2018 BMW 540i xDrive: Monthly Update for November 2017
by Abigail Bassett, Senior Director, Video & Social Media
Where Did We Drive It?
Last month we picked up our brand-new 2018 BMW 540i xDrive long-termer, courtesy of BMW, and this month we put on a solid 971 miles shuttling between our Santa Monica office and Orange County and Bakersfield. Most of those miles were spent sitting in traffic, but the 2018 BMW 540i xDrive was a pleasure to take on long drives to visit family and friends scattered across the state.
Staff Writer Dan Frio spent a weeklong stretch with the 540i, hustling between Orange County and the office in Santa Monica and logging 526 miles. I spent the remaining 445 miles driving from my home in the South Bay to the office with a quick one-day jaunt to a Thanksgiving dinner in Bakersfield.
The 2018 BMW 540i xDrive is a joy to drive when traffic is moving. Smooth acceleration at speed and a relatively quiet cabin make it fairly easy to converse with a passenger, take a call over the hands-free Bluetooth system or listen to music.
As Dan noted, one of his favorite parts of the 540i is the upgraded audio system. Nestled in the center stack is a 10.2-inch digital display controlled by BMW's iDrive:
"The audio system in the 540i is superb. It's a 16-speaker Harman Kardon surround system, and for $875, it's a bargain. You could spend twice that for a comparable aftermarket setup. That might get you more power output (i.e., volume) and maybe better speakers, but as a factory option, this system hollers.
"The 600-watt amplifier is enough to fend off distortion and maintain clean, detailed sound with most music, even as you twist the volume knob to infinity. I tried it with different stuff like the latest Metallica and David Bowie albums (great production, sound quality), Kendrick Lamar and Big Boi (obligatory bass testing), symphonic Mahler, and Oz Noy's swirly guitar funk. Excellent body and clarity all around, which you can further soundshape using the seven-band equalizer and iDrive control knob. There's even a cool graphical display of the EQ curve as you tweak the different frequencies.
"The system really only struggled with absurdly deep, compressed hip-hop bass tones, and that's not a huge surprise since the system offers just two 8.5-inch subwoofers under the front seats. That works for the regular bass and midbass spectrum, but it's not enough speaker mass or enclosure space to move the kind of air that hip-hop sub-bass requires. If you wanted to play your hip-hop loud and clean in the 540i, you'd want a 12-inch subwoofer in a trunk-mounted enclosure and a separate amp to power it (wondering how I can convince my colleagues that this is a worthwhile project endeavor).
"There's also an optional Bowers & Wilkins surround system. It, too, has 16 speakers but also 1,400 watts, multiple individual amp channels, dynamic EQ that uses a cabin microphone to constantly optimize sound quality, and other hi-fi nerdiness. I'm sure it's spectacular. It's also a $4,200 option. I think we made the right choice."
While the audio system in the car is pretty great, Bluetooth audio cutting out — say when you're calling your parents in Maine to wish them a happy Thanksgiving — is not so great. Everyone on the opposite end of the line had a hard time hearing anything said in the car. That made the conversation a bit frustrating for both parties and forced us to end our well wishes early.
The somewhat clunky gesture control that allows you to change the volume by waving your hand in a circle in front of the center stack also makes for an interesting experience, particularly if you are a hand-talker. More than once while chatting with my passenger, I accidentally cranked the volume by waving my hands in front of the infotainment system.
The biggest complaints I had with the 2018 BMW 540i xDrive were a few of the safety features. The lane keeping assistant is overly aggressive, waiting too long to make a correction, then overcorrecting and resulting in the ping-pong effect from one side of the lane to the other. On my drive to Bakersfield, I had to turn off the system because I got so tired of fighting it at 70 miles an hour over the Grapevine.
Additionally, the adaptive cruise control leaves something to be desired. In stop-and-go traffic it creates too much of a gap between vehicles (even when the system is cranked down to the smallest gap), then accelerates as if you're getting on the freeway when it senses the vehicle in front moving forward. I gave up on it in traffic and only used the cruise control when the road ahead was relatively clear.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
We put the 2018 BMW 540i xDrive through a variety of traffic situations, and it got an average of 15.5 mpg for November. That's pretty well below the EPA-estimated combined 23 mpg, but that's likely due to the rotten bumper-to-bumper traffic that I drive in daily.
We logged 971 miles in November and added 62.6 gallons of 91 octane in the tank. Our 15.5 mpg for the month puts it below last month's 19.5 mpg.
Average lifetime mpg: 19
EPA mpg rating: 23 combined (20 city/29 highway)
Best fill mpg: 26.4
Best range: 351.6 miles
Current odometer: 3,050 miles
Maintenance and Upkeep
"I've been driving the 540i in Comfort mode. Dabbled a bit in Sport but will save its intricacies and the individual adjustments for another drive. For now, I just want to get a good sense of how it performs in standard Comfort mode. Surprise — it performs really well. Fast. Ride feels great, the right balance of firmness and comfort. The eight-speed transmission feels a bit unnecessary, unless often traveling at autobahn speeds. If you need quick passing power, you need to grab the paddles and crack off two, three downshifts to get back into the meat of the powerband. But it's a nice thrill you can tap into every day." — Dan Frio, staff writer
"Bluetooth CarPlay! No wires, no cables. Don't have to bring one, don't have to leave one in the car. Control CarPlay functions wirelessly. Brilliant. Been waiting for this. Only problem I've found is that the display freezes up often. You'll be listening along, then glance over at the display to find that it's displaying info from a song you were listening to five minutes ago. The track advance/return function still seems to work, but no amount of switching between different sources can unstick it. Only way I found was to disconnect from CarPlay, connect to iDrive, then disconnect from iDrive and reconnect to CarPlay. An inelegant work-around. A glitch, a bug — whatever it is — it's annoying but not a buzzkill. Still great to have CarPlay functionality via Bluetooth protocol." — Dan Frio