2005 BMW 545i
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

I’ve come to the conclusion that only German automakers can get away with the kind of quirky styling elements of the kind seen in the recently-redesigned 7-Series and 5-Series sedans. Imagine General Motors or Ford or Suzuki introducing a car with ‘eyebrows’ – they’d be laughed out of town. But German automobile manufacturers have such a strong, longstanding reputation for making damn good cars that not only can they can get away with it, they can convince many of us that ugly is good.

Ah yes, but it’s all in the eye of the beholder, you say. To a point. But that doesn’t explain why BMW recently toned down the styling of the 7-Series sedan, or why the new 3-Series styling has taken a less radical approach than the 5 and 7-Series did.

The funny/strange/ironic thing is that I have been seduced by the 2005 BMW 545i – or perhaps more accurately, I have been seduced by the experience of driving the 545i. Once you get behind the wheel of this surprisingly nimble, 325 horsepower V8-powered mid-sized sedan, petty styling concerns take a back seat to the thrill of its sweet 4.4 litre V8 powerplant and slick 6 speed manual transmission, its smooth journey to 100 km/h in just over six short seconds,

2005 BMW 545i
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and its supremely confident independent suspension (front double pivot strut/rear four-link) which provides excellent balance and control and a glassy smooth ride at the same time.

Then there’s the 545i’s optional ‘Active Steering’ which quickens steering response at slower speeds and provides greater stability at higher speeds. With heightened response, fewer turns lock to lock, and a tight 11.4 metre turning circle, the 545i makes even a trip to the grocery store an enjoyable point and shoot driving experience.

2005 BMW 545i
Click image to enlarge

Consider also its multitude of standard safety features: stability and traction control, big disc brakes with ABS and panic assist, front, side and curtain airbags, five adjustable head restraints, front and rear crush zones, and “Best Pick” status in frontal offset crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There’s the feeling that in the unlikely event you lose control and strike an immoveable object, you’ll come out in one piece ready to claim your insurance money and buy another BMW.

After driving the 545i, even its $77,700 price-tag doesn’t seem quite so expensive. And that extra $14,000 in options doesn’t seem quite so outrageous even though you know you didn’t pay that much for your first car.

The 545i’s driving experience clarifies the decision of Canada’s professional auto writers to name the 545i “Best New Luxury Car” in 2004 – and why its optional Active Steering was voted “Best New Technology” by the same select group of writers who just happen to drive all the 545i’s competitors as well.

2005 BMW 545i
Click image to enlarge

Occasionally, annoying little details crop up to burst the 545i driving fantasy. Fuel consumption sucks, but it sucks less than some other V8-powered luxo-sedans. Official figures are City: 14.3 L/100 km (20 m.p.g.) and Hwy 8.6 L/100 km (33 m.p.g.) and Premium unleaded is recommended.

While the interior is made of obviously expensive quality leather and plastic and wood materials, and the optional front sport seats adjust every which way that is humanly possible, the revised I-Drive system still seems more of a toy for techno geeks than a practical tool for choosing various stereo and climate functions.

Every time you start the car, a message pops up on the centre screen: “Use this system only when traffic conditions permit. Safe vehicle operation is the driver’s responsibility. For further details, see owner’s manual. I accept.” You must click on ‘Accept’ before you can use it, and after awhile, you begin to look for ways of bypassing it (you can’t).

2005 BMW 545i
Click image to enlarge

A large dial on the centre console acts as a kind of mouse for moving around the screen, and it enables you to adjust the radio, heater, navigation system and phone. The problem is that it takes numerous steps, usually two or three or four, to activate many functions which you could have managed with one turn of a dial on the dash. As well, the screen takes your eyes off the road for a longer period of time. To complicate things, some climate control functions are on the screen while some, like temperature and fan speed are controlled with dials on the dash. The screen is perfect for displaying the optional navigation system.

2005 BMW 545i

2005 BMW 545i
Click image to enlarge

Then there’s a certain question about whether you really need swivelling xenon headlights that turn with the corners, laser cruise control which automatically keeps a safe distance to the car ahead of you on the freeway, speed sensitive wipers with a rain sensor, and a tire pressure warning system.

Personally, I’d vote for the “Premium Package” which includes those multi-adjustable sport seats, ski bag pass through, Park Distance sensors to prevent dinging the bumpers, a superb Harman/Kardon sound system, and rear heated seats. The whole package is $4,500.

Whatever you think of the 545i’s styling, its unique combination of terrific handling, comfortable ride, quiet cabin, excellent acceleration, and comprehensive luxury and safety features in a four-door sedan make this a special kind of luxury car that can best be appreciated by those who love driving but need a back seat as well.

Technical Data: 2005 BMW 545i

Base price $77,700
Options $13,900 (Dynamic Handling Package Active Steering $3,700; Sport Package 18 inch alloys, sport suspension, leather sport steering wheel $2,800; Premium Package special seats, ski bag, Park Distance sensors, Harman/Kardon sound system, rear heated seats $4,500; Navigation Package $2,900)
Freight $1,795
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $93,495
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 4.4 litre V8, DOHC, 32 valves, Valvetronic
Horsepower 325 @ 6100 rpm
Torque 330 lb-ft. @ 3700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Tires 265/35R-18
Curb weight 1725 kg (3803 lb.)
Wheelbase 2888 mm (113.7 in.)
Length 4854 mm (191.1 in.)
Width 1846 mm (72.7 in.)
Height 1468 mm (57.8 in.)
Trunk capacity 520 litres (18.4 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 14.3 L/100 km (20 m.p.g.) Imperial gallons
  Hwy: 8.6 L/100 km (33 m.p.g.) Imperial gallons
Fuel type Premium unleaded
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km

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