Car Reviews

2017 BMW 540i Review – First Drive

Paul Horrell’s first drive 2017 BMW 540i review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, performance, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: BMW’s new 5-series won’t surprise anyone. In the way it looks and the way it drives, it’s a solid evolution of the old one. To achieve that, almost every component of the car is new. Headlines include better performance and efficiency than ever, lots of chassis options and a comprehensive driver-assist suite. The result is a fast and refined saloon that’s immensely satisfying to drive.

2017 BMW 540i

Pricing $136,900+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited kilometres Engine 3.0L turbocharged six-cylinder petrol Power 250kW at 5500-6500rpmTorque 450Nm at 1380-5200rpmTransmission 8-speed automaticDrive Rear-wheel driveDimensions 4936mm (L); 1868/2126mm (W without/with mirrors); 1466mm (H)Turning Circle 12.05mSeats 5Kerb weight 1595kgFuel Tank 68 litresThirst 6.7L/100km (combined cycle)Fuel Petrol 91RONSpare No (in Europe)

Comprehensive Car Insurance

Editor's Rating

What's the interior like?
What's it like on the road?
What about the safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: The new BMW 5 Series, particularly in the 540i trim tested here, is just about perfection. The engine is great and the chassis, especially with all-wheel steer is excellent. The interior is about as good as it gets. The active safety systems are good but not foolproof.

YOU MIGHT NOT immediately spot it, but this is an all-new 5-series. It borrows a lot of system parts from the new 7-series. Those include new lighter seats, suspension, brakes and more. And the skin panels are aluminium.

Almost everything in the top-end 5-series car is under electronic control. The adaptive suspension reacts to the roads beneath, but also ‘knows’ the road ahead. The navigation system is super-advanced, interacting with many other systems to improve gearshift timing, economy, accuracy of the cruise control and more. And the car can almost drive itself. Well that’s the theory – some of that stuff feels very much beta.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

But the underlying car, especially its interior and the driving experience when you take control, is close to genius.

Locally, the BMW 5 Series line-up consists of 520d ($93,900+ORC); 530i ($108,900+ORC); 530d ($119,900+ORC); and 540i ($136,900+ORC).

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

What’s the interior like?

It’s beautifully worked – in the ergonomics, the aesthetics, the build quality and the materials. But it’s complicated, because the car has so many advanced functions.

As usual for a BMW, the driving position is spot-on. The seats adjust every which way, and the steering wheel goes up-down and in-out. The wheel and pedals are dead ahead of you too.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

The test car’s seats had an optional function that squeezes the side bolsters during corners to hold you in, plus 20 air bladders that pump up in succession to massage you, oh and heating and venting through the upholstery too. They were trimmed in an optional soft leather with extra pleating, which helps raise the ambience even more – locally the 540i will get the top-spec Nappa leather as standard, not the Dakota leather on the car that I drove. So do light-emitting strips gently highlighting the contours of the dash and doors – those are standard.

The new 5 is barely bigger than the old, and interior accommodation hasn’t changed significantly either. It’s OK for four adults, but more space is available for less money elsewhere. Still, the actual quality of trim in the back, and the amenities there – lights, vents, sockets, optional rear entertainment – can’t be criticised. The rear-drive platform’s transmission tunnel means any fifth person will have little room for their feet.

The boot is plenty big enough, at 530 litres, and optionally the seat-back folds, with a 40:20:40 split.

The main dial cluster is eminently clear. Between the speedo and tacho is a large area of additional TFT real estate that shows driving data and the status of the driver assist features.

Similar info also shows on the optional head-up display, plus detailed navigation arrows. The head up display is bigger than ever, and projects a colour image at a high resolution of 800×400 pixels. Very useful not just for its digital speedo but for guiding you through multi-lane junctions, or flashing a warning if you suddenly get too close to another vehicle or pedestrian.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

The iDrive screen is now touch-sensitive, but honestly the main controller wheel and its surrounding buttons are well-enough developed that you seldom have to get your greasy paws near the screen. Navigation and connectivity all operate beautifully responsively. It now includes Apple CarPLay. Wireless charging and in-car wi-fi are available.

What’s it like on the road?

