Used 1997 BMW 5 Series Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1997

The 5 Series is redesigned and introduced midway through 1996 as a 1997 model. The Touring wagons are no longer available, and the 3.0-liter V8 is history. New 5 Series models can be had as a six-cylinder 528i or a V8 540i. Both models feature new engines, all-aluminum suspensions, improved brakes and available side-impact airbag protection.

Vehicle overview

It's finally here, the new BMW 5-Series. After months of waiting, BMW enthusiasts can shell out between $40,000 and $50,000 for the latest Ultimate Driving Machine. If we had the money, we would too.

There is so much new about the 1997 5-Series that it is difficult to know where to begin. The most noticeable change to passersby is the exterior, so let's start there. The overall 5-Series package remains taut and streamlined. Noticeable changes on the 1997 model include a lengthening of the hood, a shortening of the trunk and covered headlights. Perhaps the most dramatic difference is the 5-Series' new nose; the double-kidney grille is rounder than before and is now integrated into the hood. Initially our staff had a mixed reaction to the car's new appearance, but we find ourselves liking its cleaner shape and uncluttered design more and more each day. The significance of the new body, however, is not it its appearance, but rather its function. The engineers from Bavaria have created an amazingly rigid, quiet design. Even better, the '97's new sheetmetal weighs only 20 pounds more than its predecessor's while being 40 percent stiffer and 83 percent more energyabsorbent. What does this all mean for the buyer of the new 5-Series? An incredibly quiet, smooth ride, and an amazing degree of protection in the event of a crash. Hmmm, and we just thought it looked nice.

BMWs are famous for the suppleness of their ride and the responsiveness of their steering; firmness without harshness is the phrase most often bandied about our offices when discussing these cars' uncanny ability to stay connected to the road while communicating almost telepathically with the driver. The new 5-Series is no exception. Breakthrough, all-aluminum suspensions on both models reduce the vehicles' unsprung weight by 46 pounds; better allowing these cars to respond to irregularities in the road. Variable-ratio, variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering, borrowed from the M3, finds its way into the 528i. The variable-ratio steering results in a ratio that increases exponentially as the wheel is moved towards the locks; thus allowing safe, effortless high-speed correction and easy low-speed maneuvering. The 540i continues with recirculating ball, variable-assist power steering; similar to that found on the 7-Series.

The biggest news for the 5-series, of course, is found under the hood. The entry-level 5-Series gets an increased displacement, inline six-cylinder engine that really improves midrange torque. The 540i gets a more powerful 4.4-liter V8 that offers zero to 60 times in the low-sixes. The 528i is available with the five-speed manual transmission of its predecessor, suitably beefed up to handle the increased torque, but the four-speed automatic shows considerable change. Equipped with BMW's Adaptive Transmission Control, the new four-speed tracks the driver's driving style and road conditions; allowing the shift-timing to adjust accordingly. 540i models continue to be available with a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. Opt for the six-speed manual and prepare yourself for an invigorating ride; the suspension is firmed up noticeably on this lively model.

As one would expect in a top-end, luxury-sports sedan, equipment levels are first rate. Safety equipment includes: four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, nine-mph bumpers, dual airbags, standard side-impact airbags (vehicles meet the 1997 US government-mandated side-impact standards without the side airbags), three-point seatbelts at all seating positions, impact sensors that unlock the doors and activate the hazard lights in the event of a serious accident, remote keyless entry, two-step unlocking, coded driveaway protection, and a vehicle security system. To list all of the 5-Series' luxury features would take more space than we have; a few of the more noticeable ones are: automatic climate controls, power moonroof, 200-watt stereo, 10-way power front seats with power headrests, heated outside mirrors, heated steering wheel, and a right-hand outside mirror that tilts down when the car is in reverse to help drivers see curbs when parallel parking.

Yes indeed, the new 5-Series is a wonderful car. Given all of the inquiries we receive about it, you apparently think so too. If you can afford to buy one, we recommend that you do. Sure there are other great cars out there in this price range; we just think that this one's the best. Good luck, safe driving, have fun; we're sure you'll love it.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.