2004 BMW 5-Series
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2010.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Styling of revamped BMW models over the past few years shows the automaker is creating cars that look distinctive in a look-alike market. That's commendable, but critics feel the automaker has pushed the styling envelope too far.
BMWs looked nothing but sleek from the 1970s until the new flagship 7-Series sedan arrived for 2002 with a generally bulky appearance, which some said gives it more "road presence." The automaker's revamped sports car—the Z4—arrived for 2003 with almost breathtaking styling. The re-done 2004 5-Series sedan has some of the look of the 7-Series.
The new 5-Series backs off from styling extremes of the 7-Series. The front end of the 5-Series looks ferocious, with feline headlights, but the rear has some of the bulk of the 7-Series,' partly because of upswept taillights and creased fenders. BMW wants "visual sharing" with the top-line 7-Series, no matter what critics say.
Besides a different look, the new-generation 7-Series introduced BMW's complicated "iDrive" electronic system. It controls numerous functions and substitutes a console knob and dashboard screen for conventional controls. The system makes the dashboard less cluttered. Some 7-Series buyers have refused to use the system and asked dealers to program only a few basic functions such as those for the audio and climate systems.
The new midsize BMW is 1.3 inches taller, 1.8 inches wider and 2.6 inches longer at 190.6 inches on a moderately longer 113.7-inch wheelbase. There's also has a wider track for a more impressive stance. The station wagon version is gone.
There's comfortable room for four tall adults, although the depth of the large trunk causes even those with long arms to stretch for cargo at its far end.
I tested the $44,300 530i version, which has a 3.0-liter 225-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine. There's also an entry $39,300 525i with a 2.5-liter 184-horsepower inline "six."
BMW is widely known for its smooth inline 6-cylinder engines, but you can get a $54,300 545i with a silky 4.4-liter 325-horsepower V8, which has added 35 horsepower.
The V8 version naturally is faster (0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds), but the 530i is quick, hitting 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. Some may question the need to spend an extra $10,000 for the 545i. (Those figures are with the manual gearbox; the $1,275 5-speed automatic transmission slows things a bit.)
A super high performance "M5" version of the 5-Series likely will eventually surface.
Slick Manual Transmission
The automatic transmission has a manual shift feature. The 5-Series will be offered later in the model year with a $1,500 6-speed sequential manual gearbox that doesn't require a clutch pedal.
Low City Fuel Economy
The 525i isn't as fast as the other two 5-Series versions, but is no slug, doing 0-60 mpg in 7.8 seconds.
The last-generation 5-Series had outstanding steering, handling and braking, with a supple ride. The new-generation version, which has nearly 50-50 weight distribution, is even better.
Innovative Steering System
That system increases steering input at lower speeds for greater maneuverability and slows it at higher speeds for better stability. At lower speeds, the steering is almost go-kart quick, allowing significant directional changes without requiring that a driver cross or shuffle hands around the wheel. Keeping them at the 9 and 3 o'clock wheel positions provides greater control.
The active steering is integrated with an Active Roll Stabilization system, which allows sharper handling and keeps the car flat when driven briskly through curves. The package's stiffer suspension and wider tires don't cause the ride to become harsh.
Large door handles help allow easy entry to the quiet, nicely designed interior, which has supportive front seats and easily read gauges. There are storage pockets in all doors.
Gimmicky Turn Signal Operation
Among safety features are traction and anti-skid control systems, which are especially good items to have on a high-performance car. There also are front-seat side airbags and head-protecting front and rear tubular side airbags. Rear torso side airbags are options.
A navigation system and rear-seat DVD entertainment system are among options.
Despite more adventuresome styling, the new 5-Series should do well. It's more fun to drive than ever, and driving fun has helped sell a lot of 5-Series models.