- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

BMW introduces the most powerful line of sedans and sport wagons to date with their 2008 5 Series lineup. Five standard models offer additional performance with their inline six-cylinder engines. The sixth model offers a 360 horsepower V-8. Those acquainted with the BMW brand know that handling is an important part of the performance picture, and the latest versions seem only to get better in that department as well.

The 2008 5 Series models represent the most significant update since the last changes in 2003. These latest versions receive new model designations, reflecting a boost in the power department. Last year’s 525i and 525xi both get the revised 3.0-liter 230 horsepower iteration of the DOHC 24-valve inline six-cylinder aluminum/magnesium composite engine. The models now carry the new 528i and 528xi nomenclature. An increase of 15 horsepower and 15 foot-pounds of torque bring the 528i/xi to a torque reading of 200 at 2750 rpms. The “x” designation refers to the xDrive all-wheel drive system, electronically controlled with variable front and rear torque split and traction control.

Available on all 5 Series models is the technically updated Steptronic transmission, allowing for faster shifting and more efficient operation. This offers improved efficiency and quicker acceleration. The no charge option transmission has normal, sport and manual shift modes and an electronic shifter as choices for additional driving pleasure. A six-speed manual transmission is also available on all regular 5 Series models as standard equipment. The sequential manual gearbox (SMG) has been discontinued on all but the M Series models.

At $45,075 for the 528i sedan and $47,275 for the 528xi (including destination charge), these roomy sedans offer surprising handling and performance characteristics. After driving all of the 5 Series versions, the 528 models offer handling and performance to satisfy the majority of drivers looking for a sedan. With the choice of the 528i/xi, they get the bonus of a sport sedan included.

The 535i Sedan also comes as xDrive AWD. The 535xi Sports Wagon joins the 5 Series lineup as the most powerful wagon BMW has ever offered, including the previous generation V-8 powered 540i. The big news here is the power plant found in the 535i/xi line. A 300 horsepower all-aluminum DOHC 24-valve inline six-cylinder engine sporting twin-turbochargers define the 535 models. Technology not only boosts horsepower but supplies it with virtually no turbo-lag. Rated at 300 foot-pounds of torque, available from 1400-5000 rpms, makes this power plant both responsive and smooth through all important stages of acceleration. The torque increase represents an 80 foot-pound advantage over previous 530i/xi models with a significantly broader torque range.

In addition to the two transmissions previously mentioned, the 535i/xi models also get the choice of an optional sport automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters and an rpm matching feature during downshifts. A sport button for quicker, more dynamic shifting is available, satisfying even the most demanding driving enthusiast. The BMW 535 models range from $50,175 for the rear wheel drive Sedan and $52,375 for the xDrive AWD models. From 2,000 to 2,500 lucky people purchase the 535xi Sports Wagon each year. The 2008 model comes in at $54,775. All prices include destination charges of $775.

The 550i Sedan returns to the 5 Series lineup retaining its 360 horsepower 4.8-liter 32 valve DOHC V-8 engine with matching torque figures of 360 foot-pounds. New to this performance machine is the optional sport automatic transmission as found on the 535 cars. This ability to precisely control available power is especially evident when experiencing tight winding roads with challenging surfaces and elevation changes. I was glad to have this control available to me during some of the most compelling parts of the test drives. An optional sport package is now available increasing the standard 17-inch wheels to 19 x 8.0-inch front, and 19 x 9.5-inch in the rear. The 550i Sports Package also includes V-8 specific sport exhaust system and its own unique aerodynamics kit. Pricing starts for the 550i at $59,275.

The 5 Series story wouldn’t be complete without the mighty M5 from the proud BMW tradition of performance vehicles. M Series cars are of limited numbers created by a small group of enthusiast engineers and technicians who build exclusive high-performance automobiles to exacting specifications. The new fourth generation M5 features an all aluminum 500 horsepower 5.0-liter DOHC 40-valve V-10 engine delivering 383 foot-pounds of torque. The previous M5 delivered 394 horsepower and 368 foot-pounds of torque from its 4.9-liter V-8 power plant.

The SMG transmission, only available on the M Series cars, is a seven-speed SMG complete with six sequential (manual) shift programs, five automated programs and a launch-control feature to optimize performance and driving characteristics. Customers are equally divided on the SMG unit versus the more conventional six-speed manual transmission. The sales split comes in at 50/50, which is one of the highest manual transmission percentage “take” rates in the industry. There is no extra charge for either choice. The base price for this newest in the BMW M tradition is $83,675.

BMW 5 Series cars come with a complete line of accessories and some standard equipment features not yet offered by other companies. Some of the more exciting additions to the 5 Series cars include Active Cruise Control Stop & Go, which allows operation even in heavy traffic; the lane-departure warning system, which notifies the driver when the car crosses into another lane without turn signals; and head-up display, which shows the driver vehicle speed, cruise-control set speed, navigation instructions and certain onboard computer warnings prioritized according to their urgency, such as vehicle defects, engine-oil level and low windshield-washer fluid. This information is shown in front of the driver just below the line of sight on the windshield.

Finally, the BMW Maintenance Program is the only no-cost maintenance program n the industry that covers wear and tear items like brake pads and rotors for 4 years or 50,000 miles. Owners also pay nothing for all scheduled inspections, oil changes, brake pads and even wiper blade inserts. It seems BMW has thought of everything to enhance the ownership experience of their customers while still offering cars that are fun to drive.