Notes from the Road, A Personal Automotive History – Issue 13: “End of Intermission”


With the FJ the paradigm had shifted slightly to the larger vehicle side.  My wife has a really hard time driving anything bigger than a Smart Car, and as can be gleaned from these entries I strongly favor a smaller, lighter, experience, so this was an unusual development.  It was also, during this period, that we finally decided to bid farewell to our homeland of New York City and venture into the wild west (in this case, Pennsylvania).  The prospect of raising our bouncing baby bundle of female energy in the urban jungle of Brooklyn that had spawned us seemed less than ideal.  We both wanted her to grow up with some grass, trees, fresh air, and a lawn.  My career pattern had pretty much locked into a pattern of home office/on the road/customer visits, and my wife had made the choice to be a stay at home mom, so nearly anywhere in the Tri-State area was a viable option.  After exploring New Jersey, we crossed the border, discovered the Lehigh Valley region, fell in love and have been there ever since.  So with the prospect of a suburban lifestyle on the horizon, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to live on just the FJ.  The heat was on for the 911 since we would both likely be driving fairly regularly and so would both need reasonably practical vehicles.  With all of these factors in mind, and my BMW withdrawal starting to give me the shakes after a near four year hiatus, we headed out to Flemington BMW to see what the 2007 CPO landscape looked like.  Much to our surprise, in a possible moment of temporary insanity, we ended up coming home in this boat:

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Thar she blows!!!

That there is a 2004, titanium grey metallic, 545i CPO with grey leather interior and piles of options.  Price out the door in 2007 was about 35 grand with 36k miles or so.  Now technically this really wasn’t my first giant sedan experience.  At 190.6 inches, the E60 5 series was actually about 8 inches shorter than the old 89 Cougar (198.7) although both of them were significantly longer than the 183.9 inch FJ Cruiser which puts things in perspective.  So what is the “small car guy” assessment of one of the best executive cars out there?  Read on!

Build Quality, Design and Ergonomics

I must admit that the materials in the 5 series are noticeably better than the materials in the 3 series.  That isn’t to say that the 3 series is deficient in some way, it’s more that the 3 series errs on the side of being austere, durable and functional (F30 departs from this, by the way).  The 5, on the other hand, is clearly making the attempt at the Mercedes and Lexus market with softer, higher quality, leathers, richer looking vinyls, polished faux wood inserts that “fit” in this cabin better than they do in the 3, and even a nicer headliner (although honestly still not as nice as the standard fare in an equivalent Lexus or Mercedes – no suede, or even alcantara, here).   Ergonomically the 545 was instantly recognizable as a BMW and thus quite excellent.  The dash, center console, steering column and seating configuration is all quite similar to the 3 series.  This model had both iDrive and the nav pod for better or worse (I like both of these options, but I know they have their dissenters). In any event there was no difference between the 3 and 5 with these gadgets either.  The seats were comfortable and supportive (all 4 of them) and there was no shortage of creature comforts.  Power everything, dual zone climate control, heated everything; the list of standard features is a long one and this example, as I would assume is true of most 545’s, was well optioned to boot.  The ergonomics were excellent and the “drivers car” philosophy was plainly evident with great visibility,  terrific seating position, and intuitive controls (exception made for iDrive which is a love/hate affair).  Outside the car is an interesting mixed bag.  I am definitely not one of the vehement Bangle detractors. I have steadfastly avoided that bandwagon (often finding myself all alone) because I feel the man has had an enormous impact on automotive design in general, and many cars today (including fan favorites) across the industry, clearly carry at least a bit of inspiration from his original radical concepts.  That said, it really can’t be denied that the E60 is, once again, a mixed bag.  The nose and sides and rear taken as individual styling elements aren’t so bad in their own rights, and the “flame sculpting” by this point was more a subtle cue than a radical statement, but holistically something about these individual elements just doesn’t quite work.  They come together well enough that there is no real jarring clash, it is just the type of thing you can’t quite put your finger on.  Overall I liked the exterior, but unlike the E46, I never loved the design.  Fitment and paint quality was excellent, though, but on par with the three series rather than superior.

Driving Impressions

Performance wise the 545 is massively impressive.  It launches itself from a dead stop like a rocket needing only 5.4 seconds to reach 60 but feeling significantly quicker thanks to the huge low end torque from the big V8, an automatic trans setup that makes the most of 1st gear and a torque converter tuned for street starts. Once moving the big 5 somehow manages to retain that sporting BMW character.  Body roll is better than one would expect, the active steering is one of the best feeling active steering setups I’ve experienced, and the suspension strikes a perfect balance between composed in the curves and compliant around town.  It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the 545i is, in many ways, a kind of junior M5.  It’s that good and  its power plant that is second to none.  It is a big car though.  I personally found that I was never quite able to feel fully comfortable in it.  The cavernous trunk was fantastic and having plenty of room for even, ahem, heftier adults was great.  But navigating cramped city streets or packed parking lots I found myself always questioning my judgement.  That’s me though.  Anyone whose experience and sensibilities would find them viewing the 545 as an “average sized” car would almost undoubtably find it nearly perfect in every way.

Issues

No issues with the 5 series at all.  I owned her for two trouble free years before we decided she was just too big and, in that time, saw the dealer probably twice for regularly scheduled maintenance.  I got the sense that the V8 and auto trans in that car would go forever and wouldn’t be surprised to see 04 5’s ploughing deep into the 6 figures.

Conclusion

In conclusion the 545i is a phenomenal executive saloon that I recommend without reservation, but isn’t for me.  I personally prefer it to both the A6 and the E class Mercedes, but I do have that BMW bias! 🙂

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