Yes, You Can Rock a BMW 5-Series With a Four-Cylinder

The entry-level 5-Series may lack BMW's trademark straight-six, but you might not care.

Chris Perkins

It's hard to deny the appeal of a BMW straight-six—they're mechanically balanced, smooth running, great sounding, and offer linear power delivery. The 3.0-liter turbo straight-six in the new 540i is no exception, and provides 335 horsepower to play with. That seemingly makes the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder in the 530i a hard sell.

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After all, why would you want a four-cylinder in your 5-series, when the inline-six costs barely $5,000 more and packs nearly 100 more horsepower? Isn't a four-cylinder just, sort of, inappropriate in a car like the 5-Series? Not really. This little engine is fantastic, and in no way gets in the way of the luxuriousness of the latest 5er.

Chris Perkins

That's largely because BMW has seemingly engineered the 5-Series to feel like it doesn't even have a motor at all. When I first hopped in, I was aware that the car was turned on, but genuinely, I had to check the tach to make sure the motor was actually running. I figured that the car's auto start-stop system had engaged, but nope, you can barely hear the motor at idle with all the doors and windows shut.

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Once you're on the move, there is a very faint suggestion that, yes indeed, there is internal combustion happening somewhere within this car. I drowned most of that out with the excellent Bowers and Wilkins audio system, a pricey option at $4,200, but the tweeters light up at night, which is cool.

Chris Perkins
Chris Perkins
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The 530i's 248 horsepower might seem too low for such a big luxury car, but the combination of 258 lb-ft of torque available between 1,500 and 4,800 rpm and an eight-speed automatic transmission don't leave you wanting. The gearbox is the same ZF eight-speed unit that you've probably heard us talk about a million times before. Simply put, it's the best torque-converter auto on the market, and BMW has done a good job with shift programming.

We haven't driven the 530i's closest rival from Volvo, the 250-hp S90 T5, but the BMW holds its own against the 316-hp S90 T6. While the turbo- and supercharged S90 T6 feels quicker than the 530i, the Volvo's engine can't quite match the refinement of the BMW 2.0-liter. The 530i's engine also felt stronger than the 2.0-liter in the Mercedes E300 while being quieter on the move.

Out on the road, the 530i's punchy midrange makes the sort of driving you do everyday feel effortless. No, it doesn't offer the remarkable acceleration of the V8-powered M550i xDrive, but the sort of people who buy this car won't care. You could justifiably want more performance than the 530i offers, but for this sort of car, you certainly don't need it.

The 5-Series—even in M-Sport guise, as seen here—isn't the benchmark driver's car in the segment it once was, so why does it need a hot-rod engine? Driving this car is more about experiencing the luxury, tech, and impeccable build quality it offers, rather than carving up backroads.

Chris Perkins
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Your engine of choice in the new 5er comes down to what you want out of the car. If you want to tear up Autobahns, the V8s in the M550i xDrive and the upcoming M5 will do nicely. If you want more performance than most, but don't need a V8, the inline-six in the 540i is ideal.

And, if you only want your BMW to be a luxury car, the 530i's four-cylinder is up for the task. You probably won't even miss the six.

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