Though now in its sixth year of production for the current generation, the BMW 5-Series sedans are the benchmarks other companies use for their luxury sports sedans. They are true sports sedans, offering superb handling and responsive engines.
In addition to the sedans, the 5-Series offers sport wagons (525iT and 540iT) that are fantastic. They offer much better handling than any sport-utility vehicle and better performance than most sedans. Judged logically, they make a lot more sense than BMW's own X5.
BMW's 5-Series comprises three sedans and two wagons. Each model presents a distinct personality and price range, but all are wonderful cars in their own right. A V8-powered 540 is available along with six-cylinder 525i and 530i models.
Retail prices for sedans: 525i ($36,595); 530i ($40,095); 540iA ($51,745); 540i ($54,545). Wagons: 525iT ($37,770); 540iT ($54,245).
BMW 525i, 530i, and 525iT sport wagon come almost identically equipped with a long list of standard equipment and leatherette (vinyl) upholstery. Montana leather upholstery ($1,450) is optional. For 2002, the 525i, 525iT, and 530i come standard with automatic air conditioning. A power front passenger's seat also is a standard feature on all six-cylinder 5-Series sedans and wagons.
Also for 2002, all 5-Series vehicles come standard with an in-dash CD player.
Other equipment changes for 2002 include the addition of a Multi Information Display with a 10-function on-board computer and BMW universal transceiver (garage-door opener) for the 525i and 530i. The 530i also gets automatic headlight controls. This same headlight technology becomes standard equipment on 540i models. Five new exterior colors are offered for 2002.
525i, as its nomenclature suggests, comes with a 2.5-liter fuel-injected six-cylinder engine. This is a double overhead-cam inline-6 with BMW's Double VANOS system, which means it has variable valve timing for strong power and good fuel economy at all speeds (184 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 20/29 miles per gallon city/highway). For 2002, the Sport Package now includes power sport seats and an M sport steering wheel as well as 17-inch wheels with a new seven-spoke design.
530i comes with a more powerful 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that generates 225 horsepower and 214 pounds-feet of torque. For 2002, the Sport Package includes power sport seats.
All three models come standard with a Getrag five-speed manual gearbox, though the ratios are specifically tuned for each. An optional five-speed automatic transmission ($1275) is available that features adaptive shift logic and a Steptronic shifter; the Steptronic works just like a regular automatic in normal mode, but the driver can slap it over to the left and shift manually when desired for better control on winding roads or heavy commuter traffic.
540 models are powered by a 4.4-liter V8. This twin-cam four-valve design with the variable valve setup generates 290 horsepower for 2002, an increase of 8 hp over last year, and 324 pounds-feet of torque. Woof! The 540 models come standard with Montana leather upholstery, burl walnut trim, automatic air conditioning, xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps.
BMW 540iA is a luxury model that comes standard with the five-speed Steptronic transmission, a self-leveling rear suspension, 16-inch wheels and 10-way power seats.
540i is a special sports model with a 6-speed manual gearbox, sports suspension with firmer springs and shock absorbers, specially tuned anti-roll bars, a lower ride height, and 17-inch wheels with larger rear tires. The 6-speed is distinguished with Shadowline exterior trim, 12-way power sport seats and a three-spoke sport steering wheel.
An optional Sport Package with sports suspension, 17-inch wheels and other hardware is available for all models; it ranges from $2,000 to $2,800, depending on the model.
All BMW 5-Series models come with a comprehensive array of safety features: Seatbelts use automatic tensioners and force limiters, and automatically adjust the upper anchor point as the seat is adjusted back and forth. In addition to dual two-stage Smart front airbags (that can detect whether someone is in the passenger seat, all models come with front door-mounted side-impact airbags and BMW's unique Head Protection System, which deploys tubular inflatable cushions in the areas of the front occupants' heads. Rear seat side-impact airbags ($550 for sedans, $385 for wagons) are an option and can be activated and deactivated at any time by the dealer. This is in addition to anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability program.