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2005 BMW 5 Series
J.P. Vettraino

Introduction
The BMW 5 Series delivers just about everything you could ask for in a luxury sedan. It offers the features, comfort and convenience of full-size luxury sedans, the sporting character of smaller ones, and a better compromise between interior space and physical bulk. The 5 Series has long been a big seller in the most popular, most competitive class of luxury cars. It's the benchmark for critics and auto industry engineers alike.

BMW completely redesigned the 5 Series for the 2004 model year, and the all-new models offer more room, more equipment and more sophisticated technology than the previous generation. It's moved a bit upscale, so that means more money, too.

BMW's smaller 3 Series may be the bigger seller, but the 5 Series is the company's original sports sedan and the oldest nameplate in its line-up. Since the 5 Series nomenclature was introduced in 1975, BMW has completely overhauled its mid-line sedan five times. The redo for 2004 was as extensive as any the company has undertaken, so few changes have been made for 2005. Because this sedan generates a quarter of BMW's profits worldwide, the engineers in Munich spared no expense in the redesign.

In a sense, the most important characteristics didn't change with the make-over. BMW's 5 Series remains a true sports sedan in any of its three variations, the 525i, 530i, and 545i. All three boast precise handling, impressive power and outstanding brakes. Its appeal to luxury car buyers may ultimately come down to that new look. That said, this latest generation is a much better 5 Series. Model Lineup
Luxury carmakers typically offer one or two variants in this class, but BMW has had at least three 5 Series sedans for more than a decade. That tradition continues for 2005.

The least expensive is the 525i ($41,300), powered by BMW's 184-horsepower inline six-cylinder engine. Next up is the 530i ($45,400), with a larger, 225-horsepower six-cylinder engine. At the top is the 545i ($55,800) with a 325-horsepower V8.

All 5 Series models come loaded with luxury features, starting with the 525i. Among them: automatic climate control with active micro-filtration; AM/FM/CD with 10 speakers, two sub-woofers; power tilt-and-telescope leather steering wheel; keyless entry with a multi-function remote and Vehicle & Key memory, which sets seat and climate controls for the driver whose key opens the car; automatic head lights; fog lights; 16-inch wheels. There are three 12-volt power outlets in the cabin and one in the trunk. There's also a rechargeable flashlight in the glovebox. All 5 Series models come with BMW Assist, which provides telematic collision notification, an SOS button, roadside assistance, locator and concierge services.

The 530i adds the bigger six-cylinder engine, slightly larger brake discs and 17-inch alloy wheels. The 525i and 530i come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic transmission is optional ($1,275). The 525i and 530i come standard with leatherette upholstery. Leather upholstery comes as part of a Premium Package on the 525i ($2,000) and 530i ($1,800), which includes a universal garage door opener and the swanky interior lighting package with ambient light, auto-dimming and outside lighting.

The 545i comes with the six-speed automatic, leather upholstery, a power glass sunroof, a three-function garage door opener in the overhead console and more elaborate auto-dimming interior lighting. It gets still bigger brakes to complement the powerful V8. BMW's racy Sequential Manual Gearbox is available on the 530i ($1,500) and 545i (no charge).

Options: A Cold Weather Package ($750) with heated seats, heated steering wheel and headlight washers; on-board navigation system ($1,800); active cruise control ($2,200); SIRIUS Satellite Radio ($595); head-up display ($1,000).

The M5 version, the screaming high-performance four-door worshiped by enthusiast drivers, was introduced in September 2004, featuring a V10 engine and seven-speed sequential manual gearbox. BMW says it has no plans to sell a 5 Series wagon in the U.S. Walkaround
The 5 Series was thoroughly redesigned for 2004, larger and more stylish than the previous-generation (pre-2004) 5 Series.

The 5 Series features BMW's new design theme, launched on the flagship 7 Series in 2002. The 5 Series is cast in the 7 Series mold, with a curvy front end, flat flanks with minimal embellishment and a high, flat rear deck with wraparound taillights. It is distinct from the 7 Series, however. We think the design of the 5 seems a bit more cohesive than that of the 7.

