2004 BMW 5-Series
This 2004 review is representative of model years 2004 to 2010.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
I've long suspected that the popularity of the BMW 5-Series has something to do with this sedan being a favorite of so-called automotive "buff book" magazines.Car & Driver, alone, has named the 5-Series to its 10Best list for six straight years.
Readers of these buff books are, by and large, men—specifically, men who are or who fancy themselves to be car lovers and driving enthusiasts. BMW officials confirm that 70 percent of 5-Series buyers are men and say BMW owners are people who love to drive, love a sense of control and appreciate technology.
There's no reason that they—and their significant others—should be the only ones to enjoy the 5-Series, especially in the 2004 model year when the new, fifth generation 5-Series is out.
If the test 2004 530i was any indication, the 5-Series lineup of midsize sedans, which starts just over $39,000, can be pleasing to a number of drivers who relish responsive steering, strong power and a sporty ride in a luxury environment.
Control is palpable
No, the 530i felt closely linked to the street, even when bumps and slanted pavement made the suspension stretch as it sought to maximize the tire patch on the asphalt. At these times, in particular, I could readily tell just how managed the suspension was, how much it worked to keep the driver firmly in control and the car stable.
Note the tester had the optional sport suspension and new, active roll stabilization which is designed to minimize that unsettling feeling of body roll. If I had to use one word to describe the character of the 530i after a lengthy test drive that included mountain 'twisties,' I'd say it is "flat." The car seemed like a road-hugger that always tried to maintain a very flat, stable attitude.
The trick here is to get this stability while also conveying a spirited feel of a car that's light on its feet and balanced.
This is accomplished, in part, by the excellent, near 50-50 weight distribution of the 5-Series, which is to say that half the weight is in the front part of the car and half is in the back. This helps reduce big weight swings as the car travels around curves, for example.
Careful attention to detail
You have to try the new active front steering in the 5-Series to believe it.
Gone is the need to turn and turn and keep turning the steering wheel when exiting a parallel parking spot, for example.
The high-tech, active steering senses, based on the car's speed, that a lot of turning is being requested and automatically adjusts the steering ratio for quick response. So you can get out of a parking spot with no fuss.
When you're at highway speeds—and could get into big trouble fast if small movements of the steering wheel brought quick response—steering is more predictable as the ratio adjusts. A driver doesn't do anything but steer, and the system works automatically.
I also was surprised at the fuel economy I got from the test car. On a several-hundred-mile, mostly highway trip, the test 530i with six-speed manual got a tad more than the rated 30 miles a gallon. Believe me, I wasn't babying this car and trying to save gas.
Note that a six-speed automatic also is available on the 5-Series, and the test 530i engine is the same 225-horse 3.0-liter double overhead cam inline six that was in the predecessor 5-Series. It provides strong pull from a standstill and good passing power.
Peak torque is 214 lb-ft at 3500 rpm, helping move the 530i with manual transmission from zero to 60 miles an hour in a spirited 6.6 seconds, according to BMW.
The base engine for the 525i remains the 184-horse 2.5-liter inline six cylinder that was in previous 5-Series.
Styling, however, is in the eye of the beholder, especially at BMW. BMW's styling has been controversial ever since the redesign of the flagship 7-Series sedan a couple years ago.
Like the BMW 7-Series, the 2004 5-Series comes with a high trunk lid with taillights and rear design that look like they're off a Japanese car. But the appearance is cohesive. I especially like how the "hoods" atop the headlights give the car an aggressive look.
I was frustrated at times by BMW's iDrive control system for interior adjustments ranging from audio to temperature. The system has been refined some from its debut in the 7-Series, but it still requires thumbing through the owner's manual—I did this three times—and then teaching yourself exactly where to find a specific control feature in one of the menus on the dashboard display screen. "I don't have time for this," I wanted to scream.
It doesn't help that the iDrive knob—it's about the size of a door knob and sits in the middle of the front center console—has a smooth, silver surface. On two occasions, I lost my grip on the knob and found myself in an iDrive menu I didn't want.
I became tired of the ukulele-like sound of the seat belt alert, and I came close to being belted in the chin when a friend pushed the remote trunk release button and the trunk lid flew up and nearly into my face. BMW officials said they're aware of the trunk release problem and are changing it.
Drivers must get used to the blinkers in the 5-Series. They're like those in the 7-Series, where very mild effort goes a long way to activate them and a driver can get flustered trying to turn them off.
Storage spaces such as door map pockets and center console in the 5-Series are small relative to those in many other vehicles. The sport seats in the test car weren't as comfortable as I expected.
Note the price is up quite a bit for the 2004 5-Series. The previous base MSRP was $37,600 for a 2003 525i. At introduction, the 2004 525i carried an MSRP of $39,300, an increase of 4.5 percent.
Still, the predecessor, 2003 BMW 5-Series was a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, and this year's J.D. Power and Associate Dependability Study of 3-year-old cars showed the BMW brand above the industry average.