BMW 540i

FIRST DRIVE We love new exec with diesel power. Now we try 335bhp top-spec petrol car

Auto Express - - Contents - Richard In­gram Richard_in­gram@den­ @rsp_in­gram

Our ver­dict on new 335bhp top-spec petrol ver­sion of exec

DE­SPITE ru­mours that diesel is dy­ing, it re­mains the fuel of choice for lots of cost­con­scious car buy­ers. As many as 80 per cent of BMW 5 Se­ries cus­tomers are ex­pected to go for the 2.0-litre diesel, with the six­cylin­der 530d com­ing a close sec­ond.

How­ever, for those wor­ried about NOX emis­sions and po­ten­tial fu­ture ex­pul­sion from busy city cen­tres, BMW also of­fers a range of petrol en­gines. From launch, you can spec­ify a rear-wheel-drive, four-cylin­der 530i, or this: the flag­ship 540i xdrive.

Sit­ting at the top of the 5 Se­ries range un­til the new 600bhp-plus, four-wheel-drive M5 ar­rives later this year, the 540i of­fers per­for­mance not dis­sim­i­lar to the out­go­ing M-car’s – al­beit with around 250bhp less.

In fact, the model we have here is just one tenth slower from 0-62mph than a V10-pow­ered M5 from a decade ago, as well as be­ing much more ef­fi­cient.

The 540i will cover the bench­mark sprint in 4.8 sec­onds. Trac­tion is good thanks to the stan­dard-fit all-wheel-drive sys­tem, while the sweet-shift­ing eight-speed auto pro­duces seam­lessly fast gearchanges. The noise it makes is a lit­tle muted, but it’s safe to sug­gest that en­gi­neers will be sav­ing the full-fat sound for the hard­core M model.

We’ve al­ready driven the pop­u­lar 520d, award­ing it the full five stars and a road test vic­tory against the Mercedes E-class and Jaguar XF (Is­sue 1,459) – and this high­spec petrol does lit­tle to dent its ap­peal.

The six-cylin­der en­gine is re­fined, and although our car’s £1,200 op­tional 20-inch wheels sent the odd shock into the cabin, the ride is well re­solved. Our model’s £985 adap­tive dampers soft­ened harsh edges.

The 540i han­dles much like the all-wheeldrive diesel, with ex­cel­lent body con­trol and plen­ti­ful feed­back through the thick-rimmed leather steer­ing wheel. These traits make the car feel much more ag­ile than its bulky di­men­sions would sug­gest. The 540i is con­stantly alert, and a prod of the throt­tle de­liv­ers a sur­pris­ing turn of pace – although the safe and se­cure xdrive sys­tem robs it of some of the stan­dard car’s driver ap­peal.

Pro­jected fuel econ­omy of 39.2mpg is im­pres­sive for a near-350bhp six-cylin­der petrol en­gine, although our 650-mile jour­ney back from the Geneva Mo­tor Show cul­mi­nated in a trip read­out closer to 30mpg. CO2 emis­sions of 164g/km are much higher than for ei­ther of the diesel mod­els, so com­pany car driv­ers will need to think twice be­fore tak­ing the plunge.

In­side, it’s busi­ness as usual, mean­ing the 540i can com­pete with the best in this class when it comes to in­te­rior com­fort and qual­ity. BMW’S lat­est in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem sits proud above the air vents and cli­mate

con­trols. The set-up is hugely in­tu­itive to use, and is now op­er­a­ble via a re­spon­sive touch­screen, or the fa­mil­iar idrive wheel.

As you can imag­ine, the op­tions list is as long as your arm, although there were a few items fit­ted to our test car that re­ally stood out. The £965 Ac­tive Cruise Con­trol with Stop and Go func­tion­al­ity made heavy traf­fic a breeze – ac­cel­er­at­ing, brak­ing and steer­ing to keep you out of harm’s way.

The 540i in these pic­tures also fea­tured BMW’S Park­ing As­sis­tant Plus, which uses cam­eras to show the car on the dash screen and help you squeeze into tight gaps. How­ever, at £1,095, it’s not cheap. The lack of Ap­ple Carplay as stan­dard seems a lit­tle stingy, too, but at just £235, few buy­ers will suf­fer much when swept up in one of the com­pet­i­tive monthly deals.

In­te­rior has high-qual­ity feel, and the new in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is in­tu­itive

COR­NER­ING Range-top­ping 540i is only avail­able with xdrive all-wheel drive, so han­dling is se­cure rather than en­ter­tain­ing

COM­FORT The ride is com­fort­able in stan­dard guise, but the op­tional adap­tive dampers are worth the ex­tra out­lay

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