2020 BMW 540i Review, Release Date, Horsepower, and Refreshing. When it comes to the 2020 BMW 5 Series, the 600-horsepower M5 grabs all the headlines. It’s been that way for years. The all-wheel drive M5 is one of the world’s greatest sports sedans, and it’s a favorite with enthusiasts. When it comes to sales, most Americans that buy a new 5 Series don’t choose an M5.
Today, let’s look at the 2020 BMW 540i, one of the most popular variants in the extensive 5 Series lineup. No, it doesn’t have 600 hp like the M5, but the turbocharged 540i is incredibly powerful in its own. It also delivers the luxury, refinement, and daily comfort most buyers are looking for. The 540i is a true sports sedan in the BMW tradition, and it should grab more headlines than it does. It’s a sales success in a class that includes the Mercedes-Benz E 450, Audi A6, and Lexus GS.
Pricey and Powerful
This year, BMW has raised the price of most 5 Series models by $500. The new base price of a rear-wheel drive 2020 BMW 540i is $60,445, including a $995 destination charge. That’s about $500 more than a 2020 Mercedes E 450, which comes with standard all-wheel drive. A 540i xDrive with all-wheel drive costs about $62,745, which is around $5,000 more than the less-powerful 530i xDrive.
Under its aluminum hood is the same smooth 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder that powers the 340i and some other BMW models, including the sexy new two-seat Z4 roadster. In the 540i, it’s officially rated at 335 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque. That’s considerably less power than you get in the Mercedes E 450, but it’s widely accepted in the enthusiast community that the output of BMW’s six-cylinder is radically underrated. Many think the engine actually makes closer to 400 hp. Every 540i also gets a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a sport mode for increased response.
Thrills With Quick Acceleration
All that power and the traction of the 540i’s xDrive all-wheel drive system gives this sedan a serious punch off the line. Even at half-throttle, the 540i pins you to your seat. Full throttle is like Hyperdrive, or for you “Knight Rider” fans, pushing the Turbo Boost button. The 540i rockets down the road, showing off the engine’s impressive bottom-end torque and smooth high-rpm horsepower. At wide-open throttle, the eight-speed automatic delivers firm upshifts, and its perfect gearing keeps the acceleration coming without interruption. Keep your foot down and the 540i will ultimately touch 155 mph.
With all-wheel drive, BMW says the 540i shoots to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds, which is few tenths of a second quicker than the rear-wheel drive model. Although that’s a full second slower than the V8-powered M550i, it is quicker than the Mercedes and it’s more than a second quicker than an all-wheel drive 530i.
Stable and Secure Handling
While the M5’s all-wheel drive system actually offers a rear-wheel drive mode, the 540i’s does not. You won’t miss it. Most of the time, even in tight corners, the 540i feels like it’s rear-wheel drive. It turns so well and is so responsive that you would never know it’s also being driven by its front tires, and there aren’t any odd sensations through the steering wheel. There’s simply an incredible amount of grip on the road, which is exactly what you want.
Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional Dynamic Handling Package, which adds active roll stabilization and self-adjusting shocks to enhance the sedan’s cornering ability. Body roll is minimal, even during hard cornering, but there isn’t as much steering feel as we’ve enjoyed in some BMW’s of the past. The steering response is exceptional, however. The 540i’s high-speed stability is also extraordinary. It feels locked in at any speed on its 18-inch tires. We were also impressed by our test vehicle’s M Sport brakes, which are dressed with M badged blue calipers. They’re strong, they offer enough feel and a firm pedal, and they’re a surprisingly affordable option at just $650.
Three Modes for Adjustable Performance
Using a button on the console, drivers can select among three driving modes to suit their mood and the driving conditions. Eco Pro maximizes the sedan’s fuel economy but limits its response and performance. In Comfort, the 540i is still responsive, but it feels more like a traditional luxury sedan than a performance car, with a relaxed gait and a plush ride. Although the engine is no less potent, the response of the eight-speed automatic mellows radically. It isn’t as eager to deliver a downshift for a burst of power, and its gear changes become so smooth they’re almost undetectable.
