Premium midsize car; Built in Germany
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,200 – $6,800*


1990 BMW 535i 4-door sedan


1994 BMW 530i Touring 4-door wagon


1994 BMW 535i Touring 4-door wagon interior


1993 BMW 525i Touring 4-door wagon


1993 BMW 525i 4-door sedan

Pros:
  • Acceleration
  • Antilock brakes
  • Ride
  • Steering/handling
  • Brake performance
Cons:
  • Automatic-transmission performance
  • Fuel economy (V8)

These midrange BMWs are thoughtfully designed and highly capable. Few sedans can match their supple suspension, comfortable seats, and precise steering. You also get robust construction and excellent detail finish. Yet, these cars lag behind such competitors as Lexus and Infiniti in overall value.

Overview

Borrowing styling touches from the larger 7-Series, an all-new mid-range sedan debuted for 1989 on a longer wheelbase than the prior 5-Series. Two rear-drive sedans were available: the 525i with a 2.5-liter 6-cylinder engine, and the 535i, whose 3.4-liter six developed 208 horsepower. For 1990, both models had a driver-side airbag. The 535i’s interior gained more leather, plus new wood trim.

Yearly Updates

1991 5-Series
Automatic Stability Control (ASC) traction control became optional on the 535i, while the 525i gained a more powerful engine, rated at 189 horsepower. The 535i’s automatic transmission got a shorter final-drive ratio and reprogrammed management system, to produce quicker acceleration. Both models gained a standard telescoping steering wheel. The new high-performance M5 sedan carried a 310-horsepower 3.5-liter engine and 5-speed manual shift.
1992 5-Series
This season saw little more than revisions in standard equipment. A 525i Touring station wagon debuted in spring 1992 with a two-panel sunroof that opens over both the front and rear seats. Wagons feature a load-leveling suspension, and ride larger tires than the sedan.
1993 5-Series
Engines in the 525i series got variable valve timing this year, while their cabins gained standard leather and wood trim.
1994 5-Series
New V8 engines became available, in the 530i sedan and wagon, and 540i sedan. The first two got a 3.0-liter V8, rated at 215 horsepower, while the 540i benefited from a 282-horsepower, 4.0-liter. All models gained a passenger-side airbag. Two models were dropped: the 535i with its 3.4-liter 6-cylinder engine, and the limited-production M5.
1995 5-Series
A new 6-speed manual transmission could be installed in the top 540i sedan, replacing the standard 5-speed automatic unit. All 525 models switched from black to body-color lower body panels, to more closely resemble the V8 versions.
1996 5-Series
Awaiting the arrival of an all-new 1997 5-Series, BMW sold only leftover ’95s in the early part of the 1996 model year. One new model debuted: 540i Sport.

Engines

longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

A 168-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline six, as in 3-Series models, went into the 525i at first. Horsepower got a boost for 1991, to 189. For more vigor, the 535i employed a 208-horsepower, 3.4-liter six. A 5-speed manual gearbox was standard; 4-speed automatic optional. The smallest engine gained variable valve timing for 1993, with no change in horsepower but 3 extra pound-feet of torque, peaking some 500 rpm sooner. For 1994, two V8 engines became available: 3.0-liter and 215 horsepower in the 530i, or 4.0-liter with 282 horsepower in the 540i. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard in the 530i, with 5-speed automatic optional. The automatic went into all 540i models that year.

ohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 168
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 164
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
18/25
18/23
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 189
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 181-184
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
19/28
18/25
ohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.4/209
Engine HP 208
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 225
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
15/23
16/22
17.2
dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/183
Engine HP 215
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 214
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic
16/24
17/26
dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.0/243
Engine HP 282
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 295
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic
14/23
17/25
15.7

Road Test

Acceleration from the 535i is brisk, and passing power impressive, but the automatic transmission does not always cooperate. At times it changes gears too soon and is slow to downshift for passing. All 6-cylinder engines are at their best at high speeds or with a manual transmission. We averaged 16.9 mpg in an automatic 535i, and it requires premium fuel.

Handling is fluid and responsive, with ample grip and minimal body roll. The sedans ride tautly but comfortably, and noise levels are low. Stopping power is stunning, helped by all-disc antilock braking.