The critics claim that, with the flared-nostrils look in front and the chunked-off shape of the trunk lid, the 5 Series seems almost like two halves taken from different cars. In our view, the lines make for a compact package, and that may be part of the problem. Some have suggested the new 5 has the appearance of a well-made mainstream Japanese sedan like the Honda Accord. While the Accord is an outstanding car in its own right, that isn't the precedent one expects for an expensive European job. And either way, despite the hailstorm of comment and criticism that followed the launch of the 7 Series, BMW's new look hasn't seemed to hurt its sales.

Those comma-shaped taillights use another of the 5's new technologies, something BMW calls adaptive brake lights. These illuminate more intensely, over a larger area, when the driver applies the brakes at threshold levels, or when the ABS operates. The idea is to inform drivers in cars following the 5 Series that it's stopping quickly. It could help, but only if the driver following correctly interprets the intensity of the brake lights. Interior
The 5 Series dash is dominated by BMW's double wave theme in two portions: one over the instrument cluster, defining the driver's area and another that begins over the dash center and sweeps toward the right side. From a functional view point, it's a very effective design. Moreover, the soft plastics covering the new 5 Series doors and dashboard are handsome and rich to the touch. In our view interior materials have never been one of BMW's strengths compared to other luxury manufacturers, at least not in the company's lower series. In this regard, the 5 Series is much nicer than both the current 3 Series and the previous 5.

The instrument cluster features two gauge pods, with the gas gauge wrapped inside the analog speedometer and a miles-per-gallon gauge inside the tach. The tachometer in all 5 Series models now includes a variable warning LED that circles the gauge. When the engine is cold, this LED extends to 4200 rpm, then gradually increases the rpm limit to the redline as the oil warms up.

The sport seats that come with the Sport Package are very firm, perhaps too firm for long trips.

The center of the 5 Series dash is dominated by a large electronic screen that displays various control functions, system readouts and the navigation map when the car is so equipped. There are vents below the screen and on either side off the steering column that move an impressive quantity of air with minimal fan noise. Cupholders for the front seats are located to the right of the center console. They work better than those in most European cars.

Between the front seats, just behind the gear selector, is a big aluminum knob that generated as much controversy in the 7 Series as its exterior styling. This is the master control for iDrive, the computer interface that can operate virtually everything in the 5, from stereo to climate controls to telephone to navigation. The control knob is easy to locate from the driver's seat without a glance and with each move of iDrive, menus appear on the video screen. The problem is that it can be confusing to use iDrive to wade through various menus and finally get to the function that needs adjustment. At best, it's difficult to master. In the 5 Series, the iDrive control moves in only four directions, as opposed to eight in the 7. A new button located behind the iDrive knob opens the first menu. Another button launches navigation on models with the system. Once you understand it, iDrive begins to feel like second nature, but it takes some effort to learn.

There are separate, conventional controls to operate the stereo and climate settings. These most frequently adjusted systems can be managed without using iDrive, and information is still displayed on the electronic screen. The heating and cooling system has a sophisticated humidity control system. And there's a temperature-controlled storage compartment in the console for snacks or drink cans. The radio is hard to operate, however, requiring some study of the owner's manual to understand. Rain-sensing windshield wipers are standard.

BMW's head-up display projects a six-by-three inch rectangle on the windshield, focused so the display appears to be at the end of the hood, rather than right on the glass. Using iDrive, the driver can adjust the HUD's intensity and the information it displays. Options include road and engine speed, various warnings prioritized according to urgency, cruise control settings and navigation instructions.

Active Cruise Control works like conventional cruise control when the road is clear; when you come up behind a slower car, the system uses radar to adjust your speed to maintain a following distance set by the driver. Our car was equipped with the standard cruise control and we found it worked very well, precise and sophisticated.

