SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide
At a quick glance, BMW's mid-sized 5-Series sedans and wagons appear to be unchanged for 2001. Look more closely. The styling has been freshened, using cues from the mighty M5 ultra- performance sedan. The previous 528i is now the 530i, thanks to a new, larger-displacement engine. And, in order to reach a wider market, there is a new 525i sedan and sport wagon.
The 525i may be the lowest-priced 5-Series model, but don't think of it as any sort of "base-model" car. It's as fully-equipped in all important areas as any BMW. Cost-cutting measures are on the order of manual instead of automatic climate control and a manual instead of power-adjustable front passenger seat. Big deal...all the basic functionality and performance expected in a BMW are included.
BMW designations come from the engine size, and so the 525 uses the 2.5-liter engine also found in the smaller 3-Series. Like all BMW sixes, it's an inline design, which has the excellent balance and smoothness that make it appropriate for a luxury car. It also has the power characteristics and sound of a good sports engine. Add BMW's unostentatiously comfortable interior appointments and excellent chassis tuning, and the 525i is yet another example of BMW's prowess. In my week with an example, I found it to be quiet, comfortable, and great fun to drive. As a bonus, fuel economy is geared toward European fuel costs, with over 20 mpg easily attainable despite extra-enthusiastic driving.
APPEARANCE: There is no doubt as to the maker of the 525i, even without looking at the trademark twin-kidney grilles. It's a gently-rounded sedan with a nod to BMW's larger sedans of the 1950s and '60s in its sculpted hood and prominent shoulder line. The grilles have new frames, taken from last year's M5, and, while the four headlights are still traditionally shrouded by polycarbonate plastic, the lights themselves are a new design. Standard wheel size for the six-cylinder models has been increased from 15 to 16 inches, with 17-inch wheels and ultra-low profile tires part of the sport package. In any form, the 5-Series has the look of understated elegance.
COMFORT: The 525's interior is as definitely BMW in design as its exterior. Although the seating and instrument panel design are oriented towards serious driving, comfort and convenience are not compromised. Instrumentation is comprehensive and easily visible. Climate and audio controls are placed in the center of the dash, and can be easily accessed by both the driver and front passenger. All windows and the optional moonroof have one-touch open and close operation. US-market influence shows in door-mounted window lifts and the speed and audio controls on the power tilt- and-telescope steering wheel. The front buckets are firmly comfortable with enough side bolstering for support without restricting access. The driver's seat is power-adjustable, and, although the passenger seat is manually-adjustable, all important parameters can easily be adjusted. Leather is the standard material for upholstery, with upgraded "Montana" leather and Vavona redwood trim optionally available. Rear seat accommodations are business class, with plenty of room, floor heat and console A/C vents, and storage space in both the front seatbacks and doors. There is plenty of trunk space, too, and the traditional BMW toolkit is still included.
SAFETY: The 525i has a sturdy safety cage around the occupants, who are further protected by front and front side airbags and the "Head Protection System" inflatable side curtain. Rear side airbags are available.
ROADABILITY: BMWs have long been know for their handling abilities, and the 5-Series upholds the reputation. Like all current BMW cars, it has a strut-type front suspension and a multilink setup at the rear. Front struts have been maligned as inferior to double-wishbone designs, but that's not necessarily true. Careful design and extensive use of lightweight aluminum alloy to reduce unsprung weight ensure great handling ability. Aluminum is also used in the rear multilink suspension. My test car was equipped with the optional "Sport Premium" option package, which includes a firmer suspension tuning and P235/45 Y-rated Michelin tires on 17 x 8-inch alloy wheels. It's designed for sport-touring driving in the real world, not for racetrack duty, and so is comfortably civilized and far from harsh while still enhancing the car's cornering and steering characteristics.
PERFORMANCE: The 525i may not quite have the "muscle car in a European designer suit" character of the 540i or M5, but its namesake 2.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine has plenty of power for US driving conditions. The bigger, Autobahn-bred Bimmers can be frustrating in a land of traffic jams and speed limits; the 525 is satisfactorily quick and its engine makes wonderful music. A relatively light flywheel allows the engine to rev quickly, but means that an assertive driving technique is necessary for best performance as the revs can drop quickly. Drive it like a sports car, it's a BMW, and the five-speed Getrag gearbox makes shifting a pleasure. With a maximum 184 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm, the 2.5 is only slightly less powerful than the 2.8-liter six in last year's 528i. "Double VANOS" variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts helps give it a broad torque curve, and it should work well when matched to the optional five-speed automatic transmission.
CONCLUSIONS: The BMW 525i sedan combines comfort, handling, and prestige.
SPECIFICATIONS 2001 BMW 525i Sedan Base Price $ 35,400 Price As Tested $ 40,070 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve inline 6-cylinder Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in. Horsepower 184 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 175 @ 3500 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 111.4 in. / 188.0 in. Curb Weight 3450 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.8 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium (92 octane) for best performance Tires P235/45 YR17 Michelin Pilot Primacy Brakes, front/rear vented disc / vented disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent double-pivot strut / independent multilink Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 20 / 29 / 23 0 to 60 mph 7.3 sec (mfg) Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.30 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Sport Premium Package - includes: 17x8.0 alloy wheels, 235/45 YR17 performance tires, sport suspension, moonroof, Vavona wood trim, Montana leather upholstery $ 3,900 In-dash single CD player $ 200 Destination charge $ 570