BMW 540i sticks with old-fashioned technological advancement
A colleague spotted me arriving at work in the BMW 540i and asked a very strange question: "Is that your own car? I'm used to seeing you in all the interesting new stuff."
I wish. Because the new $142,900 540i is the very latest thing from the Munich carmaker and one of the most hi-tech cars in the world - at least if you spec it up correctly.
But that comment does highlight one of the issues facing this particular genre of vehicle. The Five is still a core model for BMW globally and certainly a halo vehicle at this time, but SUVs are very much the thing in the public eye. That, combined with a reluctance to mess too much with styling tradition on an executive sedan has resulted in the seventh-generation 5-series looking a bit old-fashioned. Okay, a lot old-fashioned.
It wasn't always so. BMW used to have an "evolution, then revolution" approach to its luxury sedans; my personal favourite is the controversial 2004-model E60.
Anyway, while the new Five doesn't look it, the car is packed with advanced features. All models have Driving Assistant Plus, but the must-have option is the $1450 Technology Package, which brings wireless Apple CarPlay, the BMW Display Key and Remote Control Parking.
It's fitting that BMW is first to market with wireless iPhone projection (which usually requires a cable to handle the data transfer), because it was also first to market with proper iPod integration back in 2004. The new system is brilliant because like the 7-series, the Five has adopted a touch-screen that works in tandem with the iDrive controller. Funny how the Germans have been so slow with the touchy-feely stuff (Audi and Mercedes-Benz are still not there).
The Display Key is not a terribly convenient piece of kit because it's enormous, but it is an impressive thing, with a touch-screen that can give you all sorts of information about the car. It charges wirelessly while you drive.
It's also the conduit for Remote Control Parking, which is more useful than it sounds. Essentially, it allows you to manoeuvre the car into a narrow space while standing outside. It's not magic: you have to remain close and the steering angle is limited, so the car has to be pretty straight before you start. But it's great if you want to squeeze into a space next to a wall in a multi-level city carpark for example, or if you have a narrow garage.
I used Remote Parking several times during my week with the 540i, and not just for novelty value. Although there was novelty value.
Curiously, BMW hasn't applied the Carbon Core technology from the 7-series to the new Five, despite the two being based on the same platform. However, it's still managed to trim nearly 100kg from a model that's larger and stronger than the previous generation. That means significant gains in ride and refinement.
The 540i's twin-turbo six is magnificent, providing a rush of power and torque at virtually any speed. The eight-speed automatic transmission is equally excellent.
The 540i comes as standard with the M Sport package: body kit, 10mm-lower suspension, more powerful brakes and Dynamic Damper Control. No doubting its ability to flow from A-to-B with extreme speed and composure, but you still get the feeling that this generation has moved another click away from sporting and towards luxury in terms of its steering and chassis response.
That doesn't stop the 540i being one of the most accomplished and advanced cars you can buy at any price right now. But we're in Bizzarro World when a Mercedes-Benz luxury sedan (the E-class) looks and feels cutting-edge, while the BMW equivalent vanishes into the company carpark.