The latest generation 5 Series is roomier than previous models. Front passengers get a half-inch more shoulder and head room, but the improvement is more obvious in the back, where there's more than an inch more shoulder room and two inches more legroom. This increase in cabin space puts the 5 Series on much better footing with key competitors like the Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, and Lexus GS.

The high rear deck of the new 5 Series sedans results in a 26-percent increase in trunk capacity. With 14 cubic feet of trunk space, the 5 Series moves from the bottom of the mid-size luxury class to the higher end. Load height is just above the rear bumper, and the 5 will accommodate even larger items with the folding rear seatback, which is optional. It's hard to imagine a buyer not wanting the flexibility the folding seat offers; the seatback can be locked to prevent access to the trunk.

Safety features include head-protection curtain airbags that run from the front pillars to the rear. The frontal airbags are among the most sophisticated anywhere; multi-stage inflation, shape and interaction with surrounding surfaces have all been refined to optimize protection. An bright orange warning light that says "Pass Air Bag Off" is illuminated whenever the seat is empty, which I found annoying when driving because it was in my peripheral vision. Side-impact airbags for the rear seats are optional on the 5 Series. Driving Impressions
Driving a 5 Series sedan is a joy. The more we drove our 530i the more we liked it. BMWs are defined by excellent powertrains and superb chassis tuning. Measured by its balance of crisp handling, ride comfort and solid acceleration, the 5 Series is as good as it's ever been.

We drove a 530i on a crystal-clear fall day along fast, two-lane roads tracking the Hudson Valley through upstate New York. And we spent a week in one driving between Washington and Charlottesville, Virginia, and on the winding roads of bucolic Albemarle County.

However, we hadn't even left the parking lot at BMW headquarters in New Jersey when it became apparent that the optional Active Steering system was no gimmick. Maneuvering through tight confines is a breeze. Pulling an empty parking space is as quick a swoop on the steering wheel. Later, 120 miles up the Hudson, we discovered the performance advantages of this new steering system. The 5 Series is quite nimble as heavy sedans go. But on a tight slalom course, we found that a 530i with Active Steering is more responsive than one without it. Weaving through the cones is less work with Active Steering, requiring less sawing at the wheel and fewer corrections. The driver can focus more on the car's trajectory through the course, less on compensating for mistakes. And it's not hard to extrapolate this behavior to advantages in emergency situations on public roads. Push the Active Steering car into a skid, and recovery is more immediate, and more likely.

There's a price for this responsiveness, and it's most obvious traveling at high speeds on an Interstate. Gone is the famous BMW dead spot in the middle of the steering travel, that inch or so of movement each side of center where there is no perceptible change in the 5's direction of travel when the wheel moves. This was developed for decades to account for triple-digits speeds on Germany's autobahns, but it's no longer necessary. With Active Steering, the steering response slows down considerably at fast freeway speeds, but there is perceptible reaction from the front tires almost with the first fraction of movement on the wheel. The effect is basically the same, in that small bumps or grooves require no conscious correction from the driver. But the feel with Active Steering is different. Not everyone likes it, and it may take a bit of getting used to, particularly for longtime BMW enthusiasts. Other drivers really liked it, adapting without even realizing and enjoying the arrowlike precision of the car.

The two-lanes through the Hudson Valley offered ample evidence of the value of Active Roll Stabilization. The 530i stayed remarkably flat when attacking the curves, with just enough body lean to remind a prudent driver that he or she is hurtling down a public road at considerable speed. Perhaps the best thing about ARS is that the 530i never feels stiff. When the car is traveling straight, the effect of the roll stabilization is essentially negated. This sedan rides firm, without a sensation of floating, but always smoothly and comfortably.

Factor in near-perfect weight balance, and a rock-solid body that's free of creaks, rattles or unpleasant vibration, and the 530i is exactly what we'd like a luxury sedan to be: always quiet and comfortable, nimble and reassuring when it's appropriate to travel at a good clip. If you never drove the 5 Series quickly, you'd be left with a smooth, truly comfortable car with nearly all the bells and whistles and nothing to diminish the experience. Yet should you choose to pick up the pace, you'll discover handling and overall performance that's hard to match in any sedan. No matter which engine sits under the hood, there's plenty of power to get you up to speed.

