1997 BMW 5-SERIES 528I
Used Car - 1997 BMW 5-Series 528i in Hamilton, Oh
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1997 BMW 5-Series ReviewThis car review is specific to this model, not the actual vehicle for sale.
It's all too easy to let the adjectives flow when describing a BMW. Sophisticated engineering, attractive and understated design, jewel-like finish quality and road behavior matched only by a select few competitors can't help but make an impression on even the most jaded test driver.
The company's 5-Series sedans have long been favorites with automotive journalists and customers alike. From the beginning they have blended performance and luxury in a most appealing way. In effect, they have traditionally been slightly smaller versions of BMW's flagship 7-Series sedans, built to the same standards and carrying most of the same features, yet more maneuverable and less expensive.
Several manufacturers have compact luxury sedans in their catalogs: Audi offers the A6, Mercedes-Benz the E-Class, Lexus and Infiniti have the GS 300 and J30 respectively, Acura has the TL, and Cadillac has recently weighed in with the German-built Catera. There's a considerable price spread among these contenders, though the final price of any of them will depend on equipment level and/or the dealer's need to move cars out quickly.
Even among such high-class company, the 5-Series makes a strong case for itself. You may have to shell out a substantial chunk of money for one, but you'll get what you paid for, and more.
A complete redesign last year freshened the skin of the 5-Series without taking away its distinctive BMW character. From the twin grilles in front (called 'kidney grilles' by the factory) to the large taillights, the 5-Series seems familiar, yet different and more contemporary.
Looks are only part of the story. The 5-series body shell is extremely rigid, a plus in terms of safety, noise reduction, ride and handling. Also aiding in keeping unwanted noise at bay are a very low coefficient of drag (at 0.30, the 5-Series is one of the most aerodynamically efficient sedans on the market), foam-filled body cavities and new triple door seals.
Two 5-Series models are available in the U.S. The junior version is the 528i, powered by an inline six-cylinder engine; its upscale brother is the V8 equipped 540i. Aside from their powerplants, the two 5s are remarkably similar, differing mainly in minor detailing and trunklid badges. Both have ABS, traction control, front side-impact airbags (supplementing the dashboard airbags) and aluminum alloy wheels.
One easy way of telling the two apart is to look at the wheels. The 528i has 15-inch rims, while the 540i's rims are either one (if equipped with an automatic transmission) or two (if carrying a manual gearbox) inches larger in diameter. Manual transmissions are standard in both versions; the 528i gets a five-speed unit, the 540i a 6-speed. Automatic transmissions have four (528i) or five (540i) forward speeds.
Our 540i tester was equipped with the six-speed manual transmission, which not only enhances performance but also avoids the $1300 gas guzzler tax that goes with the 540i automatic.
BMW never loses sight of its sporting roots, but where does it say sport and luxury are incompatible? Not here.
Interior trim is sumptuous, whether leatherette with brushed-aluminum accents (528i) or soft leather with burl walnut panels discreetly applied to center console, dashboard and door panels (540i). Power front seats with 10-way adjustments are standard, as are power tilt-and-telescope steering column and power windows, mirrors and locks.
The automatic climate control has separate temperature settings for driver and front-seat passenger, and the standard audio system has ten speakers (528i) or 12 (540i). About all one might want to add are a power moonroof--on the 528i only; it's standard for the 540i--or heating elements for front seats and even the steering wheel.
Leather upholstery can be ordered to replace the 528i's leatherette (and wood can replace the aluminum trim). Power-operated rear window sunshades and manual pull-up rear side window shades can be added to any 5-Series. Deeply bolstered manually adjustable sport front seats are available at no cost for the 540i.
A recent addition to the 5-Series options list is an onboard navigation system. Using a transmitter/receiver that communicates with GPS (Global Positioning) satellites, the system can pinpoint the car's precise map location and display it on a screen mounted in the center console. By following a series of steps--and inputting information via touch-pads on the screen--a driver can have his or her route plotted out automatically. Other features too numerous to list increase the system's versatility.
You don't find out how good the 5-Series cars are by sitting in them; only after a few miles does the competence of their mechanical systems become apparent. But the experience varies considerably depending on the car.
The 528i's strong suit is silky smoothness. Freedom from vibration is an inherent trait of straight-6 engines, and this 24-valve powerplant is one of the best of the breed. It delivers plenty of performance (BMW claims a 0-to-60 mph time of 7.7 seconds for the 528i manual, with the automatic taking an extra second) and excellent fuel economy.
As might be expected, the 540i accelerates more rapidly though it, like the 528i, is electronically limited to a 128-mph maximum speed in the U.S. The 32-valve V8 is also quiet and unobtrusive in ordinary use, making noise only when pushed hard. It has more of a thirst for premium unleaded fuel than its smaller-engined brother, as expected. But it is an extraordinary piece of machinery, and we found it distinctly habit-forming.
All 5-Series BMWs offer superb handling. In this respect, they continue to define the upscale European sport sedan, tracking precisely through corners with minimal body roll. Both versions react crisply to steering inputs, with a tiny subjective edge in feel going to the 528i, which has rack and pinion steering instead of the recirculating-ball setup found in the 540i.
The other side of this coin is suprisingly smooth ride quality, even on nasty pavement. Thanks to advances in shock absorber technology, European handling no longer equates with a harsh ride.
For the ultimate in razor-sharp road behavior, the manual-transmission 540i, with its standard 'Sport' suspension calibrations and slightly lower ride height is the choice. The stiffer springs and shock absorbers of this model do result in a slightly harsher ride--all 5-Series are on the firm side--which may not suit everyone.
All the other elements that contribute to driving pleasure are up to the standards set by engines and suspensions. The manual transmissions require a firm hand on the shift lever, but work with precision.
The automatics are equipped with adaptive electronics that use information from the engines' electronic management systems to tailor shift programs based on driving style. A 'sport' shift program is followed whenever the 528i's transmission selector is in the '3' position, or the 540's lever is in '4.' The 5-Series' disc brakes (with ABS) are flawless; the standard traction control system operates both in straight-line driving and during cornering to reduce the risk of skidding.
There is much to appreciate and precious little to dislike about the upgraded and restyled 1997 5-Series BMWs. When their list of safety, comfort and performance features is factored into price, they seem to offer more than reasonable value for money. Add the quality of materials used, flawless workmanship and three years or 36,000 miles-worth of free regular service to the equation, and the prices become downright reasonable.
But the real defining characteristic of these overachieving sedans is their driving pleasure. From that point of view, any 5-Series has to be considered almost irresistible.
Options As Tested
Sport suspension, 6-speed manual transmission, 17-in. aluminum alloy wheels.