Engage Sport mode and the sedan’s suspension becomes a bit firmer. The ride remains comfortable, but the 540i suddenly feels like it’s ready to play. Sport mode also adds weight to its steering and increases the sensitivity of its throttle. The transmission wakes up as well, holding gears longer and delivering firmer gear changes. Use the paddle shifters and it matches revs on the downshifts perfectly.
Extremely Comfortable Interior
Open the door of the 540i and you’re going to like what you see. The cabin is modern with plenty of tech on display, but it’s also warm and inviting. It does without the some of the visual candy and concept-car wizardry you get in the Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6, which may disappoint some, but we appreciate the BMW’s more traditional design. It’ll surely keep the interior from feeling dated in a few years.
The quality of the 540i’s interior materials is exceptional and it’s built beautifully. Its fit and finish are as good as cars get. The seats are firm but well-bolstered and very comfortable. Rear-seat space is about average for this class, and three fit across its backseat comfortably. BMW’s new digital gauge cluster is a bit busy, and the counterclockwise sweep of its tachometer needle takes a few days to get used to, but otherwise the 540i’s interior is ergonomically sound and enjoyably opulent. The latest version of BMW’s infotainment system is easily navigated using either the large touchscreen or a big dial and buttons on the console. Onboard Wi-Fi is standard.
Plenty of Storage Space
There’s also plenty of storage space inside the BMW’s interior. The 540i’s cabin offers a large center console bin and sizable door pockets. Its two front cupholders aren’t Big Gulp approved. They’re a bit small and questionably placed ahead of the shifter, meaning that tall drinks can interfere with or block the climate controls.
Trunk space is another big plus. With 18.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, the 2020 BMW 540i has a considerably larger trunk than the Mercedes E-Class and the Audi A6. The BMW’s rear seat also folds to expand that capacity, and it’s split 40/20/40. A power-operated trunk lid is part of the Convenience Package along with heated front seats and satellite radio.
Advanced Safety Systems
BMW does offer a long list of high-tech safety systems on the 2020 540i. Some of these are extra-cost options, which is surprising considering the $62,000 base price. Every 540i comes with a forward collision warning with low-speed forward collision mitigation, a lane-departure warning, active blind-spot detection, a rear cross-traffic alert, and daytime pedestrian detection that warns if vehicles and pedestrians are in your path.
BMW’s Active Protection System is also standard. If it detects a possible accident, it will prepare the vehicle for impact by automatically pretensioning the seat belts, closing the windows and moonroof, and activating post-crash braking, which helps avoid a secondary collision. Parking sensors and active cruise control cost extra. The BMW 5 Series is rated a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is the organization’s highest honor.
Surprising Fuel Economy
The 540i’s fuel economy is above average for this class. With or without all-wheel drive, the EPA’s fuel efficiency estimates are 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. That’s impressive considering the vehicle’s incredible performance, though the BMW’s turbocharged engine does require more-expensive premium fuel. By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz E 450 is rated 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, also on premium-fuel.
The entry-level BMW 530i, which is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder, is considerably more fuel-efficient than the six-cylinder 540i. With rear-wheel drive, the 530i’s EPA ratings are 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. BMW has discontinued the diesel-powered 540d but still offers the 530e plug-in hybrid, which is the most fuel-efficient 5 Series model.
Simply a Great Luxury Sedan
BMW has been getting beat up by some of the car enthusiast media over the last few years for building cars that just aren’t as sporty as they used to be. These critics claim BMW has lost its edge, that its cars have become too luxurious, too comfortable, and that lavishness has come at the expense of their performance and viscerally.
On some levels and in some cases, that is true. The 2020 BMW 540i hits all the marks. It checks all the boxes. It’s luxurious and pampering when you want it to be. And it performs like a true sports sedan when you put your foot down and throw it into a series of corners. If you’re looking for a luxurious and fun-to-drive four-door, the 540i is an excellent choice.