2021 BMW 540i xDrive review: Riding the line between sharp and soft

Alpine White makes everything better.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

For nearly 50 years, the BMW 5 Series has been a midsize sedan that doesn’t skimp on luxury while delivering quite an engaging drive down the road. Recent generations have perhaps gone a little further in luxury than the “Ultimate Driving Machine” nerds might want, but taking a ride in the 2021 BMW 540i shows me that BMW is still emphasizing both sides of the equation.

Like it

  • Lightweight hybrid soft system
  • Comfortable and spacious interior
  • It hides a discreet bustle

I do not like

  • Simple interior and exterior design
  • Gesture control still useless
  • Price for the principles

Casual outside, comfortable inside

The latest generation of BMW 5 Series looks a bit nondescript, but I’d attribute that judgment to every sedan the automaker makes – if you don’t have a sense of size at hand, they could easily be mistaken for each other. . I’m all for brand recognition and I admit my 540i tester looks a little sleeker than your average Fiver thanks to a bright alpine white paint job, but the whole thing isn’t exactly what I’d call evocative. It lacks the drama of the Genesis G80 or Audi A6, but it’s not a problem exclusive to BMW – Mercedes currently suffers from the same stencil design pitfalls.

The interior is also on the snooze-inspired side, rocking the same design it has had for years, except for a few tweaks here and there. But true luxury doesn’t come from how everything is organized. Instead, I’m impressed with the cabin of the 540i from 2021 because it’s so damn comfortable. The massaging, ventilated front seats ($ 1,000) are wrapped in dark brown Nappa leather ($ 2,500), which is soft to the touch and immensely comfortable on longer journeys. Combined with ample head and leg room in both rows, the 5 Series is clearly pushing a focus on comfort first.

There is also some function to backup the module. The doors have adequately sized storage compartments to hold straw wraps and other random debris, and while the storage under the center console armrest is on the small side, have a wireless device charger (part of a $ 1,850 Premium package) up front to cup holders means that space can be dedicated exclusively to masks, wallets, keys and whatever else I have in my pocket. With 14 cubic feet of space, the 540i’s trunk is more spacious than what the A6 or E-Class offer.

Optional for curves

There is clearly a trend towards luxury when it comes to how it drives the 2021 BMW 540i, but that doesn’t mean that BMW has completely abandoned its boisterous roots. For the most part, though, my tester is most rewarding when the car’s myriad settings are placed in standard Comfort mode. Adaptive dampers (part of a $ 3,200 package with active roll bars) do a great job absorbing Michigan’s lousy roads, giving very little back to the cabin. There’s an inherent feeling of solidity coming from the frame – the ride is soft, but that doesn’t mean the whole thing is so loose that the metaphors start to move nautical. It is simply very pleasant to make smooth turns on long roads between the sticks.

If you were to be driven by a need for speed, I’d probably recommend upgrading to something more dedicated to that vibe like the M550i, but there’s still a lot of fun with the 540i. Tapping the Sport button on the center console sharpens things up considerably. Variable steering ($ 3,300!) Gets heavier, adaptive dampers stiffen, and throttle response increases. Body roll in the corners dissipates, making it a surprisingly fun car to throw around corners, though it’s certainly not a nimble little thing. It’s worth noting, however, that I enjoy having at least $ 6,000 commands in options, so I can see why some people might criticize the 5 Series for being a little too luxurious before the boxes start ticking.

Under the hood is a 3.0-liter in-line 6-cylinder turbocharger that produces 335 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, enough to push my all-wheel drive tester to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds. At most tachometer points, a push of the throttle causes a little extra exhaust noise and a whole bunch of torque, giving me the agility to do pretty much anything I need to do on a public road. The eight-speed automatic transmission is just as smooth, shifting gears in either direction with minimal effort or movement in the cabin.

There is a hint of electrification in BMW 5 Series of 2021, mashed potato. Six-cylinder models like this one carry a lightweight 48-volt hybrid system. Its starter generator can deliver an additional 11 hp to help fill gaps in power delivery as needed, but its main directive is efficiency. Stop-start sessions are longer and seem like next to nothing when the engine starts, even when it shuts everything off below 9 mph. Brake regeneration is mild, although it gets a little more aggressive in Sport mode; to be honest I can’t really feel the point where the regenerative and friction brakes start to mix which is very good. All that efficiency-boosting goodness happens in the background with little to notice for the driver.

These extra electrons make the 2021 540i xDrive decently efficient, with the EPA estimating its fuel economy at 23 miles per city gallon and 31mpg on the highway. As usual, I have a slightly lower trend in the city, but the 540i is a champion on the highway, returning 31 mpg (or more) with very little conscious footwork on my part.

The cockpit of the 540i xDrive is comfortable enough for long stretches, no breaks are needed.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

Technology in abundance

Sitting in the 2021 BMW 5 Series feels as technologically advanced as any other modern luxury car. Best of all, almost everything you see on my tester is standard, from the 12.3-inch touchscreen to the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.

The main infotainment screen, which has grown from 10.3-inches over the past year, can be manipulated via its touchscreen or using the iDrive dial on the center console. The system is pleasing to the eye, extraordinarily responsive (starts very quickly from a cold boot) and loaded with features like built-in navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, over-the-air updates and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. The gauge cluster shows a permanent map with no street names, so it’s only really useful when turn-by-turn directions are turned on. The left and right sides of the instrument cluster can show what is broadcasting on the radio and various other information. Drop down $ 1,850 for the Premium package and you also get wireless device charging and a head-up display that further reduces distractions. It also adds gesture control to iDrive, which is largely unnecessary and distracting, especially when I perform a hand movement that unknowingly changes the station or completely stops the music.

On the security front, everyone should be happy. Each Fiver comes standard with front collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, automatic high beam and speed limit information. This specific 540i also includes the $ 1,700 Driving Assistance Package Plus, which adds adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, lane keeping assistance, and something called Extended Traffic Jam Assist. This last piece is interesting in that it is an honest hands-off feature, although it should only be used in traffic jams on restricted freeways to reduce boredom. It works well, creeping into traffic as I nervously scan every vehicle within a half-mile radius to make sure no one is doing anything that could catch the system off guard.

Stop trying to do recovery (or, in this case, gesture control). Not gonna happen.

Andrew Krok / Roadshow

Up to brass tacks

Most of the major players in the 2021 segment of the BMW 5 Series are well known. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class leans a little more on the luxury corner, while those looking for more technology and a more unique look may want to consider the hard-edged Audi A6. However, there is a new player in town: the 2021 Genesis G80. This Korean sedan absolutely is stunning as a pure luxury car, and absolutely mollywhops the Bimmer on the price, with fully loaded examples commanding around $ 69,000 (nice). The cachet of a Roundel on the hood is missing, of course, but don’t throw the baby away with the bathwater just because its origin is not Teutonic.

The 2021 BMW 540i xDrive is not just a luxury car. I mean, sure, that’s what is – and when it comes to being luxurious, it excels – but it’s a bit more of a one-dimensional qualifier like that. With just a few button presses, this straight-six sedan takes up a sportier nature that makes for a rather immersive experience if there are a few curves between points A and B.

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