Machine Design

2004 BMW 530i

Driving a BMW 530i has the potential to ruin you for all other cars, unless of course you can afford this $44,000-plus beauty.

BMW's newly redesigned luxury sedan is pure pleasure to drive, and comes with all the bells and whistles you can think of, and then some.

The rear-wheel-drive 530i carries a 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine, boasting a healthy 225 hp and 214 lb-ft of torque. The aluminum powerplant features dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable-valve timing, and a two-stage intake manifold. A flap mechanism switches between two paths for air entering the engine. One path is tuned for low to medium speeds for improved torque and response, the other for high speeds to maximize top-end power.

The engine links to a six-speed manual transmission, making it much more fun to drive. The gearing is firm, but not too tight, and throws are sure and short. The clutch is not too loose or stiff, and has just the right amount of tension to complement shifting. A six-speed automatic as well as clutchless sequential manual gearbox (SMG) transmissions are also available.

The front and rear suspensions are comprised of nearly all aluminum components, said to improve the sedan's response to rough roads. And the winterabused roads of Cleveland proved no contest for this vehicle, as any rough patches I encountered were imperceptible. Rack-and-pinion steering features active steering that electromechanically varies the steering ratio based on speed and other driving conditions. This cuts down on steering effort when parking and taking sharp corners. Completing the ride and handling package are 18-in. alloy wheels wrapped with performance run-flat tires.

The 530i comes loaded with nearly every luxury and high-tech gadget you can imagine. One such gadget, the iDrive system, handles communication, navigation, entertainment, and climate controls. It's accessed via a 6.5-in. color monitor and an aluminum controller knob on the center console. Here is where an owner's manual would have been quite helpful. I managed to get the hang of using the knob, which can be pushed down, moved from side to side, as well as forward and backward. By week's end, I had mastered the entertainment menu, but gave up on the other areas lest I cause an accident using the controller while driving.

Our test vehicle carried several optional packages including cold weather, premium, premium sound, and sport. The premium-sound package includes 13 speakers, digital sound processing, surround-sound simulation, and a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox. The sport package features alloy wheels, performance run-flat tires, power front sport seats, sport suspension, active steering, and active roll stabilization. Other optional equipment included an electric rear sunshade, heated rear seats, and xenon headlights with adaptive light control (ALC). When the vehicle is moving forward, ALC aligns the headlights with the front wheels, guided by electronics and swiveled by small servomotors. The system also responds to vehicle speed and yaw rate, helping to see what is around corners and curves at night.

All this optional equipment doesn't come cheap. In fact, options, together with a $695 destination charge, pushed the $44,300 base price to $56,145. This is obviously not a vehicle for penny pinchers. But, putting the tedious iDrive system aside, if you want the best in performance and luxury, the BMW 530i is for you.

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