First drive review 2017 BMW 540i, let the peasants rejoice



There are two kinds of car reviewers. There are those privileged few who work for the major publications, and those who don’t.

Those who work for the major publications, let’s call them princes and princesses, are often lavished upon by the auto manufacturers in hopes of getting the name of their latest model splashed across the pages, or the websites, seen by millions of eyes.

In order to insure this the manufacturers will fly them to exotic locations where their cars can be tested on roads no actual motorist will ever see. Or they are taken to world famous racetracks and set loose. In the evening the princes and princesses are wined and dined while conversing with the auto execs and engineers who spew all sorts of positive quotes about the next best thing to hit the roads.

Then there are the rest of them, we shall refer to them as the “peasants”. Auto reviewers who write for lesser known publications that have thousands of eyes, not millions, gaze upon their work. I am one of those peasants. We’re never flown anywhere, don’t get wined and dined. In fact, we are lucky if one of the interns in the communications office sends us an email with pictures and a press release.

There is one major difference between the royalty and us peasants however.

When a manufacturer flies in a prince or princess, they usually have a day, perhaps two, with the car in question. They take it on roads that none of us would ever drive on; in cars that are usually factory fresh.  What the consumer gets in the way of a reviews, in the end, is usually something that relates very little to the actual car you want to buy. Yes, it looks good driving through the Swiss Alps, or turning laps at Sliverstone, but how will it be going to the grocery, your daily commute, or on a road trip on I-95?

This is where us peasants have somewhat of an advantage.

Normally we are delivered cars that belong to a “press fleet”. While this term “press fleet” may seem to imply that these cars are used only by automotive journalists, in fact the users can include auto execs on vacation, people the manufacturer is trying to gain favor with, or others who could care less about anything other than getting from point A to point B.  These cars are moved about by a concierge service that keeps them clean, serviced and rotating.  The point is that the cars we peasant reviewers get are usually far from “factory fresh”, and that’s a very good thing.

We also get to live with a car for a week, not a day or two. And we drive them on the same city streets and highways you do.  I pride myself on that fact; that I “live” with a car. I don’t simply take it to a racetrack or some scenic mountain road. Instead I commute to my office each day; run errands on the weekends; solicit feedback from my wife, who truth be told can always provide some interesting feedback (we could never fit a week’s worth of groceries in this trunk).

All this was in front of my mind this week as BMW delivered (actually as you now know the concierge service) the new 540i.  As I researched it, I saw that BMW had “invited” several of the prince and princesses to Spain earlier this year for a day with the new 5 Series.  All the subsequent reviews were, of course, glowing, filled with quotes from the BMW designers and engineers who probably enjoyed the meal at the five-star restaurant as much as the reviewers did.



Well I knew that I could be much more subjective, unbiased. I would live with this all-new for 2017 BMW 540i for week. No coddling for me; no sir. No wining and dining.  I would commute with it, run to the grocery store, have the wife subject it to her critical eye.  Any cracks in the armor would be found, any flaws, imperfections would be evident.

Turns out those glowing recommendations were spot on. No cracks, no flaws, just the driving perfection BMW is known for.

The BMW 5-Series is the middle child in the BMW family. Slotted between the working man’s 3-Series and the elite class 7-Series, the 5-Series midsize sedan is arguably what put BMW on the map, and in many driveways.  There are two basic variants, the 530i and the 540i which refer to engine sizes (2.0 liter 4-cylinder, 3.0 liter 6-cylinder) and either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel, xDrive. There is also a top of the line M550i which is xDrive only and has a 4.4-liter V-8.  A hybrid model is expected to debut soon.

The 2017 represents the 7th generation of the popular 5-Series. The redesign makes this latest generation up to 137 pounds lighter, 1.2 inches longer, 0.3 inches wider, 0.6 inches taller, with a wheelbase that’s 0.2 inches longer. There’s also a slew of new tech features; also, the V-8 in the 540 is gone replaced with the 3.0 liter.

