braking system). BMW is a pioneer of ABS and obviously knows something about it. ABS prevents the wheels from locking under hard braking, thus eliminating the out-of-control skidding often associated with wheel lockup and allowing the driver to steer in emergency braking situations. The test car's ABS also proved to be of value in the recent storm. Remember, ABS will not offset poor judgment or sloppy driving under adverse conditions. But it certainly beats the alternative.

Powering the 525i is a 2.5-liter/152-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine. The inline six is an engine configuration elevated to an art form by BMW. This new engine is smaller than last year's 2.8, but at 168 horsepower, it is 41 horses more powerful. A Getrag five-speed manual is the standard transmission. The test car had the optional - but at no cost - ZF four-speed automatic transmission.

The combination worked just fine. Performance is quite decent, but like other German autobahn runners, gearing is at the high end. In other words, no smoking the tires from a standstill and it really only starts coming to life when the speed limit is reached. The high gearing, though, provides for decent fuel mileage. The test car averaged 16 mpg for city driving and 23 mpg over the highway. Unleaded premium was used but the 8.8:1 compression ratio should take unleaded regular.

As mentioned, the price for the 525i is $37,000. The test car had none of the three options offered (limited slip differential, heated front seats and compact disc changer), so with a destination charge of $325 and a dealer preparation fee of $130, the final price came to $37,455.

The 525i is protected by a 36-month/36,000-mile warranty on the entire car.