BMW likes to stick to what works, and not mess with what doesn’t need to be messed with. Their cars have had the same shaped grills for almost a century, they have had the four headlamps and the famous Hofmeister Kink for almost half a century. As well as having the buttons and instrumentation still light up in that soothing orange.
But over the last couple of years BMW has caught a lot of flak for their newer cars being less engaging to drive, being focused more on comfort rather than sportiness. To see if this was the case I decided to compare my personal car, a 1983 BMW 528e (E28 chassis) to a current generation 2017 BMW 540i xDrive (G30 chassis).
Completely Different Drivetrains
Starting off with the drivetrain, both cars have inline-six engines. The G30 is available in 530i and M550i guises which have four-cylinder and V8 engines respectively. The E28 was only available with inline-six engines in the United States. The 528e, which is the car I am comparing has the M20B27 also known as the “ETA” engine, greek for efficiency.
It produces a measly 120 horsepower with 170 lb-ft of torque, and the redline is at a diesel like 4500rpm. The engine is pretty torquey, producing its power down low. The car was only available in rear wheel drive, and it did 0-60 in 10.5 seconds.
Unfortunately I was unable to test my own car, but it would probably be a bit slower than that because of age. Most E28s have a 5-speed manual, however a 4-speed auto was offered as well.
The 540i sports the B58 motor which has won numerous awards, and it is the same engine which is featured in the new MK5 Toyota Supra. The engine is personally my favorite part about this car. It produces 335 horsepower stock, however BMW under rates their figures and realistically it produces a bit more than 360 horsepower at the crank.
It also has a single turbo with two scrolls. BMW markets this as “TwinPower Turbo”, which ends up confusing customers into thinking it is a twin turbo. This BMW 540i has a Dinan Sport Tune which increases PSI in the turbo. BMW says the car can do 0-60 4.7 seconds (AWD).
I have tested it with the BMW lap timer and have gotten 4.4 seconds stock. With the Dinan tune in “Race” mode I timed a 0-60 in 3.9 seconds. This car is incredibly quick, and the tune is only $350 and can be self installed within 30 minutes. Another part of this incredible acceleration is due to the ZF 8-Speed Transmission which makes shifts lightning quick. It’s not a DCT, but it comes close.
Unfortunately BMW ditched the manual option on the 5 Series a few years ago but the fast to respond paddle shifters help make up for it, and only a handful of people would think about going with a manual in this type of car.
The Driving Experience – Analog vs. Digital
The driving experience of both cars is very different. The E28 is very analogue, with heavy steering with a great amount of feedback coming through the wheel. The G30 5 Series comes with Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport modes. Each mode changes the transmissions response, as well as the weight of the steering.
In Sport mode the steering has a decent weight, but there is not much feedback so it is hard to tell what the front wheels are doing when you are carving back roads. The E28 weighs only 3,000 pounds and feels very lively. The car wants to oversteer in almost every corner due to the trailing-arm suspension older BMWs used, this setup as largely been replaced by multi links setups partly for this reason.
Driving the G30 isn’t as exciting in the bends due to the car being almost 1,000 pounds heavier than the E28 and being more isolated, but the engine and transmissions quick response slightly makes up for it. The most frustrating thing about the 540i is that it has a lot of acceleration squat, and dives under even moderate braking. It makes it seem really floaty and boat like.
Once you are up to speed, it isn’t as noticeable because you are not slowing down and accelerating as much. The G30 can still take corners way faster than the E28 due to having much better traction, however it just isn’t as engaging to drive.
On the highway, the G30 540i is incredibly quiet. No engine noise, and barely any wind noise. At 70mph it can cruise at below 1500 rpm, which is due to the 8-speed gearbox. The E28 528e on the other hand at 70mph is much louder, with a decent amount of engine noise, and a lot of wind noise due to the car being more boxy, and having less sound insulation.
Is The Classic Design The Best?
On the exterior you can see many similarities. The 3-box design, the double kidney grills, the four headlamps, as well as the Hofmeister kink. All of these are executed in a different way, but still have the same basic form. They both have one main character line running from the front, all the way to taillight like most BMW’s, however the new G30’s line splits into 2 lines and connects up to the kink.
Many people seem to think that the G30 looks dull, but I really like the way it is understated in the way it looks. The E28 is a much boxer and sharper car. Up front it has the famous “shark nose” however the U.S.-spec “diving board” bumpers kind of ruin it. Both cars are pretty understated for their time.
The interior once again has many similarities. The basic design of the instrument cluster is the same, although the G30 has a semi digital cluster. Both dashboards are very driver oriented, meaning that are angled toward the driver making access to controls easier and gives a sporty feel.
The G30 has lots of technology, including: wireless charging, gesture control, preset buttons, and the iDrive system. The car I tested was a 2017 and it did not have any of the optional safety equipment. For 2019 however, BMW has added a lot of safety equipment as standard such as lane keep assist, and pedestrian detection.
The car uses the iDrive 6 system which in my opinion beats out COMMAND from Mercedes and Audi’s MMI system. I haven’t used the new Mercedes MBUX, Audi’s new touch response MMI, or BMW’s new iDrive 7, so I cannot comment on those. The E28 is very sparse compared to the G30, the only gadgets it has is a check control panel, as well as a radio.
After thoroughly comparing these two similar, yet completely different cars I do think BMW has slightly shifted their focus from the “Ultimate Driving Machine” to something more comfort oriented. I understand that the BMW 540i is not an M car or a sports car, and that it is an executive saloon.
However, going back just two generations to the E60 you find a much more sportier drive even in the non-M variants. The new G20 3 Series seems to be winning over journalists because of its improvement driving wise over the previous F30 car. So we can hope that in 2 or 3 years when the new model comes around, BMW can remedy some of these problems to make it a more engaging car.
For now however, it is a really great luxury sedan riding on the success of its sport sedan past.