For men and women of a certain age, the old adage to always buy the biggest engine available probably still rings true. “There’s no replacement for displacement,” say those who grew up in the muscle car era, because that used to be entirely accurate. Why buy a V6 when a V8 is an option? Well, I’m here to tell you that there are a couple of good reasons to step all the way down the ladder to a four-cylinder, at least in the case of the 2017 BMW 5 Series: Price and Performance.
After spending a week with the BMW 530i, I came to appreciate the power delivery of its turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and 8-speed automatic transmission. Calling the engine ‘adequate’ isn’t, at least in this case, damning BMW’s TwinPower Turbo with faint praise. With 248 horsepower on tap from 5,200 to 6,500 rpm and, more importantly, 258 pound-feet of torque starting at just 1,450 and continuing through 4,800 rpm, BMW’s turbo 2.0 feels plenty powerful for my daily driving duties. It’s also more than quick enough at the stoplight drag race, with a run to 60 that takes just 6 seconds flat.
The 2.0 turbo is more powerful than the last naturally aspirated straight-six you could buy in a 5 Series in America – in the engine bay of the 2011 528i – and, at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway, it’s several mpg more efficient. It’s worth pointing out that this turbo four has been available in the 5 Series since 2012, but the 2017 edition brings added refinement over the outgoing model. As much as I miss the buttery smooth performance of the old naturally aspirated six, it’s gone now, it’s not coming back anytime soon, and it wouldn’t have the kind of low-end torque that the small turbo mill effortlessly spits out anyway.
Owners would be wise to dive into BMW’s iDrive system to set up an individual profile. I found that keeping the suspension in Comfort mode while switching the steering and engine profiles into Sport mode offered the best driving experience. Leaving everything in comfort makes the 530i feel a bit too dimwitted for my tastes, but Sport mode defaults into an unnecessarily stiff ride.
Stepping up BMW’s 5 Series ladder, the 540i replaces the four-cylinder with a turbocharged six with 335 hp and 332 lb-ft. Yes, the six is more powerful, and yes it’s quicker to 60 by about a second. If you’re the type who just can’t fathom paying $60,000 or more for anything with four cylinders, go ahead and pay the extra $5,000 BMW asks for the 540 over the 530. But be aware that you’re going to drop four mpg for the privilege, according to the EPA, and that you’re still nowhere near the performance of the top-rung M550i.
If I were the one doing the ordering, I’d rather spend the extra cash on all-wheel drive and the M Sport package. Add those bits to a 530i and you’re right around the base price of the rear-wheel-drive, six-cylinder 540i.