2002 BMW 5 Series 525i 4dr Sport Wagon (2.5L 6cyl 5M)
Love driving the 525 wagon. It has the utility of an SUV with better gas mileage, lower insurance rates, and great handling & performance. Always have sufficient power when needed. Originally bought the wagon for our dog (in our 20s, no kids), but now wouldn't go without a BMW wagon! Would have never expected strangers to stop us on the street complimenting a wagon, but this happens frequently. We're already planning an upgrade to the '08 535xi Sports Wagon!
Tons of space, but never feels like you're driving a large car. Seats fold down flush and have always been able to carry long & oversized purchases from IKEA, Home Depot, etc. Heated seats always nice. Cargo net behind rear seat that unrolls and secures into ceiling to keep dog in back.
Cupholders are lacking, but bought a nifty aftermarket cupholder that folds down into the center console.
Arguably the best sports sedan of its time (M5 excepted) and a classic in the making. This car is all about driver synergy and performance. You feel integrated with the machine: it does what you want, when you want. Reliability is a problem: radiator, digital displays, door seals, HVAC have all failed. Although problems are expected four years out, I never had this much trouble with Japanese cars. That being said, try finding a Japanese sedan that is as good to drive. Low profile tires and sports package make for cautious parking (but I can't blame BMW for that). Buy this car if driving experience is the priority.
Handling, power, styling, comfort, sound system.
Reliability, cupholders. That's it. I understand they fixed the cupholders with the current version.
Best car I have ever driven. Also own a CL500 and I prefer the 540 over the Merz. Great car and the only reason I would replace is if I get a 545i. Performance cannot be beat, great ergonomics. BMW really builds a car around driving. Don't get this car if you like eating or drinking in the car, that's what American cars are for.
Shorter gears should be default, although this can be overcome by shifting into Sport mode.