Top five gets monster punch

It’s a rare thing to be able to put your foot down in the BMW 545i. You need plenty of space, a low gear so you’re not advancing at absurd speed when you hear the V8 issue its distant, creamy, hammering wail, and preferably no witnesses, either human or electronic. This car is not supercar-fast, but it’s more than quick enough for today’s conditions, in the UK at least.

The 4.4-litre variable-valve-timed V8 yields 333bhp – 47bhp more than the outgoing model – and 332lbs ft or torque at 3700rpm, which is sufficient to thrust the manual 545i to 60mph in 5.8sec and on to a governed 155mph.

Equally heart warming is the fuel consumption, which on one 320-mile motorway run exceeded 28mpg. And this was in the six-speed automatic version. Admittedly there were no full-throttle moments, but it demonstrates what’s possible if you can resist.

Such efficiency is not just down to the engine and transmission, but to the Five’s relatively light weight. Its styling has proved so distracting that the efforts of BMW engineering department, which has managed to build a car that actually weighs less than its predecessor – a real rarity these days – have gone ignored. Building the nose structure from aluminium is one reason, and most of the running gear from the same material another, but much of the reduction stems from obsessive cheese-paring.

Still, there’s scope for undermining these efforts with a lingering trip through the options list. The test car came with Active Steering, Dynamic Drive anti-roll control, Comfort seats, a phone kit and more, all of which add mildly to the five’s heft. And, as we’ve found with past Fives, several of these don’t help its case. Ours came with run-flat tyres, too, which spoil the low-speed ride and roar more on harsh surfaces.

Active Steering is a curious thing. I’ve sampled it several times now, and notice it less on each occasion – which is a compliment. But on a sinuous road tackled at varying speeds, the combination of this and Dynamic Drive make it marginally harder to commit the car completely in a bend, even if there’s absolutely nothing wrong with its grip and agility. The subtle inconsistency of the steering and the near-absence of roll – always a good measure of recklessness – make it harder to know how close you are getting to the edge.

Of course, cars like this are more about committed cruising than quicksilver cornering, and in this department the 545i is a stellar performer – provided it doesn’t come with the £575 Comfort front seats.Ah, those exquisite leather seats. They allow you to pin your torso in place with the motorised side bolsters, and you can adjust the upper backrest to cup your shoulders. But after two hours, I just wanted to get out. It could just be me, but I’d recommend testing these chairs before buying.

So, as we’ve now said several times, the best Five is one ordered mostly option-free. And unless autobahns are your regular habitat, the best Five has fewer cylinders and is diesel powered. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the 4.4-litre V8 – far from it – but you simply don’t need it.

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jer 24 March 2009

Re: BMW 545i SE

I have a 530d and do few miles. I think everday as it rattles along in town doing 25mpg I should have gone for one of these and paid the petrol/tax.