The BMW 5 Series has been re-engineered. The 530i and 540i got a new chassis for 2017 that was longer by 1.2 inches for more rear legroom, lighter by 120 pounds by using more aluminum, and stiffer for better handling by using more high-strength steel. For 2018, the upgrade of the line continues with two new models: the 530e iPerformance, a plug-in hybrid, and the all-wheel-drive M550i xDrive, approaching the performance of the vaunted M5.
The BMW 530i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four with direct injection, making 248 horsepower, while the 540i is powered by a 3.0-liter inline six with direct injection, making 335 hp. Direct injection, which sprays fuel mixed with oxygen into the combustion chambers for efficiency, came with the engines in 2017.
The four-cylinder in the 530i is refined and rarely feels pressed, capable of accelerating from zero to sixty in about six seconds, about the same as a Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, or Volvo S90.
The turbo six in the 540i shoots it from zero to sixty in less than five seconds.
Thanks to the torque of its electric powertrain, the new 530e is as quick in a straight line as the 530i; but it’s 600 pounds heavier, weight that can be felt in the handling. It’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder that’s mated to a 9.2-kilowatt-hour battery and electric motor, making a combined 248 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. We got some seat time in a 530e around Chicago, and found that it got about 16 miles of all-electric range. The transitions between electric and gas power are seamless.
There’s one transmission for these models, an excellent eight-speed automatic.
BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive is available with all three models.
The new M550i xDrive is powered by a turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 making 456 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, and can accelerate from zero to sixty in less than four seconds.
The 5 Series models’ active safety systems, adaptive cruise control, active lane control, and self-steering, work well, but cost about five grand. It will steer itself down the highway for 30 seconds. It will also veer and correct itself, when the sensors misjudge something, a problem with most cars that steer themselves.
The 530i is EPA-rated at 24/34 mpg City/Highway, or 27 mpg Combined, on Premium gasoline. 530i xDrive gets the same Combined mileage. The 540i is rated 20/30/24 mpg. Even the M550i xDrive is expected to get 19 mpg Combined.
The 530e is rated at 29 mpg Combined, or 72 MPGe, using the range of a full battery, in electric mode. The battery can be recharged in under three hours using the 7.2-kw onboard charger.
The 530i and 530e plug-in hybrid are priced the same ($52,400), and with government incentives the hybrid would be less. The 540i is $57,500, and the M550i xDrive is $73,400. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) xDrive raises the price by $2300.
Standard equipment in the 530i and 540i includes leatherette upholstery, automatic climate control, a 10.2-inch touchscreen, navigation, Bluetooth, 18-inch wheels with run-flat tires.
BMW’s options, now called tiers, drive the price up dramatically. A rearview camera is optional, part of a driver assistance package that includes a head-up display. Adaptive cruise control, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, pedestrian detection, and automatic emergency braking are optional. As are Bowers & Wilkins audio, Apple CarPlay wireless, smart cold weather package with heated seats front and rear, surround-view camera, touchscreen key, and remote parking feature.
For 2017, the 5 Series got more aerodynamic, with a sharper nose and tapered sides. Bigger grille and headlamps, and two corner air intakes and a large center scoop. Behind the grille are shutters that open or close depending on the temperature of the engine coolant.
The profile resembles the 7 Series, with its own character lines, under the rear windows. It has LED taillamps and an aggressive bumper with two chrome exhaust tips.
The cabin is quiet and refined, as one expects from a BMW, with high-quality materials including a sound-deadening headliner. The standard leatherette upholstery that BMW calls SensaTec is nice. The available multi-contour seats, with adjustable bolstering and long leg cushions, are tops for luxury midsize sedans.
Among the expensive leather choices, the softest is Nappa, available with a massage function. The leather colors and combinations can be extreme, while the contrast stitching, quilting, and piping can look busy. We liked the Night Blue, and the Mocha too, but the quilting steals all subtlety.
Good headroom and legroom in the rear, and the trunk capacity is a huge 18.7 cubic feet.
When it comes to high-tech electronics, BMW trails rivals like Mercedes and Volvo; which isn’t all bad because at least the 5 Series doesn’t present a wall of screens like the Mercedes E-Class. A 10.2-inch touchscreen sits on top of the dashboard, with its crisp integrated display dominating the instrumentation. Good app integration and easy transition between functions. There’s also an 8.0-inch LED instrument cluster.
The engines feel good. With its strong 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, the 2.0-liter turbo four in the 530i doesn’t feel like a four-cylinder, nor does it accelerate like one. It’s smooth and always there.
He 3.0-liter inline six turbo is smoother and faster, with 335 horsepower and 335 pound-feet of torque. It does zero to sixty in 4.7 seconds, with all-wheel drive to get it off the line without wheelspin. The 540i used to come with a V8, but this inline six turbo with direct injection makes the V8 a dinosaur.
With such a good eight-speed automatic transmission, a manual transmission isn’t missed. It has paddle shifters, but we didn’t use them much because the transmission’s shift logic was spot-on. And we almost never say that.
The electric power steering is good although there’s a dead spot on center, in Comfort mode (the default mode). But generally the 5 Series corners flat, composed, and without drama, with its standard suspension. Available adaptive dampers turn the 5 Series into an athlete.
But the optional rear-wheel steering, which BMW calls Integral Active Steering, brings some drama. It counter-steers the rear wheels at low speeds to tighten turning, in parking lots for example, and that part makes life easy. But at high speeds, it quickens the turn-in to corners, which we found unnerving, like the rear end was skating through turns. The steering doesn’t feel linear or natural on curvy roads, leading the driver to have to make small mid-corner corrections. By the same token, it makes a sudden high-speed maneuver more stable. Think of dodging something that falls off a truck on the freeway.
Three drive modes offer simple adjustment: Normal, Comfort and Sport. Comfort isn’t too soft and Sport isn’t too firm; even with hard run-flat tires, the ride on rough pavement isn’t harsh. Sport adds some weight to the steering, which is especially felt with the optional and thick M Sport steering wheel. The optional M Sport brakes reduce stopping distances, but they’re very expensive, and a race track is the only place they might be needed.
As for the 530 iPerformance plug-in hybrid, the steering is slower because of the extra weight, which is felt in cornering and weight transfer. You can’t get rear-wheel steering in the 530e, so no worries about making it worse. But you can get adaptive dampers, which have a sport-plus setting that’s as firm as the suspension gets, but it still wasn’t jarring on most roads.
The 5 Series offers outstanding powertrains, with a turbocharged four-cylinder and turbocharged inline six that are fast, smooth and fuel-efficient for a midsize luxury car; and an eight-speed automatic that’s about perfect. The suspension might need the optional adaptive dampers to be there for the most aggressive cornering, but the standard suspension is still excellent. The problem is the base price, and the cost of options. As for the 530e plug-in hybrid, we’re not sold, even at the same price. Only 2 mpg more, for too many unknowns.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.