BMW's inline six-cylinder engines remain one of the truly satisfying experiences in motoring. The classic straight six delivers a balance of smoothness, torque, and response that V6 engines can't seem to match. Other luxury manufacturers have switched to V6 engines because they've proven easier to certify for stringent emission standards. We're glad BMW has stuck with its trademark inline engines. From a stop or a high-speed roll, the 530i serves up as much torque as some thirstier V8-powered sedans. BMW reports 0-60 mph times of 6.6 sec. for 530is with manual transmissions, and 6.8 sec with the automatic. Ten years ago, those numbers were the preserve of sports cars, and rest assured that top speed exceeds anything you're likely to get away with anywhere outside desolate Nevada desert. Throttle response is very linear in the 530i. It does not paste you into the back of your seat. Even with the six-speed manual, there's no exciting rush of acceleration. You'll need the V8 for that.

The 525i and 530i six-cylinder engines are relatively unchanged since 2003, though the intake and exhaust systems on both have been fine-tuned to improve low-end response. However, these engines employ leading-edge technologies, including drive-by-wire electronic throttle control and cooling management, fully variable valve timing and all-aluminum construction.

Those who put a premium on straight-line acceleration might want to opt for the V8-powered 545i. The V8 shaves at least a second from the 530i's 0-60 times. Top speed is electronically governed at the voluntary limit adopted by most German automakers: a mere 155 mph. The 4.4-liter V8 has the same displacement as its predecessor, but nearly everything else has changed. Horsepower has increased 12 percent, yet so have fuel efficiency and EPA mileage ratings. The key here is Valvetronic, an industry-first technology introduced on BMW's 7 Series. This engine management system eliminates a conventional throttle and varies engine breathing (and therefore power output) by varying how far the intake valves open.

To enthusiast drivers, we heartily recommend the six-speed manual. Indeed, we appreciate BMW's continued commitment to manual transmissions, as they are becoming rare in luxury sedans. The 530i's shifter is tight and reasonably quick, as you'd expect in a sporting sedan, and clutch take-up is just right. The manual transmission maximizes the performance potential of the 530i, as well as its driver's involvement. We found shifting the manual smooth, precise, easy.

We also tried the automatic, and those who choose it won't give up much. The new six-speed Steptronic automatic responds to the gas pedal in exceptional style. Full-throttle upshifts are quick and smooth; downshifts are almost instantaneous. Not that long ago, BMWs automatics were mediocre compared to the best in the business, but that's no longer the case. Ideally, the automatic would include redundant shift controls on the steering wheel or column, now common in other luxury cars. On the other hand, we were perfectly happy to simply shift into Drive and let it do its job.

BMW's Sequential Manual Gearbox is available on the 530i and 545i. While it will shift automatically, the SMG is not an automatic with a manual shift feature like the Steptronic. It's more like a manual with an automatic clutch. The SMG's clutch operates electrically without input from the driver, who shifts up or down simply by moving the gear lever or clicking paddles on either side of the steering wheel. SMG can also shift automatically, yet it delivers the improved acceleration and fuel mileage of a manual transmission because it eliminates the inefficiencies of a torque converter, called friction losses.

Brakes may be the most impressive part of the 5 Series performance package. They slow the car from high speed in sports-car fashion, and they hold up under harder use than any driver is likely to dish out this side of a race track. Even after repeated full-on stops, stops that would smoke the brake pads on lesser cars, the 530i's brakes show very little fade. BMW's brakes are large by industry standards, and all discs are vented to maximize cooling.

Yet the hottest technologies in the 5 Series suspension are difficult to see, even by crawling under the car. Active Roll Stabilization replaces conventional anti-roll bars with an electronically controlled, hydraulically operated system. The system helps keep the body from leaning over in corners, allowing flatter cornering at higher speeds while maintaining a nice smooth ride quality.