Being a BMW, there are a great many standard features; among them, LED adaptive headlights and adaptive cruise control, LED accent and fog lights, heated and folding mirrors, automatic wipers, duel zone climate control, and sunroof. There’s also 16-way adjustable front seats with driver memory, driver-selectable vehicle settings, and a power tilt-telescoping steering wheel. Tech includes the iDrive system with navigation, the knob controller, gesture controls, and a 10.3-inch center display and Bluetooth.  The sound system is 205-watts, 12-speaker with CD, HD radio, auxiliary jack, USB port and 20 gigs of digital music storage.

BMW has a great many “Nanny” features; lane keeping assist, blind spot alerts, back up camera with rear cross traffic alert. Borrowed from the 7-Series is the remote self-parking function that can be operated from outside the car. You can also remotely operate the surround-view camera function from your smartphone.

Options, which can get rather pricy, include the 600-watt, 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system or a 1,400-watt, 16-speaker Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system, 20-way-adjustable driver and front passenger seats with heat, ventilation and massage.

The M-Sport package lowers the suspension; moves the wheels up to 19-inch alloy from 18 (20-inch on the 540i) with high performance tires. It also adds a leather sport steering wheel and some trim tweaks inside and out including an aero kit and black leather with blue contrast stitching inside, along with aluminum pedals.

Under the hood the 530i gets the 2.0-liter turbo-four rated at 248 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque; the 540i has the 3.0 liter inline with 335 horses and 332 lb-ft torque. Both are mated to an eight-speed shiftable automatic.

My tester for the week was the 540i with the M-Sport package.  Perhaps most importantly I also had the optional heated massaging front seats. This is a game changer in my world. It can make me turn a blind eye to any imperfections; good thing this was a BMW.

On the road, the power was more than adequate; dialing in the Sport mode with the M-Sport package turned the sedate sedan into a snarling beast with a 0-60 time just under 5 seconds with a grip confident enough for any aggressive cornering.  The cabin was comfortably roomy; very little of the outside world leaked in, and the controls are easy to use and figure out (except for the gesture control which could have been an issue due to my chubby fingers).

There’s a reason the BMW is so popular. That’s because it’s just that good. Among the luxury midsize sedans, it’s less pretentious than some of its competitors and has positive history cultivated through seven generations.  Driving it means you will be cocooned in luxury; able to escape the world for a bit, decompress

All this was reinforced after a week of commuting, grocery shopping and living with the BMW 540i. If I were among the royalty who had been taken to Spain and wined and dined, I would probably drone on for page after page filled with designer and engineer quotes and tales of twisty mountain roads. Instead I can simply tell you that the 540i is a damn fine luxury midsize sedan.

The 2017 BMW 540i

MSRP: $56,540
MSRP (as tested): $81,910
Engine: 3.0-liter Intercooled Turbo Premium Unleaded I-6, 335 hp @550 rpms, 332 ft-lb torque @1380 rpms
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Fuel Mileage (EPA): 20 city, 30 highway, 24 combined
Fuel Mileage (as tested, mixed conditions): 26 mpg
Base Curb Weight: 3847 lbs

Exterior Dimensions (in)
Wheelbase: 117.1
Length, Overall: 194.6
Width, Max w/o mirrors: 73.5
Height, Overall: 58.2
Track Width, Front: 63
Track Width, Rear: 63.9

Cargo Area Dimensions
Trunk Volume     18.7 cu-ft

Interior Dimensions (in)
Passenger Capacity: 5
Passenger Volume: 98.8
Front Head Room: 38.8
Front Leg Room: 41.4
Front Shoulder Room: 58.7
Second Head Room: 37.5
Second Leg Room: 36.5
Second Shoulder Room: 55.9


Basic: 4 Years/50,000 Miles
Drivetrain: 4 Years/50,000 Miles
Corrosion: 12 Years/Unlimited Miles
Roadside Assistance: 4 Years/Unlimited Miles
Maintenance: 3 Years/36,000 Miles

All features/options can be found here (PDF)

Greg Engle