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BMW 5-Series 2003 Review

This new Five is intended to be more youthful, more stylish and a much tougher.

This time it's the 5-Series, the car at the heart of the German maker's showroom contenders, that has been given the wheels-up makeover on style and substance.

The result is a car that shares the dramatic new design work already seen on the flagship 7-Series and sporty Z4, as well as taking a more refined drive into 21st-century luxury motoring.

This new Five is intended to be more youthful, more stylish and a much tougher challenger to the pace-setter E-Class from the rival Mercedes-Benz stable. It's a tough job, but BMW has decided it's a job that has to be done now.

The new Five 2 its official label in BMW-speak is E60 2 obviously has a new look, but the mechanical package includes everything from a new six-speed automatic gearbox and a second-generation iDrive computer controller to a world-first "Active Steering'' system that provides variable assistance to keep the steering lock down to 1.7 turns at any speed up to 120km/h.

All Australian cars will come with leather trim and a colour monitor in the dash, a reflection of the car's luxury position.

Not that it's really needed, because price tags from $87,400 will definitely set the tone.

There will be a full family of Fives in coming years, from the "baby'' 525i up to the "master blaster'' M5 with a grand prix-inspired V10 engine.

But BMW Australia has just begun its delivery program with the emphasis on the mid-level 530i, priced from $103,400. The 525i (from $87,400) and V8-powered 545i (from $149,000) will be added over coming months, but the M5 is still at least 18 months away.

Opening the action with the 530i gets customers into a car that has the best of the new Five without the exotic price tag of the 545i. It should be swift enough with a hi-tech, six-cylinder engine and there are plenty of options for people with fat wallets and a yen for toys, but it doesn't give uncommitted shoppers the impression the car is out of their reach.

The whole Five line-up benefits from a new-look body that is one of the most dramatic shapes on the road, as well as a cabin that's a minimalist-design delight.

There is still plenty of space for four adults 2 five will be a bit of a squeeze 2 and a second-generation take on some of the electronics previewed in the big new Seven.

The Five still has a conventional ignition key, gearlever and handbrake, while the iDrive system has been simplified and a "heads-up'' display added to the options list.

The mechanical package is much as you'd expect, with 141 to 245kW available from the various six-cylinder and V8 engines, and 245 to 450Nm of torque.

The standard luxury gear runs from alloy wheels to electric seats, windows, mirrors and steering column. And as you'd expect in any new BMW, airbags are set front, side and roof.

But BMW owners are expected to have the cash or credit for high-octane fuel.

On the road

The new Five is more refined than the cars that have worn the badge in the past.

It's not just the body. People make their own choices on what's attractive or ugly, and we prefer to concentrate on stuff we can touch, feel and measure.

Driving the new Five is much like before, apart from the Active Steering. The first 90-degree corner comes as a big shock, because the first time you turn the wheel at more than walking pace you think you're going into an unplanned U-turn. It's that dramatic.

But a few kilometres gets you adjusted, then the variable-assistance package 2 perfect for tight parking, light and easy at speed 2 is a revelation.

We think it's a big breakthrough and will provide the link to the days of "steer-by-wire'' systems similar to the commonplace "drive-by-wire'' electronic throttles used on many cars today, and the "brake-by-wire'' electronic stoppers on some Mercs.

We'll concentrate on the 530i because that's the car we drove, and because it sets the tone for the new Five.

It is very comfy and fully equipped, but doesn't flaunt it. The cabin is a masterpiece of restrained design and shows that car cockpits don't have to be loaded with buttons and gadgets to do the job. We definitely prefer it to the electronic trickery of the Seven and the overly plastic look and feel of the E-Class Benz.

But we still don't love iDrive, even if this one is smarter and simpler, though the sound system is great.

The new 530i gets along well with 170kW of power and 300Nm of torque, but it's so quiet, smooth and refined that it feels a bit slow. And it can take a while to get a response if you push the accelerator to the floor in a tall gear.

The new six-speed is a smooth shift with well-spaced ratios, we like the BMW touch-change shifter, and the brakes are great. The headlamps 2 our car had the xenon brights 2 are brilliant, the boot is big and well shaped, and the back seat is comfy with plenty of room.

But BMWs are designed to be driven, and the new Five shows its strengths everywhere from arrow-straight freeway to city backstreets and twisting country roads.

The suspension is plush and well controlled, and the car turns well and has great grip.

It is quiet and relaxing to drive.

Compared with the E-Class from Benz, it's a new type of challenger. It actually looks and feels more substantial for the first time.

There is plenty to celebrate in the new Five. It has moved on without losing its roots, it makes a new type of challenge to Mercedes, and it leaves plenty of space for coming improvements with the V8.

The M5, complete with a Formula One-inspired V10 engine, will be a cracker.

Pricing guides

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Range and Specs

540i Sport 4.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $11,200 – 16,390 2003 BMW 5 Series 2003 540i Sport Pricing and Specs
540i Executive 4.4L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $11,100 – 16,280 2003 BMW 5 Series 2003 540i Executive Pricing and Specs
530i Touring Sport 3.0L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $7,600 – 11,770 2003 BMW 5 Series 2003 530i Touring Sport Pricing and Specs
530i Touring Executive 3.0L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $7,500 – 11,550 2003 BMW 5 Series 2003 530i Touring Executive Pricing and Specs
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.