2000 BMW 528 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
This is the benchmark for mid-size sports sedans.
The BMW 5 Series remains the benchmark for midsize luxury sports sedans. Each of the 5 Series models presents a distinct personality. All are wonderful cars whether it's a night out on the town, a cross-country trip, an agonizing commute or a twisting back road. The wagons offer much better performance than any sport-utility vehicle and better performance than most sedans. All 5 Series models are available with optional high-performance suspensions and other sports equipment.
BMW 5 Series includes three sedan models and two sport wagons. Sedans: 528i ($38,900); 540iA ($51,100); 540i ($53,900). Wagons: 528iT ($40,700); 540iT ($53,480).
The 528i sedan and 528iT sport wagon are powered by a 2.8-liter inline 6-cylinder engine. With double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and BMW's double VANOS variable valve timing, the 2.8-liter engine produces a healthy 193 horsepower and 206 foot-pounds of torque. The availability of manual transmissions sets the BMW 5 Series apart. The 528i comes standard with a precise 5-speed manual. Most people opt for the new 5-speed Steptronic automatic transmission. The 528i comes standard with 15-inch wheels.
BMW 540i models are powered by a 4.4-liter V8. This twin-cam four-valve design with the variable valve setup generates 282 horsepower and 324 foot-pounds of torque.
The 540i that comes with the 6-speed manual gearbox is a sports model: It comes ganged up with a sports suspension with firmer springs and shock absorbers, specially tuned anti-roll bars, a lower ride height, and 17-inch wheels with larger rear tires. The 6-speed is distinguished with blackout exterior trim, 12-way power sport seats and a three-spoke sport steering wheel. This equipment is available for the other models by ordering an optional Sport Package that ranges from about $2,000 to $2,800.
The 540iA comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission, the normal suspension with self-leveling rear suspension, 16-inch wheels and 10-way power seats. The optional Sport Package ($2,800) adds the 5-speed Steptronic and other sports equipment.
BMW 5 Series stands out by presenting a beautifully proportioned elegant face to the world, one that is recognizably BMW in origin from twin kidney-shaped grille to the large taillight clusters in back. The overall shape of the 5 Series body is a well-done evolution of a handsome basic design that dates back more than two decades.
The 5 Series sport wagons introduced last year differ visually from the sedans only aft of the C-pillar, where an extended roof and tailgate replace the sedan profile and trunk lid. The tailgate has a commendably low opening, giving access to the luggage bay right down to bumper-top level; if smaller items are to be loaded aboard, the rear glass can be raised separately. The 5 Series sport wagons offer a larger cargo capacity than the new BMW X5 sport-utility.
The 5 Series body shell is extremely rigid, a plus in terms of both safety and noise reduction. With its low 0.30 coefficient of drag, the 5 Series is one of the most aerodynamically efficient sedans on the market. Also aiding in keeping unwanted noise at bay are foam-filled body cavities and redesigned door seals.
Less evident than outright performance, are the concerns BMW has devoted to occupant safety. The front airbags are controlled by a dual-mode system that changes the deployment speed of the airbag depending on whether occupants are wearing seat belts; the front-passenger airbags will not inflate if that seat is unoccupied. Not only do the 5 Series cars come standard with side airbags in front, they offer them as an option for rear-seat passengers for just $385. A clever Head Protection System is supplied.
Traction control and anti-lock brakes are standard on all models. BMW's system of traction and cornering-stability enhancement, called Dynamic Stability Control, along with Dynamic Brake Control come standard on manual-transmission 540i sedans and are optional on 528i models. Dynamic Stability Control is a computer-controlled system that uses inputs from a variety of onboard sensors to selectively apply braking force and reduce power to individual wheels to counteract skids. Dynamic Brake Control reinforces the driver's pedal effort in emergency braking situations.
The 5 Series interior gets high marks for comfort and appearance. Trim is sumptuous. The 528i comes with attractive leatherette with brushed-aluminum accents, while the 540i is trimmed in soft leather with burl walnut panels discreetly applied to the center console, dashboard and door panels.
Power front seats with 10-way adjustments are standard along with a power tilt-and-telescope steering column. The automatic climate control has separate temperature settings for driver and front-seat passenger. The 540i comes standard with a 12-speaker stereo. A power moonroof comes standard on the 540i, optional on the 528i ($1,050). Heated front seats ($500) are an option. Montana leather upholstery ($1,450) can be ordered for the 528i. Power-operated rear-window sunshades ($575) and manual pull-up rear side window shades ($180) can be added to any 5 Series sedan. Deeply bolstered manually adjustable sport front seats are available at no cost for the 540i.
If the optional rear-seat side airbags ($385) are ordered, the BMW cabin has eight airbags to protect driver and passengers in case of a crash. Most notable is BMW's Head Protection System, which consists of a tubular airbag on each side of the cabin anchored at the base of the windshield pillar and above the rear door. In case of a side impact, the tube inflates, breaking away from the trim panels that conceal it, and serves as a barrier between heads and hard surfaces that would cause serious injury. Tests have shown the head protection system markedly improves survivability in side impacts.
Freedom from vibration is an inherent benefit of inline-6 engines, and the 528i's 2.8-liter is one of the best of the breed. It delivers great performance. BMW claims the 528i with manual gearbox can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.0 seconds, 7.7 seconds with the automatic. It also delivers excellent fuel economy, earning an EPA rating of 21/29 mpg city/highway (18/26 with automatic).
The 540i accelerates even more rapidly, covering 0-60 mph in just 5.8 seconds with the manual, 6.1 with the automatic. The powerful 32-valve V8 is quiet and unobtrusive, making itself heard only when pushed hard. With its tremendous torque, this engine does give the 540i an edge in sports appeal over the 528i.
The 5 Series BMWs offer superb handling, regardless of suspension package and powerplant. They are true sports sedans, tracking precisely through corners with minimal body roll. Both versions react crisply to steering inputs, with a slight edge in feel going to the 528i.
For the ultimate in razor-sharp road behavior, the Sport suspension package is the choice. Stiffer springs and shock absorbers result in a slightly harsher ride quality, but enthusiasts may find this tradeoff in comfort is more than made up for by driving pleasure.
The manual transmissions work with precision and smoothness. The automatics are equipped with adaptive electronics that tailor shift programs to driving style. A sport shift program is followed whenever the 528i's transmission selector is in the third gear position, or the 540's lever is in fourth. The disc brakes with ABS are flawless.
Judged by safety, performance, comfort and appearance, BMW’s 5 Series cars deliver the ultimate in driving pleasure.
Sedans: 528i ($38,900); 540iA ($51,100); 540i ($53,900); Wagons: 528iT ($40,700); 540iT ($53,480).
Options As Tested
Rear side-impact airbags ($385); Xenon headlights ($500); destination charge ($570).
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