BY BARRY SPYKER
As one of BMW’s bread-and-butter vehicles — nearly 8 million have been sold — one might think the 5 Series’ identity and legacy would be etched in granite by now.
But one has to wonder: Is it still the “ultimate driving machine,” even with all the ground Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Jaguar have gained? Or has the 2017 540i, known as the G30 among the Bimmer elite, changed course and become the “ultimate technology machine”?
Perhaps the nitwit-yet-cerebral Forrest Gump came up with the best answer while pondering human destiny vs. chance: “Maybe it’s both.”
The seventh-generation G30 has been redesigned and redefined. It still ranks among the leaders in driving dynamics, offers deft handling, improved steering — especially when equipped with rear-wheel steer — and twin-turbo get-up that dashes to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
But the drive is well-assisted by high-tech gizmos like adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, active lane change, which checks for cars and makes the change happen, and remote control parking. Inside, the latest iDrive 6.0 system is one of the finest in the luxury segment, period. It even includes the futuristic gesture control — you can impress passengers by sweeping away an unwanted call with the wave of a finger.
But back to the ultimate-driving-machine part. The aggressive 540i — wider headlamps and a broader twin-kidney grille — is without the big V-8, but you won’t miss it. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline 6 gets 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque and has a top speed of 155 mph. Speed is regulated by a smart and smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission.
(Note to speed freaks: The now-available BMW 550i, sporting a 462-hp twin-turbo V-8, is being billed by the carmaker as the fastest 5 Series ever. Just sayin’.)
The 540i feels every bit the sport sedan, aided by adjustable shocks and self-adaptive anti-roll bars, which stiffen on tight corners but will lighten up when it’s comfort you seek. That’s all part of the Dynamic Handling Package ($2,600). The rear-steer version sharpens response and improves the car’s agility on winding roads.
The M Sport package adds stiffer springs, performance brakes with larger rotors and painted calipers, and is slightly lowered. It also adds luxuries like soft-close doors and power trunk lid.
On the straightaway, there’s just enough growl to know the 540i means business. The turbo system has twin scrollers, one on each side, that eliminate any sign of turbo lag. And the grille has active shutters to improve air flow and efficiency at highway speeds. The EPA says fuel economy of 30 mpg is achievable. You’ll get 20 mpg around town.
For the parking-impaired, a $750 option can do the parallel work for you, too. Just stand outside the car and work the key fob’s little computer. But it takes some time and patience — from you and perhaps others waiting in cars behind you.
Inside, the 540i looks good with upgraded materials (ceramic controls!) and ambient lighting, feels good with rich Nappa leather, and even smells good as interior perfumes waft throughout the cabin. Driver comfort is virtually guaranteed with 16-way controls plus four-way lumbar adjustments.
But the star is the iDrive system, which can be operated by the wheel, the high-resolution 10.5-inch touchscreen, or the aforementioned hand gestures. The rear and surround cameras offer a complete picture of what’s outside the car. And a big head-up display provides adaptable driver information at a glance.
Oddly, it offers a Wi-Fi hotspot but only a single USB port for charging. But luxury options abound, including moonroof, power tailgate and — if you have the ear and the money — a $4,200 Bowers & Wilkins sound system that sounds like Carnegie.
Three driver-safety packages are available with the 540i, which will add $5,000 or so to the total. The Driver Assistance II alone ($1,700), for example, buys the lane change and lane-keep assist with side-collision avoidance.
In fact, be warned that it’s real easy to jack your $56,450 MSRP into the stratosphere with BMW’s broad range of options. When the “ultimate driving machine” sets its sights on becoming the ultimate high-tech machine, it’s no surprise that the financially timid should step aside.
2017 BMW 540i M Sport
As tested: $81,910 with Driver Assistance packages ($4,900), Dynamic Handling ($3,200), Luxury package ($1,600), M Sport package ($2,600) and Bowers & Wilkins sound system ($4,200)
What’s all the excitement about? The redesigned BMW 540i reaches a pinnacle with high-tech driver aids to complement its sporty performance
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline 6 with 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque
How’s the performance? Strong on steering and handling; 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds and top speed of 155 mph
What about fuel economy? EPA-rated at 20 mph combined (20 city, 30 highway)