2017 BMW 540i Review

The 5-Series hasn't been this good in over a decade


Wade Thiel, Staff Writer



Positives: Silky smooth ride and power delivery, eager engine, good handling, exceptional seats, upscale styling, robust and high-quality infotainment system.
Negatives: Glossy wood trim reflects sunlight in your face, too isolated in spirited driving situations, some infotainment features are buried.
Bottom Line: The BMW 540i does things many other cars can't. It offers a cabin and ride designed for a king and an engine and handling capabilities for an enthusiast. It's one of the best cars out on the road today. Hardcore enthusiasts will lament its lack of road feel, but it's wonderful in just about every other way. If you've got the money to pony up for this steed, you'll fall in love with German engineering and craftsmanship.
The BMW 5-Series has been a taut, sporty sedan for years, but the last generation car wasn’t the company’s best effort. There were better cars out there and sales suffered because of it. To atone for its mistakes, BMW redesigned the car. Some folks have called the new 5-series too soft, saying it doesn’t live up to the model’s rich history and the brand's aspirations for the ultimate driving machine. We were curious to see for ourselves if these people were correct, so we hopped in a 540i for a week-long spin. Read on for our full review.

Driving Experience

8.8

 

The BMW 540i has a tough job. It has to be engaging enough to please driving enthusiasts, but smooth and soft enough to please the folks who aren’t. This is a balance that many automakers shoot for. Most fail. BMW’s 540i actually does a darn good job of walking the line, though it errs on the side of isolation and comfort. Hardcore enthusiasts will lament the demise of “real BMWs” but most folks will love the way this car drives.

Ride Quality: Smooth is the name of the game in the 540i. The car’s adaptive suspension makes all but the largest bumps disappear. Few cars are this smooth, and when you want to dial up the firmness for Sport mode, it's right there when you need it.

Acceleration: The 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder engine delivers power beautifully. Throttle response varies depending on the drive mode. The car feels genuinely fast and 0-60 times hover just under five seconds.

Braking: The brakes are very powerful. Once they bite, there’s good pedal feel and progression. You’ll have no issues slowing or stopping this car.

Steering: The electronic steering doesn’t offer as much road feel as many enthusiasts would like, but it does better than many other cars. The drive modes change how heavy the steering is, but it never felt too light or too heavy and is always reasonably precise.

Handling: In sport mode, the car feels like it’s ready to tackle any corners or curves. There’s little body roll and the car instills plenty of confidence. In comfort or eco mode there’s more body roll, but the car still hangs on well in the corners.

Technology

9

 

The tech in the 540i is both advanced and robust. There’s a lot packed into this car, and BMW did a good job integrating it to where it feels natural and easy to use. One can get lost in the sheer number of options, and we’d expect older people and those adverse to all the newfangled gadgetry will be at a loss. However, once you find out where everything is, you learn that BMW’s system is really quite good.

Infotainment System: The large 10.2-inch screen offers great graphics and smooth operation. The iDrive system is easy to use and full of features. It can seem a little labyrinthine at times, and some features, like the massaging seat adjustments, are a few layers deeper than we’d like.

Controls: The touchscreen and rotating joystick controller and buttons on the center console make adjusting things easy. The 5-Series also has gesture control which allows you to turn the volume up, down, or off and answer or cancel calls with a wave of the hand.

Bluetooth Pairing: Connecting a phone was fast and easy. Reconnecting upon re-entry was seamless.

Voice Call Quality: Calls sounded great, and we experienced no issues with connectivity.

Styling

8.9

 

BMW stayed familiar with the 540i’s styling. It looks like a smaller 7-Series. The twin kidney grille, headlights, and taillights are all attractive elements, and the company put them together in a package that’s well-proportioned and overall very attractive and elegant.

Front: The iconic twin kidney grille and headlights immediately distinguish this car as a BMW. It’s modern without forsaking the brand’s well-known styling elements.

Rear: The rear, too, keeps with BMW conventions while still moving things forward a little bit. The wraparound LED taillights and low dual exhaust tips make for a well put together rear end.

