BMW 5 Series Review

Written By Tony Tran on Friday, May 20, 2011 | 7:46 AM

It's not an overstatement to say that the BMW 5 Series sets the standard for premium sport sedans and, in recent years, wagons, too. Introduced in the U.S. for 1972, the midsize 5 Series has long offered a near-perfect blend of performance, luxury and interior room.

2008 BMW 5 Series 530i Sedan, European Model Shown

Most BMW 5 Series models you'll come across new or used are rear-wheel drive; however, the current-generation lineup includes all-wheel-drive variants. Most 5s also have an inline six-cylinder engine, though BMW has offered V8 versions since 1994. Model names are numeric, with the first number identifying the car as a 5 Series and the last two usually, but not always, denoting engine size. Today's BMW 530i, for instance, has a 3.0-liter inline six, yet the BMW 550i, paradoxically, has a 4.8-liter V8. The final "i" originally distinguished 5 Series cars with fuel injection; these days, it only has significance in Europe where diesel models (that carry a "d") are also offered.

When people ask us to recommend luxury cars, the BMW 5 Series is invariably high on the list. Wealthier shoppers may gravitate toward the newer models loaded with technology, but older 5 Series cars can be just as satisfying to drive and own.

Introduced for 2004, the current BMW 5 Series is by far the most radical. On the surface, it incorporates bold styling cues that depart from BMW's traditional styling language established over the preceding four generations. Inside, a system called iDrive corrals audio, climate, navigation and communication functions using a central LCD screen and console-mounted control dial. We've found iDrive cumbersome to use, although it is more sophisticated than the button-heavy layout in older 5 Series cars.

The driving experience hasn't changed much, as the 5 Series still has sharper reflexes and more road feel than any other car in its class. There's still a choice of inline six or V8 power, and you can still get a manual or automatic transmission on whichever model you choose. But there's a lot more technology working behind the scenes, including a stability control system that can do everything from helping you avoid skids to drying off the brakes when it's raining. An optional active steering system can vary the steering ratio to reduce effort in tight turns.

If you like the styling and aren't intimidated by its hefty dose of electronics, the current-generation BMW 5 Series is an excellent choice for a midsize luxury car. The only significant drawback is high pricing.

For 2004 and 2005, the 5 Series was offered only in sedan form and only with rear-wheel drive. There were two six-cylinder models, the 184-horsepower 525i and 225-hp 530i, along with a top-line V8 version, the 325-hp 545i. Buyers looking at six-cylinder models would be wise to focus on 2006 and newer models, as the '06 model year brought a new pair of 3.0-liter sixes, resulting in a more spirited 215-hp 525i and a 255-hp 530i. The V8 sedan was already quick, but it, too, received a new engine, a 360-hp 4.8-liter, and became the 550i. The 5 Series wagon also arrived for 2006. It's offered in a single 530xi model and all-wheel drive is standard. Additionally, all-wheel drive became optional for the 530 sedan.

Shoppers will have little difficulty finding representatives from the fourth generation (1997-2003). Many purists consider this the finest era for the BMW 5 Series, as exceptional on-road dynamics, premium furnishings and unparalleled refinement came together in one classically styled package. Resale value has always been high for this generation, so expect to spend more than you would for competitors of similar age. Reliability has been strong as well.

Provided it's well-maintained, any car from this generation is worth your consideration. For 1997 and 1998, only sedans were offered: a 528i with a 190-hp, 2.8-liter inline six and a 540i with a 282-hp, 4.4-liter V8. The wagon joined the lineup in 1999 and was available with either engine, both of which gained variable valve timing that year. In 2001, the 528i sedan got a new 225-hp 3.0-liter six and became the 530i; the 528 wagon was dropped. BMW also added an entry-level, 184-hp 525i sedan and wagon to the lineup.

Third-generation 5 Series cars (1989-'95) are still common as well. Although not as perfectly balanced as its successor, this luxury car was highly regarded in its day. If you find one in good condition, you'll almost certainly find it enjoyable to own. The best years were 1994 and '95 when BMW offered V8 power in two 5 Series with the 530i sedan and wagon (215 hp), and the 540i sedan (282 hp).

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