GRR

Review: BMW 540i xDrive

28th March 2017
erin_baker_headshot.jpg Erin Baker

Every time Goodwood Road and Racing has got behind the wheel of a new BMW this year, we’ve been reminded just how bloody good this marque remains. The inherent “Beemer-ness” oozes from every pore in the leather seats – taut ride, punchy engines, precise and heavily weighted steering, clean interior design… but the innovations are magnificent too – witness the i8, still possibly the best car – and certainly the most clever – we’ve driven this year.

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The boys from Bavaria are still churning out magnificently dynamic, engaging, luxurious, high-quality cars, and the new 5-Series is no exception. 

We’ve just tested the 540i xDrive, which answers every question you ever asked, and a few that never crossed your petrolheaded mind. Bells and whistles? All those, and cymbals, drums, trumpets and string section besides.

Our 5-Series was a showcase for every conceivable technology BMW has underway right now: self-steering, active cruise control, remote parking, heads-up display, adaptive LED headlights, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless phone charging, key fob with display screen, gesture control, Bowers and Wilkins diamond surround system, variable damper control, massaging seats… you get the idea?

Before we get down to old-fashioned business like what’s actually under the bonnet and bodywork, let’s examine that list. We were too scared to try the remote parking function, because we were parking mainly in London, between pricey cars – how many customers will regularly trust that function? And we couldn’t get the car to recognise our gestures either but we were doing something wrong, no doubt, and also felt like idiots conducting an invisible orchestra beyond the windscreen. Everything else: yes please. In particular, those Bowers and Wilkins speakers, silver fretwork over-lacing blue-lit cones, which are mounted by the A-pillars, and are sumptuous adornments to the monochrome piano-black and cream leather interior.

BMW’s smart iDrive control system for all interior functions has gone through several iterations since its introduction many moons ago, and now includes the ability to scrawl your commands with your finger on top of the central knob, but every development (that last one aside) has been for the better. For example, when you select from a menu (say, Radio2 from the DAB listing), the right side of the large screen will show you the next possible choices before you have actually selected anything. It’s all clearer, easier, smarter and better.

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All of this naturally comes at a price: our test car was £69,995 as opposed to the £49,755, but far and few are the customers who would walk into a dealer and ask them simply to pile every available toy into their car.

And so, to the main event: all those horses. Speaking of which, we actually took our 5-Series to a point-to-point, and, equipped with the AWD xDrive system, it was a stark relief to be on wet grass in a BMW and not have the sweaty palms so much power to rear wheels normally induces.

The 540i has 336bhp and 295lb ft of torque, which leads one to 62mph in 4.8 seconds. When you think that you can fit five adults in the car in relative comfort and three large family suitcases in the humungous boot, it’s as near to touching fun as practicality gets these days (you could go for the 520d, and we once ran a previous generation in estate form for six months, which was smooth and competent, but if you’re set on that, don’t try the 540i, because you’ll merely get a taste for the power and point-blank refuse the 188bhp version).

Best of all, as ever, is BMW’s chassis. New double wishbones at the front, more lightweight components, stiffer at the rear… you have that familiar yet how-do-they-do-that sensation of suspension so light and supportive that it feels air-sprung, and yet with the immediacy and sharpness of intelligently engineered metal. It provides a purposeful, true drive that makes you want to press on through every corner, which is pretty impressive for a big heavy executive saloon. We’d go for this over an M5, frankly; it’s more elegant, more understated, more luxurious, and we’d get our 4.4-litre V8 kicks elsewhere.

Once again, BMW goes to the top of the class.

Price as tested: £69,995

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  • 5-series

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