The 540i is a truly quick car. That’s not just down to the engine. The new 5-series is light for this class of car (considerably lighter than the all-aluminium Jaguar XF) and has low drag, at Cd 0.22. Plus the eight-speed autobox is ideally calibrated to get the best out of the motor.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

All that said, the character of the straight-six engine is what’s going to delight traditional BMW fans. Under full throttle it hurls itself at the red-line on a wave of enthusiasm, the noise a lovely harmonious growl. But the 540i isn’t just about life north of 6000rpm. In the mid-range there’s always plenty of turbo boost, largely free of lag, to dig you out of any hole. At a cruise its sound drops to near-inaudibility.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

The new 5-series handles curves with immense aplomb. The steering is smooth and intuitively geared, and you’re hardly going to get to the limits of the tyres’ grip unless you choose to do so. When you do, one of two things will happen. If the chassis electronics are active, it’ll be smoothly kept to the line you’ve steered. If you’ve cut the DSC, wide-arc tail-slides are there for the taking. But use discretion, eh?

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

The test car had cost-optional four-wheel steering, the rear wheels taking their angle under full electronic control according to speed and other factors. This helps it dart into tight bends. But at the same time the 4WS keeps things arrow-stable at high speeds on the straight. Locally, we’ll get adaptive drive but no active steering.

Another part of the options package was adaptive damping (which is standard on the 530i in Australia). It enables a smooth ride – almost up there with a Mercedes E-class – on lumpy straight roads. But it tautens up in corners sufficiently that you will seldom press the ‘sport’ button. The system is so capable in part because it links with the navigation system so it knows when bends are coming, and tautens things just as appropriate.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

Suspension comfort isn’t the only aspect of well-being. It’s also rigorously hushed in this cabin. Engine noise and wind rush are always low in BMWs, but this one’s also impressive at silencing the roar from those fat tyres.

What about the safety features?

The basics are all there in abundance. The multi-material body is immensely strong. The airbags each have their own processors so they deploy at the optimum time for the kind of accident that’s occurring, or indeed not at all so they’re still ready for a secondary impact.

If the front collision warning system detects a likely crash, the seatbelts are tightened in advance. That same system will of course autonomously jam on the brakes brake if the driver ignores all warnings. That should be enough to avoid low-speed crashes and reduce the severity of others.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

The bonnet lifts slightly when the front bumper hits something with the weight of a human leg, to give it more deformation space to soften the blow on a pedestrian’s head.

Beyond those basics, things get very fancy very fast. Because the car is connected to a BMW cloud server, it’s equipped for real-time hazard warning. Or at least it will when the population density of new BMWs grows. When another similar car hits a hazard (heavy rain, ice, sudden roadblock or similar) it relays the position to the BMW server so other BMWs in the area know what, where and when, and alert their drivers.

An enhanced lane change assist will pull the 5-series back between the markings if it’s running off the road or drifting out of lane, assuming the markings are clear. It will also pull the car out of danger if you change lanes into the path of another car (having presumably ignored the blind-spot warning). Or indeed if a car drifts into your side, assuming its sensors detect there’s space to move into.

The optional Driving Assistance Plus pack is also designed to help if you swerve around something. It uses the sensors around the car to nudge the steering and activate the skid controls to help you avoid hitting a second solid object in avoiding the first.

Also part of that pack are warnings if you approach a stop sign too fast, or go the wrong way down a one-way street.

BMW 540i Review by Practical Motoring

Another reason people will buy that pack is it also bundles near-autonomous driving at city and highway speeds on dual carriageways. But in our experience, it couldn’t reliably follow lane markers even on a freshly laid road. Not ready for primetime we’d say. Certainly not a safety feature, only a driver assistant. You shouldn’t take your hands off the wheel, even though it does, for several long seconds, allow you to before it starts to warn you then finally, if you still don’t resume steering, stop the car.

2017 BMW 5-Series line-up – Key Features

BMW 520d

  • 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine
  • Outputs of 140kW and 400Nm
  • Zero to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds
  • Fuel consumption: 4.3L/100km
  • CO2: 114g/km
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission with gearshift paddles
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Luxury Line with Chrome Line exterior (optional M Sport Package)
  • LED Headlights
  • 18-inch BMW light alloy wheels
  • Comfort Access
  • Dakota leather upholstery with Sensatec instrument panel
  • Electric seat adjustment for driver and front passenger
  • Electrically-adjustable steering column
  • Navigation system Professional with 10.25-inch Touch Control Display
  • Wireless smartphone charging
  • HiFi Loudspeaker system with 12 speakers and DAB+ digital radio
  • BMW Head-Up display
  • Driving Assistant Plus, including Active Cruise with Stop & Go function, front Cross traffic warning, crossroads warning and Lane Keeping Assistant
  • Parking Assistant Plus, including Parking Assistant with Active Park Distance Control to front and rear, Surround View and Panorama View
  • Speed limiter and Speed limit info
  • Airbags including front, full-length sides and head protection integrated in sides and headliner
  • BMW ConnectedDrive with access to BMW Online and BMW Apps for seamless third-party app integration (for example, Spotify). Also includes real-time traffic information, intelligent emergency call, TeleServices, Concierge Services and phone app-based Remote Services

