SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide
The midsized BMW 5-Series has been a benchmark in the sports sedan category since its inception in the early 1970s. The current generation, introduced at the beginning of the 1997 model year, strongly reinforces the reputation. There are two models offered, the six-cylinder 528i and V8-powered 540i. Both have a number of new safety and performance features for 1998. Most notably, the "Sport" option package originally offered only on manual transmission- equipped 540s is now available on all 5-Series models.
Sport-equipped 5-Series Bimmers can be told externally by a "plus-one" larger-diameter wheel, lower-profile tire combination, special "Shadowline" exterior trim, and interior upgrades. Less apparent from the outside but definitely noticeable from the cockpit is the M-Technic suspension calibration. It's softer and more civil than that of the late, much-lamented M5, but still moves the Fiver's intent from "luxury sports" to "sports luxury." Think "M5 light."
My week with a 528i Sport was a week of driving pleasure. It was quiet and comfortable, with great handling and a wonderful engine. It held three passengers and luggage in comfort, with hardly a drop in its excellent performance and handling abilities. It's definitely a sports sedan for the real world.
APPEARANCE: The current 5-Series mixes styling cues from previous BMW sedans for a contemporary and very BMW look. Although there are hints of the previous 5-Series in its styling, particularly the front fender flares and the character line on the upper side, it is much more rounded. The new 5-Series is somewhat reminiscent of the "Baroque Angels", BMW's massive-looking, heavily rounded sedans of the 1950s and early 1960s, as well. But this is only a passing nod, not a nostalgia-laden retro attempt. Still, tradition seems important at BMW. The twin-kidney grille seems to get lower and wider with each passing year, and the headlights are still round. As expected, they are four in number, and faired behind glass. At a glance, the 1998 5-Series BMW looks smaller than it actually is. Sport models may be told by matte-black trim on the side windows, door sills, and bumpers; normal models have chrome.
COMFORT: Space efficiency has been a BMW hallmark, and the 1998 5-Series is an excellent example. It's not overly large outside, but there is easily room for four adults inside, and a fifth, smaller person in the center rear position. All seats are supportive, comfortable, and, with the Sport option, leather-covered. The trunk is huge. The interior design is contemporary two-tone, dark-over-light, and adds to the spacious feel. But the 528i Sport is a driver's car at heart, particularly with the Sport package. Power-adjustable front seats, mirrors, and steering wheel have three memory positions for convenience. The steering wheel has a thick, leather rim that provides excellent grip and control. The gearshift lever is placed easily in reach. Instruments and controls are placed very well, and backlit with a low-glare red color for less eyestrain at night. Climate and audio system controls are very high-tech, and the tape deck is cleverly hidden behind a trim piece. American influence shows when the steering wheel moves out of the way for entrance and exit, and in the audio and climate controls mounted on the wheel. German influence shows in the cupholders.
SAFETY: The 1998 BMW 528i has safety to match its performance. All seating positions have 3-point belts. Dual front, front side, and "Head Protection System" side airbag curtains are standard, with rear seat side airbags optional. Four-wheel antilock vented disc brakes and all-season traction control with cornering braking control add active safety.
ROADABILITY: The 528i Sport is a sports sedan that can easily live in the everyday world. It is nowhere near as hard-core as the old M5, but still composed at speed and in the corners, and thoroughly enjoyable. The ride quality is firm, but compliant enough for long-term comfort. The fully-independent suspension uses many lightweight aluminum parts for improves response. The Sport package has firmer suspension tuning than the standard model, but it not too firm for comfort.
PERFORMANCE: When driving a 528i Sport, watch the speedometer. What feels like a reasonable, legal speed is much higher than one might expect. If not quite as overachievingly fast as the V8 540, the 6- cylinder Fiver is quick enough for any American condition, and then some. The 2.8-liter twin cam, 24-valve inline six is smooth and melodious, with excellent midrange power. VANOS variable valve timing helps it make power over a wide rpm range, with a maximum of 190 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 206 lb-ft of torque at slightly under 4000. The standard 5-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, with fast, smooth shifting and well-chosen gear ratios.
CONCLUSIONS: The BMW 528i Sport is an enthusiast's sports sedan that works well in everyday life.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 38,900 Price As Tested $ 42,920 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve inline 6-cylinder with variable valve timing Engine Size 2.8 liters / 170 cu. in. Horsepower 190 @ 5300 Torque (lb-ft) 206 @ 3950 Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 111.4 in. / 188.0 in. Curb Weight 3450 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.2 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P235/45 ZR17 Dunlop Sports SP 2000 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut with double-pivot lower arms, coil springs / independent 4-link with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 28 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.5 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Sport Package - includes: 17-inch cross-spoke alloy wheels, 235/45 performance tires, Sport suspension, Montana leather interior, shadowline exterior trim $ 3,450 Destination charge $ 570