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2004 BMW 5 Series Mid-Size Luxury Sports Sedan

The 2004 BMW 5 Series Mid-Size Luxury Sports Sedan

Base MSRP Range: $39,300 - $57,600

Base Invoice Range: $35,925 - $49,575

MSRP As Tested: Not Available

Versions: 525i, 530i and 545i

Vehicle Category: Mid-Size Luxury Sports Sedan

Engine Location: Front Engine

Drive Wheels: Rear-Wheel Drive

Engine As Tested: 3.0-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, I-6 cylinder, 225-horsepower at 5,900rpm and 214 lb-ft torque at 3,500 rpm.

Standard Engine 525i: 2.5-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, I-6 cylinder, 184-horsepower at 6,000rpm and 175 lb-ft torque at 3,500 rpm.

Standard Engine 545i: 4.5-liter, Dual Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-8 cylinder, 325-horsepower at 6,100rpm and 330 lb-ft torque at 3,600 rpm.

Transmission As Tested: Standard 4-Speed, Automatic.

Fuel Economy (city/hwy): %25i Manual 19/28, 525i Automatic 19/28, 530i Manual 20/30, 530i SMG 20/29, 5301 Automatic 18/28, 545i Manual 17/25, 545i SMG 17/24, Automatic 18/26

Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passenger airbags, power-assisted disc brakes, ">Antilock Braking System (ABS).

Competition: Infiniti M 45, Infiniti Q 45, Mercedes-Benz E Class, Lexus GS 430, Lincoln LS, Audi A6


One of the toughest career challenges faced by automotive designers and engineers is the redesign of an industry-leading product. Not only do they have the pressure of evolving the technology, but they must make the design such that it appeals to both car buyers new to the brand, and those already loyal to it. It has to be better than its predecessor while still adhering to the brand legacy. It is a tall order. BMW's staff was faced with just this dilemma with the re-creation of 5 series sedan.

The fourth generation BMW 5 Series had been the industry benchmark in the mid-size luxury sports sedan market for ages. Great looks, coupled with superior performance, ride and handling, and a refined interior have - and now continue to -- set it apart from its competitors. The Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E Class are perhaps the 5 Series' closest competition. And though they claim to be competition, the Lexus GS and Infiniti M45 are not in the same league.

One of the most impressive facts about the BMW 5 Series is that even though 2003 was the last year of its model life, June 2003 sales were 25.8% higher than those of June 2002. This attests to the product's popularity, and the good taste of [some of] the car buying public.

There will still be three versions of the new 5 Series, all based on engine size, as is the norm for BMW. There are two 6-cylinder models and a V8. The V6 525i has 184-horsepower and the 530i has 225-horsepower. Our favorite, the 545i, has a V8 with 325-horsepower.

We can't wait until BMW brings the M5 version to the United States

The new car is longer by 2.6"; that's 1.8" wider, and 1.3" taller than the outgoing 5. Because of the way the car is proportioned it looks a little smaller. But it isn't. It has more interior space. The trunk is 26% larger giving the sedan more space for groceries, golf clubs or luggage.

Exterior Styling

The design DNA of the new 5 Series is clearly related to the new 7 and Z4. We expect the 5's design to be less polarizing as some automotive journalists felt the 7 had too hard an edge. We did not agree. Instead we see the new design as crisp and cutting edge. BMW has a different way of shaping the sheet metal providing a brand new, and refreshing shape that reflects light beautifully.

The wrap-around front headlights sweep back, and up. They look like the eyes on an eagle - sharp and intense. Between the headlights is the latest interpretation of the classic BMW "twin kidney" grill. The front hood is long and low. The combination is stellar.

The taillights maintain the same eagle-eye shape and curve around the side of the car -- like the bird is turning around to take a second look. The trunk lid is raised for more cargo capacity. This feature, when introduced in the new 7 Series, garnered negative attention from the press. That isn't happening with the new BMW 5 Series.

Short overhangs, wrap-around lights front and rear, combined with a tapered midsection gives the new 5 a more serious sports car stance. We like the way the new 5 Series looks and it fits well in the model lineup.