BMW 530i

  • New 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine
  • Outputs of 185kW and 350Nm
  • Zero to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds
  • Fuel consumption: 5.8L/100km
  • CO2: 132g/km
  • Eight-speed sport automatic transmission with gearshift paddles
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • M Sport Package with M Aerodynamics Package and BMW Individual Aluminium satinated Exterior Line
  • M Sport Brakes
  • 19-inch BMW M light alloy wheels
  • Automatic tailgate operation
  • Adaptive LED headlights including BMW Selective Beam and High Beam Assist
  • Dynamic Damper Control
  • Multi-functional 10.25-inch high-resolution colour display with black-panel technology
  • 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system
  • Sports seats with seat heating and lumbar support for driver and front passenger
  • BMW Individual anthracite roof liner
  • M leather steering wheel

BMW 530d

  • 2.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine
  • Outputs of 195kW and 620Nm
  • Zero to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds
  • Fuel consumption: 4.7L/100km
  • CO2: 124g/km
  • Eight-speed sport automatic transmission with gearshift paddles
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • M Sport Package with M Aerodynamics Package and BMW Individual Aluminium satinated Exterior Line
  • M Sport Brakes
  • 19-inch BMW M light alloy wheels
  • Automatic tailgate operation
  • Adaptive LED headlights including BMW Selective Beam and High Beam Assist
  • Dynamic Damper Control
  • Multi-functional 10.25-inch high-resolution colour display with black-panel technology
  • 16-speaker harman/kardon surround sound system
  • Sports seats with seat heating and lumbar support for driver and front passenger
  • BMW Individual anthracite roof liner
  • M leather steering wheel

BMW 540i

  • New 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine
  • Outputs of 250kW and 450Nm
  • Zero to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds
  • Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km
  • CO2: 154g/km
  • Eight-speed sport automatic with gearshift paddles
  • Rear-wheel drive
  • Adaptive Drive with active anti-roll bars (but no active steering)
  • 20-inch BMW Individual light-alloy wheels
  • Electric glass sunroof
  • Metallic paintwork
  • Electric rear window sunblind
  • Rear-side window sunblinds
  • Exclusive Nappa leather upholstery
  • Comfort seats with memory function for driver and front passenger
  • Active seat ventilation for driver and front passenger
  • Ambient Air

6 Comments

  1. Azmodan
    December 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm — Reply

    Pretty poor score for such an overpriced car. Paying $140K (minimum) you’d want to getting a car that scores in the high 80’s at least.

    • December 12, 2016 at 3:07 pm — Reply

      The score equates to 4 out of 5 which is pretty darn good. Hard to realistically assess the new 5 Series for the Australian market because Paul drove it in Europe with the specs a little different between here and there. – Isaac

    • Paul Horrell
      December 15, 2016 at 9:02 pm — Reply

      Versus a much cheaper car, the BMW would get somewhere north of 95 percent, of course. But each car has to be scored in the context of its price and its competitors. The 5-series isn’t quite as comfortable or roomy as a Mercedes E-class. It’s not as much fun to drive as the new Jaguar XF. Its cabin is not, in my view, as soothing as the one in the Volvo S80.

      • DEVILTAZ35 .
        January 2, 2017 at 5:49 am — Reply

        The jag has severe build quality issues for a car in that price range though, Paint is also rather sketchy. Mercedes has always been more refined than BMW. One of the few cars that looks closer to being worth the money in Australia.

  2. John Shah
    December 26, 2016 at 3:17 pm — Reply

    BMW 530d
    2.0-litre six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine
    Outputs of 195kW and 620Nm

    .. ooops !

  3. DEVILTAZ35 .
    January 2, 2017 at 5:46 am — Reply

    Then you see the price and just laugh as it looks like a madza 6 inside. Granted much better drivetrain in the bmw but it’s just not worth the pricetag in Australia and BMW should be called out for it not encouraged to rip people off.

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Paul Horrell

Paul Horrell

Paul's working life has been paced out in cars. He began road-testing when the VW Golf was in its second generation. It's now in its eighth. He covers much more than the tyre-smoking part of the road-test landscape. He roots around in the financial machinations of the car corporations and the apparent voodoo of the technologies. Then he clarifies those complications so his general readers – too busy to lodge their heads up the industry's nether regions – get the fast track on what matters and what doesn't. A freelance writer living in London, he usually gets around the city by bicycle, which adds to his (sometimes justified) reputation as a bit green and a bit of a lefty. He's a member of Europe's Car of the Year jury.