Profile: From the side, you can see the car’s longer wheelbase and fairly short overhangs as well as its attractive wheels and the few character lines down the side.

Cabin: The cabin of the 540i is attractively styled with glossy wood trim, piano black plastic, and leather wrapped seats. Leather also adorns the dash, doors, and just about everywhere else. It’s beautifully styled and one of the better interiors out on the market. It’s not too busy or overdone.

Comfort

9

 

The BMW 540i is the kind of car that you’ll want to go for a drive in just so you can sit in the seats. They’re wonderful. Aside from where you’ll park yourself, the cabin feels ergonomically designed in just about every way and about everything is adjustable. BMW made one of the best midsizers out there from a comfort standpoint.

Front Seats: The leather-wrapped seats offer plenty of support and adjustable bolstering. You can get the seat right where you want it and the leather is soft, smooth, and comfortable. The heating, cooling and massaging features are just icing on the cake.

Rear Seats: The rear seats offer much of the same experience as the ones up front, though with less adjustment. There’s plenty of legroom and headroom for all but the largest of passengers. Fitting three across the back is doable for short trips as well.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The 540i is supremely quiet. You hardly get any noise from outside, and we noticed no errant noises.

Visibility: Visibility is good all around. There are no oddly placed pillars and you can tell where the car ends. Also, the 360-degree camera, backup camera, and all of the sensors on the car make it nearly impossible for you to miss something.

Climate: The automatic climate control system is excellent. It had no trouble cooling off or heating up the cabin, and the heating and cooling functions on the seats are powerful as well.

Safety

6.9

 

The 2017 BMW 5-Series has not yet been tested by the IIHS and the NHTSA has only tested the 5-Series GT version of the vehicle. As such, it’s hard to speculate about how safe the car actually is. The previous generation car had very good ratings from both the main safety organizations, but the new car is significantly different. That being said, BMW generally does a good job when it comes to safety.

IIHS Rating: Not yet rated.

Standard Tech: Adaptive brake lights, LED daytime running lights, airbags, LATCH attachments for child-restraint seats, BMW Assist eCall, BMW Remote Services, BMW’s Active Protection System, impact sensor that activates Battery Safety Terminal disconnect, unlocks doors, and turns on hazard lighting.

Optional Tech: Monroney not provided.

Storage/Cargo

7.9

 

The Germans aren’t exactly known for storage spaces in their sedans. That being said, the BMW 540i does a pretty good job. It has just enough storage bins in the cabin to not be annoying. If you want a car with more space to put things away inside the cabin, a different manufacturer may be your best bet.

Storage Space: There’s a small bin under the armrest that’s good for a phone and other small items, two cup holders, and another small compartment in front of those cup holders for keys, spare change and whatever else you carry with you.

Cargo Room: The trunk offers 18.7 cubic feet of space, which is more than enough for a couple suitcases. That’s not a wild amount of space, but it manages to beat the Mercedes E-Class Sedan’s 17.4 cubic feet.

Fuel Economy

7.5

 

You won’t go multiple weeks between fill ups in the 540i, but the car is on par with the competition. It’s hard to want to drive in a way that maximizes fuel economy, though. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder is a lot of fun to wring out.

Observed: 24.2 mpg combined.

Distance Driven: 641 miles.

Driving Factors: We drove the 540i both on the highway and in the city. We spent a little more time on the highway than in city traffic. When on the highway we generally set the cruise control and left it.

Audio

9.5

 

The optional Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System isn’t cheap at $4,200, but it is one of the best systems we’ve tested. It provides rich, full-bodied sound to all areas of the cabin. If that’s too much for you to pony up, there’s also an optional Harman Kardon system with surround sound for $875.



Final Thoughts

The BMW 540i is an exceptionally well-designed sedan. It’s luxurious, smooth, fast, and fun. There’s plenty of technology, and the interior comfort levels likely rival the furniture in your home. While hardcore enthusiasts probably won’t be satisfied, everyone else will love it. If you’re in the market for a German-engineered luxury sedan with impeccable road manners, an inviting cabin, and plenty of technology, the 540i is an excellent choice.
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