Interior Styling

The interior of the new 5 is very comfortable, as it should be in this segment. The front seats are wider at the shoulders. There is more headroom. The back seat is also wider for improved occupant comfort, and there is close to 2" more legroom. If you fly in airplanes you already know how much more comfortable a few extra inches of legroom makes you feel. Families with adult-size children will find the added space important, as will business people who need to transport clients.

The dashboard is similar in shape to that of the Z4. But instead of having one cowl, it has two. The first houses gauges for the speedometer, tachometer, fuel and fuel economy. The second, more flowing, cowl is smaller and contains the 6.5" color monitor for BMW's iDrive system.

iDrive is the master control system for almost everything in a BMW. iDrive has received mixed reviews from the press since it launched in the new 7 Series. Journalists thought it was overly complex and difficult to learn. While the learning curve is steep, the system is comprehensive once you get the hang of it. iDrive still uses an aluminum selector knob (like a mouse) to control the system. But BMW has added a "main menu" button making the system more logical.

Below this second cowl is the center stack containing air vents at the top, followed by conventional climate and entertainment system controls.

The door inserts have two design elements that curve down toward the front. The lower one forms the armrest, and the higher one intersects it creating the door pull.

Engine Performance

As is the case with BMWs, engine performance is consistently one of the best in the business.

The 5 Series has three engine options: two inline 6-cylinders and one V8 (for now.) The 525i has a 2.5-liter, inline, 6-cylinder engine producing 184-horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. There is also a 3.0-liter, 6 cylinder with 225-horsepower and 214 lb-ft of torque. Shortly a 545i will be available with a 4.4-liter, dual-overhead cam, V8 with 325-horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque.

We were only able to drive the 530i, as the V8 545i has not yet gone into production. V8 BMWs are exceptional driver's cars so it was a terrible disappointment not to drive one

However that is not to disparage the inline 6-cylinder engines. They are some of the very best ever made, and they are legendary. They are smooth and responsive to even small amounts of additional gas. The 3.0-liter engine's 225-horsepower is sufficient for spirited driving, and we enjoyed whipping it around the back roads of New York and New Jersey.

The V8 in the 545i will be the same as the one in the current 745i. And in the 7, it is a wonder. It delivers super, but subtle, performance. The previous 540i, with a sport package and 6-speed transmission, was one of our most favorite production cars ever, so we can't wait to drive the new 545i

While we fully expect BMW to bring an M5 version to market, their marketing staff was duly tight lipped about when we might see one in the U.S.

All 5 Series models are available with a 6-speed, automatic transmission. This is the same transmission as in the 7 Series. It shifts so smoothly you cannot feel it change gears. The automatic includes a manual mode if you prefer to control the transmission yourself. But for the best driving experience BMW has to offer, opt for the 6-speed manual transmission. This is a driver's car, and to get all the power the product can provide, you'll want to shift the gears yourself.

Shortly you will be able to get the 5 Series with BMW's fantastic Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG). The SMG transmission allows the driver to shift gears just as if it were a Formula One racecar.

Using steering-wheel-mounted paddles, and no clutch, pull on the right-hand paddle to upshift, and the left-hand paddle to downshift. When downshifting the transmission automatically gives a tiny amount of gas to the throttle. This gets the engine and driveshaft spinning at the same speed providing an exceptionally smooth downshift

This is different than what Lexus offers -- manual shifting of an automatic gearbox. In the BMW you actually change gears manually. The SMG also has a Drive mode to make all the shifting automatic when driving in heavy traffic, or climbing steep hills. The SMG transmission is the optimal solution for a household where one person prefers an automatic transmission and the other a manual. Everyone can be happy. In fact, everyone can be thrilled!

Ride and Handling

The new 5 Series feels like a much smaller car when you drive it. It handles more like the compact 3 Series than it does a mid-size sports sedan. This was a challenge to accomplish for the designers as the old 5 Series sedan was the best riding and handling car in the class. In order to improve the ride and handling BMW had to develop a host of technologies to accomplish the task. Among them are "Active Steering" and "Active Roll Stabilization." Both are a part of the optional Sport Package.

