Premium midsize car; Built in Germany
  • 4-door sedan
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $3,000 – $15,500*

1998 BMW 540i 4-door sedan

1998 BMW 528i 4-door sedan

1997 BMW 540i 4-door sedan

1997 BMW 5-Series interior

1997 BMW 5-Series 4-door sedan

  • Acceleration (540i, M5)
  • Build quality
  • Cargo room (wagon)
  • Quietness
  • Ride
  • Steering/handling
  • Acceleration (6-cylinder automatic)
  • Fuel economy (540i, M5)
  • Rear-seat comfort

Overall driving pleasure is a sure thing on either model, but especially the potent 540i. You get more space than a 3-Series, with almost as much agility. And the 5-Series is only a little less luxurious than the big 7-Series sedan.


Introduced in spring of 1996 as an early ’97 model, the redesigned midlevel BMW sedan showed evolutionary styling changes rather than a dramatic difference. Offered only as a sedan, wheelbase grew by 2.7 inches and overall length by 2.2 inches.The new 5-Series came in two forms: with a 6-cylinder engine as the 528i, or powered by a V8 as the 540i. Both were enlargements of the engines used in the prior 5-Series generation. The 2.8-liter, dual-overhead-camshaft 6-cylinder engine made 190 horsepower, versus 282 horsepower for the 4.4-liter V8. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard on the 528i, with 4-speed automatic optional. The 540i, in contrast could have either a 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment on both models included dual front and side airbags, antilock brakes, and traction control. Rivals include the Acura RL, Lexus GS 300, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Yearly Updates

1998 5-Series
Optional rear side airbags became available this year, and both models also gained BMW’s exclusive new Head Protection System, which consists of two tubular bags that inflate in a side impact, popping out just above each front door. A new Sport Package became optional for the 528i and the automatic-transmission 540i. The Sport Package included black body trim, a sport-tuned suspension, and 17-inch wheels and tires.
1999 5-Series
Station wagon body styles joined sedans in both 6-cylinder and V8 editions. Added as standard or optional for ’99 were brighter xenon headlights, memory for power seats and mirrors, Park Distance Control that warns of obstacles when backing up, and self-leveling rear suspension for wagons. Standard on V8 models and newly optional for 528i versions was BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control, designed to aid control in fast turns.
2000 5-Series
A high-performance M5 sedan returned to the BMW fold this year. Built in limited numbers, the M5 used a 400-horsepower V8 and came with a firmer suspension, 18-inch wheels, mandatory 6-speed manual transmission, and exclusive interior trim. Rain-sensing windshield wipers and xenon headlamps became standard (instead of optional) for the 540i, and were newly available for 528i models. The 528i versions also gained the 540i’s standard antiskid system. All models now had daytime running lights, fog lamps, and a right outside mirror that tilts down when backing up. Lower-body rear side airbags were standard on the M5, remaining optional for other models.
2001 5-Series
Two new models, the 525i sedan and wagon, were added to the lineup. Both were powered by BMW’s new-design 184-horsepower 2.5-liter inline 6-cylinder engine. The 528i wagon was dropped and the 528i sedan became a 530i with a new 3.0-liter six. Also for 2001, all models got minor cosmetic changes and a wider dashboard screen for the optional navigation system.
2002 5-Series
BMW’s midrange line made few changes this year, pending release of redesigned models for 2004. The 540i’s V8 gained 8 horsepower, bringing it up to 290 hp. All models got a standard in-dash CD player, 6-cyl models added a standard power passenger seat, and 525s replaced manual climate control with automatic.
2003 5-Series
All 6-cyl models add a standard sunroof. Standard on the manual-transmission 540i sedan and optional on other 540i models is a new Sport Package with 18-inch wheels, front spoiler, and sport suspension. 5-Series was redesigned with “different” styling and BMW’s controversial I-Drive system for 2004.


longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

A choice of two engines gives the 5-Series two different personalities. The 528i carries a dual-overhead-cam inline 6-cylinder engine, producing 190 horsepower. A 4.4-liter V8, also with overhead camshafts, sits beneath 540i hoods. Either model might have manual shift or automatic, but the 528i got a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, whereas the 540i could have either 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. For 2000, a 4.9-liter V8, making 394 horsepower, went beneath the hood of the revived M5 sedan, which came only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Added in 2001 were 525i and 525iT models with 2.5-liter I6 engines and a 530i with a 3.0-liter I6 in place of the 2.8-liter. The 540i V8 engine gained 8 horsepower, bringing it up to 290 for 2002.

dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 184
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 175
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.8/170
Engine HP 190
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 207
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/182
Engine HP 225
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 214
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic

dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.4/268
Engine HP 282-290
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 310-324
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual
5-speed automatic
dohc V8
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 4.9/303
Engine HP 394
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 368
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual



Road Test

Because the 6-cylinder engine is short on low-speed torque, it needs to reach past 3000 rpm before it can provide much zip. With an automatic transmission, the 528i gets winded while climbing hills, or when you need to pass other vehicles quickly. A test manual-transmission 530i did 0-60 mph in just 6.7 sec. Power is more than sufficient with the smooth V8 engine, which yields quick takeoffs and spirited passing with its 5-speed automatic transmission.

A 528i with manual shift averaged 20.9 mpg in a blend of hard city and highway driving. With automatic, mileage dipped to just 18.8 mpg. An automatic 540i got just under 16 mpg, despite many miles of freeway driving at moderate speeds. The 525iT wagon later averaged 17.4 mpg with automatic transmission. Both engines demand premium fuel.

Steering on either model is fluid and precise. Each model is surefooted and agile, despite a surprising amount of body lean through tight turns. The BMW’s standard suspension soaks up most bumps easily and delivers a comfortable, stable highway ride. The tighter optional sport suspension gives more jiggle and thump on imperfect surfaces.

Despite the roomier interior in this generation, a wide center console steals some space up front. Also, a large driveline tunnel divides the rear seat. That leaves real room for only four adults–not much for a car with the exterior dimensions of the 5-Series. Head and leg room are ample in the rear seat, partly because the seat cushion is low and short. Though not wide, the trunk has a long, flat floor. BMW’s take-charge driving stance is appealing, though some minor controls are bothersome. Most notably, the complicated audio/climate/trip computer display can be quite confusing at first.


Model Tested: 2001 BMW 530i sedan

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.


Acceleration - 7
Fuel Economy - 5
Ride Quality - 9
Steering/Handling - 8
Quietness - 7


Controls/Materials - 5
Room/Comfort Front - 8
Room/Comfort Rear - 6
Cargo Room - 2


Value - 7

Total: 64


4-door sedan
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
111.4 188.0 70.9 56.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
11.0 18.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 37.5 41.7 34.2
4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
111.4 188.0 70.9 56.5
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
36.5-65.2 18.5 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 37.5 41.7 34.2
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 5-Series 4-door sedan


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

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

Side Impact Test

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


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

Collision 141
Injury 71
Theft 239

Trouble Spots

Description: Due to a software error, the trip odometer resets itself after 650 miles. (1997)
Oil leak
Description: Oil and coolant leak from valley in V8 engine could be a rear main seal leaks. (1997-2001)
Rough idle
Description: Vehicles equipped with variable valve timing system (VANOS) engines may suffer engine valve jamming and varnish buildup if oil changes are extended. (1997-01)
Description: The power seats may not work because misrouted wires short out and blow the fuses (1996-97)
Description: The seat back or entire seat may move spontaneously requiring either a replacement rocker switch, control module, or both. (1997)
Description: If the sunroof does not work, it may have to be reinitialized by removing and reinstalling the fuse then holding the “tilt” button until the roof tilts twice. (1998)
Trunk latch
Description: The trunk release button may not work because the rubber seal moves and holds the switch closed. (1998)
Description: The Xenon headlights may not illuminate if the switch is turned while cranking engine. (2000)
Check-engine light
Description: Check engine light comes on indicating problems with the secondary air system caused by carbon buildup in the cylinder heads of 4.4L V8 requiring removal to clean. (2000-01)

Recall History

1997 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.
1997 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.
1998 5-Series 528i
Description: Sealing material of automatic-transmission gear position switch can develop leaks and allow water entry; may eventually result in incorrect indication of gear position.
1998 5-Series 540i
Description: Differential pinion shaft was produced without appropriate surface hardening, which can result in premature wear; would cause failure of the shaft and loss of power to rear wheels.
1999 5-Series 540i
Description: Thickness of main positive electrical cable is less than specified, making it susceptible to abrasion by attaching clip; short circuit could occur.
1999 5-Series 540i w/automatic transmission
Description: Premature wear of ring gear can occur on some cars, leading to loss of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and reverse gears.
2000 5-Series
Description: Brake-lamp switch could fail internally, remaining either in “off” or “on” position.
2000-01 5-Series M5 w/18-inch wheels
Description: Tire sidewalls may have been damaged at the manufacturer. The damaged area could weaken to the point where a sudden loss of air from the tire could occur.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


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.

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