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2004 BMW 530i Road Test

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Photos by Charles Ofria

BMW’s redesigned sports sedan has plenty of soul

BMWs new 5 Series is one more step in the total redesign of the BMW product line. But fear not, under this bold new styling direction, the heart and soul of the ultimate sports sedan is alive and well.

Tom Purves, chairman and chief executive officer of BMW North America, told automotive writers at the cars launch last fall that BMWs mission is to build The Ultimate Driving Machine. This car, he said, is central to what BMW is all about. It is a technical showcase, a platform for innovations such as active steering, active roll stabilization and the unique use of aluminum and steel body panels.

, 2004 BMW 530i Road TestThe 5-series is the third BMW with styling that has come under criticism from some BMW loyalists. Purves said there is a reason for the new look. BMWs market research discovered that people said, your cars are great, but they are not sufficiently differentiated.

BMWs new styling is a series of compound curves and sharp edges. The variation in surfaces means light reflects differently all the time.

BMWs new styling has been controversial. Chris Bangle, BMWs design director and the person responsible for this new design direction ,was recently promoted to an executive position, director of BMW Group design. Hands-on design responsibilities now fall to Adrian van Hooydonk, formerly the president of Designworks USA, BMWs California design studio. He is the man responsible for penning the new 6-Series

Whether you like the styling or not, the redesigned 5-series sedan is a car to be reckoned with. Its handling, road holding and overall balance are absolutely first cabin, among the best in its segment.

The new 5-series has a wheelbase that is 2.3 inches longer than the previous model. It is also slightly wider, taller and longer. The trunk is 26 percent larger, big enough now for four golf bags. The additional length translates into greater rear-seat legroom, something that was needed. The back seat is now quite comfy.

, 2004 BMW 530i Road TestThe all-new 5-series is available in three versions, two featuring inline six cylinder engines and one featuring BMWs V-8. The 525i comes equipped with a 2.5-liter inline six that produces 184-horsepower, while the 530i’s 3.0-liter in-line six offers 225 horsepower. Finally, the 545i has a 4.4-liter V-8 with 325 horsepower. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on all three versions, and a fully electronic Steptronic six-speed automatic is an option.

There is a third transmission option for the person who wants a sporting edge. It is a 6-Speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG) and works very much like a manual transmission except for the fact that it does not have a clutch pedal. You can use this transmission in fully automatic mode, or shift it up and down manually with the shift lever or steering wheel shift paddles. This transmission is similar mechanically to a manual transmission, but is electrohydraulically shifted. It is not nearly as smooth in full automatic mode as a true automatic, but performance and gas mileage numbers place it on an equal footing with the 6 speed manual.

Active steering and active roll stabilization are two innovations worthy of note. Active steering varies the steering ratio by speed. It is essentially invisible, yet it makes driving more pleasurable. It takes fewer turns of the wheel to steer the car at slower speed than it does at high speed. This means you can wheel through switchback turns without moving your hands from the steering wheel, yet at high speeds the vehicle tracks straight even if you move the wheel slightly. At parking speeds, the steering wheel will go from full left to full right in only 1 3/4 turns.

, 2004 BMW 530i Road TestIn conjunction with the vehicle stability program, active steering can apply 2.5 degrees of countersteering to help reduce the chance of skidding in an emergency swerve.

Active roll stabilization uses a hydraulic coupling in the middle of the stabilizer bars. This unit decouples when the car is going straight, allowing the suspension to be more compliant and the ride to be softer. When you make a turn, the stabilizer bar halves reconnect and keep body lean in check.

All of this technical sleight of hand happens without the driver ever being aware that anything is going on. The car simply carves through turns with precision while feeling arrow-straight on flat sections.

The interior is bigger, more advanced and more sophisticated. The gauge package is quite nice, but overall the instrument panel is less successful. The iDrive system, operated by a large knob on the console, has been simplified from the one on the 7 series, but it still isn’t as intuitive as it should be. Fortunately, most functions essential to driving are located on or around the steering wheel and column. An optional head-up display will be available sometime this year.

Adaptive bi-xenon headlights turn slightly with the steering wheel to shine around bends. When the driver applies the brakes hard, or upon activation of the ABS, the brake lights and the taillights both light at once, brightening the brake lights even more in order to alert those behind that you are braking hard.

While the 5-series styling is the first thing to catch your eye, agile road holding and a sweet manual gearbox are the things that bring a smile to your face every time you turn the key.

2004 bmw left rear view


2004 BMW 5 Series mid sized rear wheel drive sedan

Standard Equipment
(partial list, 525i & 530i)

    • 6-speed manual transmission
    • rain sensing wipers
    • power glass sunroof
    • 4-wheel ABS
    • emergency braking assist
    • traction control
    • stability control
    • dual front side-mounted airbags
    • front and rear head airbags
    • automatic headlamps
    • Front Fog/Driving Lights
    • 10-way power driver & front passenger seat with driver side memory.
    • vinyl upholstery
    • tilt and telescopic steering wheel
    • audio and cruise controls on steering wheel
    • speed-proportional power steering
    • dual zone climate controls – driver and passenger
    • trip computer
    • wood trim
    • AM/FM in-dash single CD stereo 10 total speakers
    • BMW Assist telecommunications service

545i also includes…

  • xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
  • leather upholstery
  • garage door opener

Major Available Options
(partial list)

  • Sport Package Includes: Active Steering, sport tuned suspension, Active Roll Stabilization (ARS) active suspension, 12-way power front sport seats with adjustable thigh support and 17″ x 8″ Star Spoke cast alloy wheels with P245/45WR17 run-flat performance tires.
  • Active Cruise Control
  • DVD-based navigation system
  • 6-Speed Sequential Manual Gearbox (SMG)
  • Dakota Leather Upholstery
  • 6-speed automatic transmission with Adaptive Transmission Control
  • Head-Up Display
  • Xenon Adaptive Headlights
  • Park Distance Control
  • Sirius Satellite Radio
  • Power Rear Sunshade and Manual Rear Side Window Shades
  • Rear Door Mounted Side Airbags
  • Heated front seats
  • heated steering wheel
  • Rear Seat Heating
  • 20-way power front seats

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