2017 BMW 540i xDrive review: unsung M5 or luxury express?
335bhp, sub-5.0sec sprint time... Is this an understated 'M' car, or a fast limo?
I am intrigued by this one. The new BMW 5 Series is a wonderfully polished car. Even the fairly lowly 520d is refined, punchy, and brimming with a satisfying, understated sense of ‘doing well for yourself’.
And if the diesel is such a lovely thing, then this 540i – complete with a 335bhp, turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine and (in the UK, but not in all markets) compulsory active four-wheel drive – promises to be spectacular. But what kind of spectacular? Is it an understated M car kind of spectacular? Or a quiet, serene, luxury express kind of spectacular?
Well, in short – it’s the latter. You know that from the moment you start the engine and hear a subdued purr that dies down to near silence almost straightaway. Pull away and the impression of refinement and restrained potency only becomes stronger.
Our M Sport test car rode on optional adaptive dampers, which at £985 are a no-brainer. In default Comfort mode, the 540i feels pillowey in the way it wafts and floats over most roads, smoothing over big bumps and only letting in a gentle patter over harsher, high frequency surfaces. It's serene transport, even on Britain's quite poor roads.
Toggle it up to Sport and things tighten up, the steering weights up and the whole car suddenly feels pointier and much more noticeably possessed with a sense of ‘get the f**** on with it’. Even so, the 540i is a man in a business suit who's loosened his tie and adopted a smart power walk, where an M5 would be a man who’s just ripped his jacket and tie off, set fire to it, and run away screaming gleefully.
Don’t get me wrong, here. The 540i has a distinctly shocking turn of pace. It’s a 1.7-tonne car that’ll do 0-62mph in 4.8sec; that’s no slouch, for sure. But that smooth six-cylinder and the eight-speed auto have all been tuned to deliver everything in a nice, unflustered, undramatic way.
It’s an effortless car to drive quickly but smoothly, feeling planted and direct enough to give confidence. But try and grab it by the scruff and really wring it out and – while there is real chassis dynamism to every 5 Series – the 540i xDrive still feels a bit front-end heavy, and quite detached.
This, I have no doubt, is entirely deliberate on BMW’s part. This is a car that will spend most of its time loping up and down motorways and it is close to flawless at that. A 7 Series wouldn’t be noticeably more refined or comfortable at cross-continental cruises, and the interior of the 5 is right up there with the 7, too.
You can get all the same high-tech aids, from an advanced lane-keep assist and radar cruise control that make the car virtually semi-autonomous when activated, plus heads-up display, traffic sign alerts including pending changes in speed limit, online apps for the weather, diary engagements… There’s even a touchscreen on the key that allows you to check remotely whether the car is locked, or prime the air-con, amongst other features.
You name it - short of rolling your sushi for you, the 5 Series will probably do it for you. And it'd do that if only it had opposable thumbs, I’m sure.
It goes without saying that there’s ample room in the back for two VIP corporate colleagues to lounge in comfort, while the boot is also a good size, and you have a good view out all-round from the widely adjustable driver's seat.
While all those aforementioned advanced gadgets can stack up to an extortionate options’ bill, the 540i xDrive is very well equipped as standard, so you don’t have to spend it if you don’t want to and you’ll still have a lavish executive saloon by any measure. One that is superbly refined, full of vigour when you want it, stoically planted at all times, reasonably priced and (officially) comparably efficient next to similar rivals like the Audi A6 3.0 TFSi and Merc C43 AMG.
We saw just under 30mpg indicated combined fuel consumption in fairly moderate, mixed motorway and town driving, which is pretty good for such a sizeable, potent car.
Ultimately, provided you approach the 540i knowing that it is, in every aspect of its suave dynamics, a fast limo rather than an understated M car, it is a remarkably good thing.
a world-class fast executive saloon
BMW 540i xDrive M Sport
Engine: 2998cc, turbocharged, 6cyl, in-line
Layout: Front-engined, 4WD
Gearbox: 8-spd auto
Power: 335bhp at 5500-6500rpm
Torque: 332lb ft at 1380-5200rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 40.9mpg (combined)