CHATHAM, Mass – BMW is credited with creating the sport sedan in the late 1960s when it dropped the two-liter M110 engine into its entry-level 2002 coupe. The German automaker has refined and expanded the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing concept throughout its range of sedans and sport-utility vehicles with a perfect example being the updated 2021 BMW 540i xDrive Sedan I experienced last week.

Since much of the world’s sedan makers have for years been basing their styling on the graceful flowing lines of BMW’s cars, the Alpine White machine seems to blend into its surroundings. Subtlety like this is a cornerstone of a proper sport sedan, but there are clues here as to the beast within thanks to the iconic kidney-shaped grill and the red calipers peeking through the spokes of the 19-inch alloy wheels.

The seventh generation of the 5 Series – slotted between the 3 Series heir to the 2002 heritage and the truly executive-level large 7 Series – was introduced in 2017 and 2021 marks a mid-cycle refresh featuring improvements in exterior and interior design, aerodynamics and technology, plus the introduction of a new 48-volt mild hybrid system. This generation of 5 Series continues to deliver cutting-edge technology and performance into the sixth decade of the series’ production.

Mild hybrid added to boost power and efficiency

The heart of the 540i is the three-liter, turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine producing 335 horsepower and 332 pounds-feet of torque which is enhanced by the mild-mild hybrid system.

The mild hybrid’s starter-generator acts like an electric drive unit that assists the engine, allowing it to operate within a more efficient range as frequently as possible and ensuring there are fewer peaks in fuel consumption. When the car is accelerating, the 48V starter-generator can offer the driver an electric boost effect that can instantly put an extra 11 hp on tap for more dynamic power delivery. The result is a sharper response off the line and quicker bursts of speed when accelerating.

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This system brings with it a revised braking system utilizing regeneration braking to recapture  energy as one means of recharging the 48V battery.

The additional deceleration generated over and above the engine braking effect is also harnessed when the brakes are applied. Originally designed for the BMW plug-in hybrid, the braking system enables the combination of electrical and mechanical deceleration to be deployed as required and with maximum efficiency.

The recuperated energy accumulating in the 48V battery is supplied to the 12V electrical system and powers the lights, steering, power windows, ventilation, audio system and seat heating. In addition, the stored energy can be used to provide additional drive power when it is fed back to the 48V starter-generator.

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Another added benefit is the system’s ability to allow the engine stop/start system to restart with the least intrusive operation I have yet experienced. Most systems are abrupt, shaking the vehicle and its occupants after restarting at an intersection (for example); not the BMW 540i!

This may be an example of the most dramatic dynamic consequence of the mild-hybrid system – you cannot tell when it is operating; it just goes about its business quietly and efficiently.

The same can be said for the 540i which, despite its abundant power coupled with silky smooth driving seduced me into consistently finding myself motoring well above the speed limits, produced between 26.4 and 28 miles per gallon of fuel economy (the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 26 mpg in combined city/highway [23/31], so I was quite pleased with my results).

The pleasure of driving a version of The Ultimate Driving Machine

This car was a dream machine to drive on a daily basis. Quiet, extremely comfortable, powerful and effortless, while providing a sense of security which enveloped driver and passengers thanks to the solidity of the vehicle, all-wheel drive and its myriad of driver assist features (ADAS) and safety equipment.

To an already surefooted suspension system, the test variant added the Dynamic Handling Package and M Sport Package. The latter included dynamic roll stabilization and automatic damper (shock absorber) control while the latter brought variable sport steering and adaptive suspension settings.

It all added up to a large four-door, five-passenger sedan (with a large trunk) that could handle any roads, from the twisting, changing camber hilly terrain just off the Atlantic Ocean to long, loping Interstate Highways. And it did it with aplomb, never feeling stressed or on the edge.

When it came to stopping the four-wheel M Sport vented disc brakes with red calipers hauled down the 540i xDrive quickly and straight. No drama, regardless of the speed. Antilock braking (ABS) and corner braking back up the mechanicals.

The extensive ADAS which BMW labels Active Driving Assistant:

o          Lane Departure warning
o          Frontal collision and pedestrian warning
o          City collision mitigation
o          Blind spot detection
o          Rear cross traffic alert
o          Rear collision preparation
o          Automatic high beams
o          Speed limit information

The test car added the Driving Assistance Plus Package:

o          Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go,
o          Extended Traffic Jam Assist for limited access highways (Level 2)
o          Lane Keeping Assistant with side-collision avoidance
o          Evasion Aid
o          Front Cross-Traffic Alert

And the Parking Assistance Package

o          Parking Assistant Plus
o          Drive Recorder
o          Active Park Distance Control
o          Surround View with 3D View

This car will really help the driver truly enjoy its capabilities.

An interior fitting this pedigree

The BMW 540i xDrive might have the soul of a sport sedan, but it is also a legitimate luxury car. Our tester came complete with16-way electrically adjustable heated/ventilated leather seating (with memory for both front seats, the driver’s including the settings for the electrically adjustable and heated steering wheel); multi-zone automatic climate control; 12.3-inch color infotainment/navigation/vehicle-control display (activated by touch, iDrive, a variety of well-designed buttons or voice); panoramic moonroof, and numerous connections for mobile devices.

The infotainment system receives Harmon Kardon audio enhancement as well as wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, both much appreciated.

I have just scratched the surface of the 2021 BMW 540i xDrive Sedan’s capabilities. There is a lot of good things packed into this medium-sized car.

Since its introduction in 1972, the BMW 5 Series has continuously built its reputation as the executive sport sedan for discerning buyers by delivering performance, modern design, comfort and technology expected from a BMW.MSRP pricing for the 2021 BMW 5 Series sedan is $54,200 for the 530i Sedan, $56,500 for the 530i xDrive Sedan, $57,200 for the 530e Sedan, $59,500 for the 530e xDrive Sedan, $59,450 for the 540i Sedan, $61,750 for the 540i xDrive Sedan and $76,800 for the M550i xDrive Sedan.

The wonderfully equipped version I sampled, which really put the emphasis on BMW’s ability to build ultimate driving machines, carried an MSRP of $77,935 (including a $995 destination charge).

The sport sedan had humble beginnings when a couple of BMW executives wanted to goose the performance of their modest entry-level coupes. Through its extensive 50-year-plus evolution since, it has not lost its connection to these roots; still going about its business with a sense of humility and reserved elegance.

If you can afford a superb, but understated car, the BMW 540i xDrive makes an excellent choice.

Next week TBR Drives the new Hyundai Sonata.