New Car Review
SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide
1999 BMW 540i Wagon
by Larkin Hill
BMW Full Line factory footage (23:35) 28.8, 56k, or 200k
After experiencing the excitement of zipping around mountain curves and flying down beach highways, my partner and I were reluctant to give up our prized Z3 for a subdued wagon, so we opted for the 540i sport wagon (instead of the 528i).
When I glanced over at the metallic blue beauty, its graceful, yet athletic lines struck me; the streamlined roof rack and aerodynamic body seemed to scream of the adventures yet to come. Stepping closer, the vehicle's functional-friendly characteristics impressed us when we saw how easy the remote tailgate release made the loading of our luggage. An independent opening rear window also made reaching necessary items effortless. The roll-back cargo cover (now a familiar device and virtually a requirement for any vehicle without a trunk) is useful even when the 60/40 rear seats are folded. For added security, there are also concealed spaces located under the floor and on each side of the cargo area to store small valuables.
Gliding onto the firm leather seats, we were rearing to go. Since the sport wagon's primary role is to provide an exciting ride with an abundance of creature comforts, the ergonomics of the car had to be practical as well as attractive: and they are. The positioning and look of the knobs, buttons, displays and interior trim are traditionally BMW; easy to use, yet undeniably elegant.
As we inadvertently "peeled out" on the gravel road and catapulted onto the asphalt, only then, did I recognize the significance of the classification, "sport wagon." With a 4.4-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine with variable camshaft control (you know, that VANOS thing), the sport wagon was almost more stimulating to drive than the peppy Z3.
Powering around the tight turns and steep hills were velvety smooth. Armed with the standard STEPTRONIC shifting system, 282 horsepower and 324 pounds per-feet of torque, we could conquer any terrain. Stream crossings, dirt patches, and the numerous potholes were a cinch. While all were exciting and new, nothing delighted us more than the long ribbon of road that became the true test of athleticism for the so-called "fastest wagon in America." With no one around, I slowed to a near stop, and then floored it. The g forces pinned us back against the seats as we exploded forward...YEEHAW! Unfortunately, before we could say "fastest wagon in America" we had to slow down for fear of a ticket (BMW doesn't promote such testing on a public road, nor will they cover the cost for any speeding violations). While the 540i is disguised as a wagon, the engine transforms it into a roomy version of an ultimate driving machine.
Speed and spaciousness aside, the 540i's numerous safety features are the star attraction. As is characteristic of BMW, this sport wagon takes a proactive approach to securing its passengers. The variable camshaft control provides the driver with stronger torque at low speeds and higher power at high speeds, creating the ability to accelerate quickly and pass with ease. Coupled with Dynamic Brake Control, which helps stabilize the vehicle in critical cornering; All Season Tracking; and a limited-slip differential, provide the driver with the best possible control. Reactive safety features include Dual front-impact airbags, side impact airbags, and Head Protection System. In addition, BMW has provided an extra measure of protection with their Battery Safety Terminal (BST), which, in the event of a serious accident, reduces the risk of a short-circuit by severing the connection between the battery and starter cable. However, BST only cuts the high-voltage connection, but maintains the low-voltage capabilities that serve central locking and lights.
Overall: BMW has magnificently combined the practicality of a wagon design with the driver-oriented performance requirements of a premium engine, creating the ultimate wagon experience that all family members can enjoy. Never before has the term "sport" been so accurately applied.