BMW 540i xDrive review 2017

Our Car of the Year is a class leader in 520d diesel form, but what about this faster and more powerful 540i petrol?...

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Darren Moss
25 May 2017 10:13 | Last updated: 14 Jun 2018 00:03

So, you like the look of the new BMW 5 Series saloon. And why wouldn't you? It is, after all, our Car of the Year for 2017 in 520d SE (diesel) form. And, as our full 16-point review explains, that's because it's an absolute belter in almost every respect.

But what if you want all the strengths of the 5 Series combined with heady performance? Well, that's where this 540i model comes in. With 335bhp from its turbocharged 3.0-litre engine, it's the fastest and most powerful 5 Series variant you can buy – until the new M5 sports saloon arrives early next year, that is.

The 540i faces strong competition from the 396bhp Mercedes-AMG E 43 and the 375bhp Jaguar XF S, but you can discount the ageing Audi A6, because the only petrol A6 currently offered is the V8-engined S6, which is significantly more expensive.

BMW 540i xDrive review 2017

What's the 2017 BMW 540i like to drive?

The 3.0-litre petrol engine in the 540i is superbly responsive right across its rev range. You only need to touch the accelerator pedal lightly to bring more speed, while putting your foot to the floor brings an explosion in terms of both sound and performance. Its noise isn't all-embracing, as in the M3 sports saloon, but it sounds crisp and muscular if you let the revs climb.

Our favourite 520d version of the 5 Series already feels fast, but with a 0-62mph sprint time of 4.8sec, the 540i is on another level. Certainly, overtaking on the motorway will be a breeze. It's not scary, though; instead, the extra performance inspires confident drivers to push their own boundaries.

It's all helped by the 5 Series's standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. Left to its own devices in drive mode, the 'box offers smooth and fast changes, but flip it over into Sport and it'll hold onto lower gears for longer, letting the revs build and bringing that wonderful engine noise to your ears. You can also shift manually using steering wheel-mounted paddles which again offer quick gearchanges.

As with other versions of the 5 Series, the 540i's quick steering makes it feel keen to turn in to corners, and you don't have to adjust the wheel mid-corner, either, because the steering is so precise that you know exactly how much lock is needed

Our car came with Variable Damper Control (VDC) , which allows you to tailor the suspension via the different driving modes. Select Comfort and the 540i softens all but the largest lumps and bumps in the road, while Sport mode makes the handling tauter and the ride firmer, but still isn't uncomfortable.

The 540i comes with four-wheel drive as standard, and while we're unlikely to experience its full benefit in the UK, it does help to provide extra traction out of junctions and tight corners.

BMW 540i xDrive review 2017

What's the 2017 BMW 540i like inside?

The interior is no different to the ones found in cheaper 5 Series models. But that still means it's a very pleasant place to sit, with lots of adjustment and everything built to a high standard from quality materials.

There's plenty of space to store all of your items, too, thanks to generous door bins and a large cubby under the centre armrest, plus a well-sized glovebox.

The jewel in the crown is BMW's iDrive infotainment system, which is the very best of its kind. Information is presented cleanly on the 10.2in screen, and you can control the various system using either touch, hand gestures or a rotary controller on the centre console.

There's also a digital instrument cluster, which offers a variety of different information depending on which driving mode you've selected. Eco-Pro, for example, shows you how many extra miles you've gained in range by driving economically.

Two six-footers can sit comfortably in the rear of the car and the boot is easily big enough for a couple of large suitcases, although the E-Class has an even bigger capacity.

Next: BMW 540i verdict and specs >