BMW beat the Japanese handily in suspension sophistication. That means suppleness over bumps and taut control at speed, accompanied by precise steering. Driver confidence is enhanced by the no-nonsense dashboard, supportive seats, and fine visibility. These midsize sedans seat four in comfort, five in a pinch. Rear-seat leg room is not the most generous, whereas head room is adequate all around.

Both V8 models are reasonably smooth and provide ample power at all speeds. We clocked a 540i with automatic at 7.1 seconds to 60 mph. Unfortunately, that car averaged just 15.7 mpg. Six-cylinder cars promise the same enthusiast-oriented road manners as the V8 models, but their engine trades somewhat higher gas mileage for a noticeable loss of acceleration, especially for midrange passing with automatic transmission.

Ratings

Model Tested: 1994 BMW 540i

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 7
70%
Fuel Economy - 3
30%
Ride Quality - 5
50%
Steering/Handling - 7
70%
Quietness - 5
50%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 5
50%
Room/Comfort Front - 6
60%
Room/Comfort Rear - 4
40%
Cargo Room - 4
40%

Other

Value - 5
50%

Total: 51

Specifications

4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
108.7 185.8 68.9 55.6
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
16.2 21.1 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
36.9 36.4 41.6 37.0
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
108.7 185.8 68.9 55.8
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
51.2 21.1 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
36.8 37.7 41.6 34.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1996 5-Series 4-door sedan

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Front Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 123
Injury 62
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Air conditioner
Description: Small flakes may come from the vents or a foul odor may be present when the A/C is operated. A redesigned evaporator is available to fix the problem. (1992-93)
Climate control
Description: Fuse #20 may blow repeatedly and BMW has approved replacing the original 10-amp fuse with a 15-amp fuse. (1993-94)
Dashboard lights
Description: The hazard flashers may begin flashing by themselves or the turn signals may flash at twice the normal speed due to condensation shorting out the circuit board. (1992-94)
Doors
Description: If the central locking system unlocks itself after being locked or locks itself after being unlocked, the actuators could be defective or the trunk lock may need to be adjusted. (1992-93)
Oil leak
Description: Oil and coolant leak from valley in V8 engine could be a rear main seal leaks. (1994-96)
Starter
Description: The starter may fail because it keeps running after the engine starts. The root cause is a sticking ignition switch. The whole lock and switch must be replaced. (1992-94)
Transmission slippage
Description: Transmission may slip and/or check-engine light may glow due to torque converter clutch (TCC) slipping and/or TCC solenoid failure. (1992-94)

Recall History

1990 5-Series
Description: Under certain conditions, front armrest may contact seatbelt buckle, damaging its release button.
1990-92 5-Series 535i
Description: Brake lights may fail to operate, or be on continuously.
1990-94 5-Series 525i
Description: Brake lights may fail to operate, or be on continuously.
1990-95 5-Series 525i
Description: Plastic bushing for cruise-control and throttle cables could break, causing throttle valve to remain partially open; car then might not decelerate as expected.
1990-95 5-Series
Description: Malfunction or failure of cooling system component can result in significantly increased coolant temperature and system pressure.
1991 5-Series 525/535
Description: Movement of throttle valve may be impeded, preventing car from decelerating.
1991-92 55-Series 25i/535i/M5
Description: Airbag contact-ring locking tab can break without warning, eventually causing broken wiring; airbag would then not deploy in collision, and indicator would illuminate.
1992 5-Series 525it
Description: Airbag contact-ring locking tab can break without warning, eventually causing broken wiring; airbag would then not deploy in collision, and indicator would illuminate.
1992-94 5-Series 525it
Description: Brake lights may fail to operate, or be on continuously.
1994 5-Series 530i/it, 540i
Description: Brake lights may fail to operate, or be on continuously.
1994-95 5-Series 525
Description: Double-lock mechanism can engage with key and occupants inside car.
1994-95 5-Series 530i
Description: Plastic bushing for cruise-control and throttle cables could break, causing throttle valve to remain partially open; car then might not decelerate as expected.
1996 5-Series
Description: On certain vehicles, environmental conditions may cause the front string strut plate to break and interfere with the front tires. Dealers will inspect and install a retaining clip.
1996 5-Series
Description: In some cases, long exposure to certain environmental and operation conditions could cause front spring strut plate to begin to crack, and possibly break eventually.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.