30 Minutes With: The 2017 BMW 540i

Front 3/4 view of 2017 BMW 540i
The 2017 BMW 540i.
Publisher's note:  Normally, the cars you read about here at TireKicker are loaned to us by the press fleets of the various manufacturers for several days.  Seven is typical.  Occasionally, we'll get a longer period of time, and sometimes it'll only be three or four days.  Our "30 Minutes With" series are cars that we spent half an hour behind the wheel of during the just-concluded Western Automotive Journalists Media Days in Monterey, California.

Day one of Media Days is a driving program, with journalists taking cars from the staging area at Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade.  Once there, you swap cars with another journalist for the drive back, and then swap cars again once back at the Quail. Apart from an hour's lunch, this is your day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Each run is about half an hour, and driving 10 to 12 cars back-to-back-to-back gives you interesting points of reference about the next one.

My third car of the day was one of my favorite cars, the 2017 BMW 540i.

Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade map
Quail Lodge to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca via Laureles Grade (courtesy: Google Maps)
Laureles Grade is about five and a half miles of non-stop twists and turns between Carmel Valley Road and CA 68, and thus perfect for a pack of automotive journalists and some high-grade machinery.

Side 7/8ths view of 2017 BMW 540i
2017 BMW 540i.
The knock on BMW is that it has somehow lost its Ultimate Driving Machine mojo, that it's become too soft, and that its expansion into pretty much every segment of the automotive marketplace has robbed its core products of their passion.


I can't speak for the 3-series or 7-series, but the 5-series is the BMW I remember.   And, I would argue more so than other luxury/sport manufacturers (perhaps with the exception of Porsche), BMW has managed to maintain more of its brand identity as ever-increasing levels of autonomy and connectivity become critical components of contemporary automobiles.

$51,000 gets you a 530i capable of 0-60 in 6 seconds, with an EPA highway fuel economy estimate of 34 mpg.  Credit that to a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.  A very fine car and all the capability most buyers need.

But the car in the WAJ Media Days staging area was a 540i.  And for those of you who believe that all BMWs are overpriced, consider the value equation in stepping up from a 530i to a 540i.  The 540i's base price is $56,540.  The engine becomes a turbocharged 3-liter inline six (the engine BMW made its reputation on pre-turbo for its creamy smoothness and seemingly infinite power band), 0-60 drops to 4.9 seconds and the EPA highway estimate slips to a still-excellent (given the size and power involved) 30 mpg.

Not bad for an additional $5,540 investment.

Interior view of 2017 BMW 540i
2017 BMW 540i interior.
Sitting at the wheel instantly imparts the feeling of being in a world-class German sport sedan.  And for those of us who've driven a BMW on a good road before (my first time was at age 17 behind the wheel of a BMW 2002tii on a mountain road in the Eastern High Sierra of California), there's an instant login of brain to machine.

Happily, the 2017 BMW 540i did not disappoint.  As with the great BMWs I've driven in the past, it handled every twist, turn and curve of Laureles Grade with aplomb while whispering in my ear "you could take the next one about 10 miles an hour faster, Mike".  And all the while, I'm perfectly comfortable, in the perfect driving position and realizing that the car's right, I could.

As with the other cars I drove during WAJ Media Days, determining an exact price is tricky.  We weren't supplied window stickers, and half an hour, most of it spent driving a challenging road, means not enough time to dig around in the car identifying optional equipment.  What I can tell you from using the "build it" feature on BMW's website is that the Mediterranean Blue Metallic paint is a $700 option, and that beyond that, it's a guessing game.

If the paint was indeed the only option, the bottom line was $57,150.  It's possible the tab could be anywhere between that and $65,000, give or take.  And that's just fine.  Not only is it right in the zone of what a comparable Benz or Audi will cost you (and a little less or not much more than the Jaguar XE 35t we drove an hour earlier that is supposed to be a 3-series competitor), it's value for money.

BMW and Porsche are the two cars that I'll allow myself to believe I've gotten over---until I drive one again.  I'd absolutely want the 540i.