What it Is
BMW 5 Series Preview – Chicago Auto Show: You wouldn’t know it at first glance – or even a second or third glance – but the BMW 5 Series receives styling updates for the 2008 model year. They’re very subtle, so much so that we almost had to take BMW’s word for it that things actually had changed. The same holds true for the updated interior, which features further refinements to BMW’s iDrive system. What isn’t so subtle is what’s under the hood. Both six cylinder engines in the 5 Series are updated with more power and refinement, with the most potential for fun the addition of the twin-turbo 535i, featuring the same engine as the excellent 335i coupe.
Why it Matters
Every midsize luxury or sport sedan in existence is compared at some point to the BMW 5 Series. To say it is the benchmark for the class is an understatement. It is the leader, and has been, for about as long as we can remember. Enthusiasts don’t ask if, for example, the Lexus GS 350 is good, they ask if it’s as good as a 5 Series. Maintaining that edge is critically important for BMW, and every element in this set of updates is vital to holding its lead in the battle for hearts and minds of drivers all over the world. On the more practical side, BMW also refines its iDrive system and introduces adaptive cruise control.
What’s Under the Hood
The biggest news is under the hood this year. The 528i replaces the 525i and benefits from an improved 3.0-liter inline-six with 230 horsepower, 15 more than last year. The 530i is replaced with the 535i, powered by the twin-turbo direct injection engine from the 335i for a stout 300 hp, a solid 45 hp improvement. Finally, the 550i soldiers on with its 360 hp V8. A six-speed manual is standard, with a new six-speed automatic with an electronic gear selector lever similar to the one in the 7 Series as an option. The 535i and 550i with the Sport Package can get an entirely different six-speed Sport Automatic with paddle shifters, replacing the discontinued SMG manual transmission.
What it Looks Like
Yes, there really are styling changes to the 5 Series for 2008. For example, the headlight are fully clear now – no orange indicator lenses – with transparent glass panels covering the indicators, and chrome accents around the headlamps. The lower fascia is also very subtly revised, partly to make way for the new adaptive cruise control system. The grille is now flush with the front air dam. The taillights are also subtly revised with the same clear-glass look, augmented with LED turn signals. It’s a very subtle set of updates, which says at the very least that BMW is happy with the look of its current 5 Series and sees no reason for big changes.
The interior is also subtly revised for 2008 in the 5 Series. The interior materials have been upgraded throughout, with more extensive use of wood trim, new two-tone door panels and other detail changes. Most obvious in automatic-equipped versions is the new shifter, similar to the one in the new X5. The new adaptive cruise control features Stop & Go technology, which will bring the car to a standstill if traffic is heavy enough, and automatically maintains a safe distance from the car ahead, even in heavy traffic. There are also now six programmable memory keys for iDrive to help simplify its operation.
What BMW Says
According to BMW’s press materials: “More convincingly than any other car in its class, the BMW 5 Series combines supreme style and presence with sporting power and performance. And now the design, driving experience and superior comfort offered by the 5 Series reach a new standard of perfection. Highly attractive refinements to the exterior and significant, visible and tangible enhancement of style and sophistication in the interior accentuate the sporting, elegant character of the BMW 5 Series sedan and Sports Wagon. The premium ambience within the car’s interior is borne out by sophisticated materials, attractive colors and re-designed interior elements and controls.”
What We Think
The BMW 5 Series is one of our favorite cars, and always has been. We’re glad to see BMW staying on top of its game and updating the car where needed, but leaving the rest alone. We’re sorry to see the SMG transmission disappear, but we can understand why; left in its fully automatic mode it was jerky and not very luxurious. The exterior and interior revisions are minor and mostly ignorable, but the upgrades to the two six-cylinder engines, added technology and further refinement of the interior and iDrive are good additions. But mostly, we think we have a very good reason to pick up the phone and call BMW for a test car.