Speed Sensitive Steering has been available on cars for a long time - the slower the driving speed the easier it is to turn the wheel which is convenient for parking. Active Steering takes the concept further. Not only does it change the resistance you feel from the wheels at slow speeds, but it actually changes the steering ratios. This means that at low speeds the steering wheel turns less to maneuver in a parking lot, make a U-turn or other sharp directional changes. Very handy. Lots of fun.

Active Roll Stabilization provides exceptional handling on twisty mountain roads, while also keeping the car comfortable on straight highways. The anti-roll bars are twisted by hydraulic actuators for tighter cornering. They then loosen when the car straightens on the highway for a smooth ride.

The car we tested was equipped with the Sport Package option. It is well worth the extra money. It gives the 5 Series exceptional handling and a very smooth highway ride. It's in perfect balance.


BMW builds some of the safest cars on the road. The 5 Series has a full complement of airbags: two-stage, front airbags for the driver and the passenger. BMW's Advanced Head Protection System is a curtain airbag that deploys in a side collision. The curtain airbag runs from the A pillar in the front all the way back to the C pillar, protecting the occupants heads from coming in contact with side windows or objects outside the car

Another interesting safety feature in the new 5 Series is "Adaptive Brake Lights." They help alert those behind you. Under normal braking conditions one set of brake lights come on. When the brakes are applied in a panic situation, or anytime the ABS is engaged, an extra set of lights come on in the BMW. This provides a larger brake light area, giving a more emphatic warning to those following behind you.

Four-wheel, four-channel anti-lock disc brakes are standard on all 5 Series models.

BMW Assist is standard on the new 5 Series. Previously this product was available only when the Navigation System option was purchased. When the SOS (emergency) button is activated, or an airbag deploys, the system sends the vehicle's location to the BMW Assist Response Center. Then it calls the Center. In non-life threatening emergencies, there is a "Roadside Assistance" option on the iDrive display. This gets you the help you need, contacts a concierge service, or lets you know when the car needs condition-based service. It transmits the data and alerts a service advisor to call the customer.

In Conclusion

The new BMW 5 Series makes significant improvements to an, already amazing, sports sedan. The ride and handling are much improved - if you can imagine that was even necessary -- and the 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder engine delivered surprisingly good performance. However, we are anxious for the arrival of the 545i, as we prefer a V8 in the 5 Series. More power = more fun.

And then there is the probable arrival of an M5 version. It would be worth waiting for the M5, and get it with the SMG transmission. It will be a thrill and a collector's item.

BMW's staff could not say if the company would continue to manufacture the 5 Series wagon. It would be a shame if they did not, because it too is a great ride. We have fond memories of driving the 5 Series wagon on Highway 33 behind Ojai, California. In it, we passed sports cars right and left and whipped around the twisty mountain roads. The only way we knew we were in a wagon, was seeing the D pillars at the back of the car when we looked in the rear view mirror. If you've got to carry lots of stuff, or people, and you also want a sexy, sporty ride, the wagon is the call. We hope they keep making them.

The new BMW 5 Series had a tough act to follow given the quality of its predecessor. But the new product is up to the challenge. There is nothing about the new 5 that will make you long for the old one.

Editors Ratings

Pros: Great ride, handling and performance, comfortable interior and ground breaking technology. Everything is pro about this car.

Cons: Waiting for the V8 or the M5 and the lack of plans to build a 5 Series wagon.

Ratings (1-10)

  • Style: 9
  • Performance: 8
  • Price: 8
  • Handling: 9
  • Ride: 9
  • Comfort: 9
  • Quality: 9
  • *Overall: 8.7

More Data

Where Built: Germany.

Major Options: Sequential Manual Gearbox, Active Cruise control, Sport Package, Premium Package, Navigation system, Head Up Display, Premium Sound System.

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Length in Inches: 190.6

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 limited warranty, 6 years/unlimited corrosion, 4 years/50,000 miles free roadside assistance, 4 years/50,000 miles free scheduled maintenance .

Weight in Pounds: 525i 3,428, 530i 3,472, 545i 3,803.

Maximum Payload in Pounds: Not Available.

Maximum Gross Vehicle Weigh in Pounds: 525i 4,552, 530i 4,597, 545i 4,916

Towing Capacity in Pounds: Not Available.

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 18.5

Destination Charge: $500