The Adaptive xenon headlights are excellent with sharp cutoff and even lighting. We found them to be real benefit on winding rural roads at night. The 5 Series is not whisper quiet like the 7 Series; wind noise and tire whir enter the cabin.

The 5 Series feels smaller on the road than its dimensions suggest. This latest generation of the 5 Series is 2.6 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider and 1.3 inches taller than the previous version, and its wheelbase has increased 2.6 inches. Extensive use of aluminum keeps a lid on weight, however. Depending on equipment, some models are up to 55 pounds lighter than their predecessors. A new aluminum driveshaft saves 13 pounds compared to the previous steel part. The hood, front fenders and frame in front of the windshield pillars are also aluminum, glued and riveted to the rest of the car to avoid the corrosion typical of aluminum-steel contact points. The lighter front clip also helps in BMW's never-ending quest for perfect weight distribution, and all three 5 Series sedans are within 1 percent of the ideal 50/50 balance, front to rear. Aluminum suspension components mean less unsprung weight for better tire contact on bumpy road surfaces. The light weight, rigid chassis and arrow-like precision all contribute to this feeling of compactness on the road. It makes the 5 Series cars a joy to drive at high speeds. Summary
The BMW 5 Series is the benchmark for mid-size luxury sedans because it's the best balanced car in a supremely balanced class. Like other cars in this so-called near-luxury class, it mixes comfort, performance, and passenger-friendly accommodations in a manageable size. On top of everything else, it's great fun to drive.

New Car Test Drive correspondent J.P. Vettraino is based in Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Model as tested
BMW 530i ($45,400)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles; includes scheduled maintenance
Assembled in
Dingolfing, Germany
Destination charge
695
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
41300
Price as tested
53080
Options as tested
Sport Package includes Active Steering, Active Roll Stabilization, 18x8-inch cast alloy wheels with 245/WR18 run-flat tires ($3,300); Premium Package includes Dakota leather upholstery for seats and doors, dark poplar wood trim, auto-dimming interior and exterior lights and three-function garage opener ($1,800); Park Distance Control with graphic displays front and rear ($700), Xenon Adaptive Headlights ($800), rear passenger side-impact airbags ($385)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
BMW 525i ($41,300); 530i ($45,400); 545i ($55,800)
Safety equipment (standard)
antilock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control auto-proportioning, Dynamic Traction Control, Dynamic Stability Control anti-skid electronics, seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, two-stage front airbags with dual threshold deployment, front-passenger side airbags, side curtain head-protection airbags, Intelligent Safety and Information System control with fiber-optic connections and post-impact safety measures
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve variable valve timing inline-6
Transmissions
6-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
automatic climate control with separate left/right temperature and distribution controls and active charcoal microfilter; power windows with key-off and one-touch operation; AM/FM/CD with 10 speakers and two sub-woofers; BMW Assist with automatic collision notification, SOS button, roadside assist and locater and concierge services; leatherette upholstery; cruise control; power tilt-and-telescope leather steering wheel with fingertip cruise, audio and phone controls; 10-way power front seats with power head restraints and driver's seat memory; keyless entry with multi-function remote and Vehicle & Key memory; power heated side mirrors with reverse tilt-down on passenger side; halogen headlights and fog lights with automatic control; 17x7.5-inch cast-alloy wheels; power outlets in front-passenger footwell, rear of center console and trunk; rechargeable flashlight in glovebox

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.0-liter dohc 24-valve variable valve timing inline-6
Drivetrain type
rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
225 @ 5900
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
20/30
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
vented disc/vented disc with ABS and electronic brake proportioning
Suspension, front
independent
Tires
P245/40WR18
Suspension, rear
independent

Accomodations
Seating capacity
5
Head/hip/leg room, middle
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, front
37.7/NA/41.5
Head/hip/leg room, rear
37.9/NA/36.0

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
14.0
Wheelbase
113.7
Length/width/height
190.6/72.7/58.0
Turning circle
37.5
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
N/A
Track, front/rear
61.3/62.3
Ground clearance
N/A
Curb weight
3472


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