The BMW 5 Series Continues a Tradition

Jean Swenson

,
Ashly Knapp

Physician's Money Digest, November30 2003, Volume 10, Issue 22

The BMW is 1 of the few carsthat you must test-drive twiceto appreciate. From unibodystructure to skin, the 2004BMW 5 Series is a complete redo. Withan overall length of 190 inches, a widthof almost 73 inches, and a height of 58inches, the new 5 Series falls in the middleof the most powerful and important4-door sedan market.

Standard of Excellence

All of the 5 Series have front-engineand rear-wheel drive and come in 3 models.The most basic and least expensivemodel is the 525i, which starts at about$40,000. Next is the middle of the road530i, followed by the 545i, which is themost powerful model. Uniquely, all 3models come close to putting equalweight on the front and rear wheels forthe most balanced, predictable performanceduring urgent maneuvers.

The 525i has a 2.5-liter, 6-cylinderengine that puts out about 184 horsepowerat 6000 rpms. The 530i's 3.0-liter,6-cylinder engine puts out 225 horsepower.The powerful 545i has a 4.4-liter V8,with 325 horsepower. To learn about theBMW's brilliant Valvetronic mechanismand Double-VANOS system, visit www.bmwusa.com and check out the car'sleading-edge technology for yourself.

Uniquely, all 5-Series Beamers comewith a choice of 3 transmissions. There isa regular 6-speed manual with a clutch; a6-speed manual with a sequential manualgearbox that offers drivers 6 speedsthrough a different sort of gearshift anddoesn't use a clutch pedal; and an automatictransmission, which is the mostpopular. The automatic uses a torqueconverter to transmit power instead of aclutch or the manual transmission.

Impressive Features

The new 5 Series is full of brilliant,detailed features. From the firewall forward,it is an aluminum frame with abackward steel A-pillar. Wear comfortablepants when you go on your first testdriveso that you can look under the carto see the attractive, aerodynamic undercarriageand the aluminum suspensioncomponents and subframes.

The Bavarians are taking a hint fromAmerican automakers, incorporatingoptions to personalize your car. Besidesbeing able to choose the engine and transmission,you can select such options asactive roll suspension, which controlsbody lean in case of a roll. The car can beequipped with other awesome inventions,including active steering.

Active steering anticipates your needfor turning power and speed. For example,when you're leaving a parking spaceor slowly turning the corner, you mayonly need to turn the steering wheel alittle to get results, and sometimes youneed to turn the steering wheel 2 timesto get the same results. We were surprisedto see how much fun it added tothe driving experience, while givingback active safety.

Available Options

There are 2 types of cruise controloffered: standard and adaptive. Our recommendation:Take a test-drive on thehighway and check out what adaptivecruise is like. A proven safety device youcan test during both your test-drives isthe color heads-up display. This displayprojects critical gauge features on thewindshield, allowing you to keep youreyes on the road. You can darken theinterior for nighttime driving and scanthe horizon for the road ahead, insteadof looking down.

To get the heads-up display, youmust order the navigation system, whichtakes an improved version of the I-Driveand adds voice commands. Althoughvoice commands can be challenging,they can be a great advantage. If you buythe 5 Series, you'll probably get the fineLogic 7 entertainment, which has 13speakers and 2 subwoofers that are wellplaced. For the freshest sound and signaland commercial-free music and news,subscribe to Sirius Satellite radio. Theclimate control may be the best available,particularly for people with allergies.You can control all airflow, whichtravels through a filter.

One option that will be availablesoon is hydrogen power, bi-fuel ability.You can have gasoline and hydrogen orpossible turbo diesel and hydrogen. Themajority of your fuel would be clean,burning hydrogen that you would fill upin your garage. We just drove a vehiclethat had hydrogen injected into the combustionchamber. These cars make a different,more pleasing sound, and areequally as powerful.

Intelligent Lighting

Get the Xenon high and low beams,which will allow you to see very well.Their auto-leveling feature should stopany oncoming traffic objections. Anothersmart lighting trick for added safety is anadaptive brake light. When you go for anemergency stop, the brake lights dramaticallyincrease in brightness and volumeto alert the driver behind you.

Your second test-drive, preferably atnight, should be the best and most funtest-drive—that's the drive when younotice that the headlights throw illuminationin the direction you're turning.Another reason to test-drive at night isto take in the interior illumination. Thedashboard light is designed to keep youreyes sensitive to the night.

Since so many auto writers use theBMW 5 Series as the car to compare allother vehicles against, you might aswell do the same. Even if you don't buythe 5 Series, you will become a better-educateddriver, particularly after yoursecond test-drive. So, be sure to checkout the standard sedan of the industry.Whether you sign on for this car ordon't, you will admire and appreciatethe innovative thought that went intothis symphony of technology.

Jean Swenson and Ashly Knapp are independentresearch reporters and the founders of AutoAdvisor.com.