2003 BMW 525i Test Drive

The Queen Is Dead! Long Live The Queen

Reviewed by Eddie Wren, October 2003


When BMW introduced the first 5-Series model in 1972, it is doubtful that even they knew quite what they had invented. Now, in the Fall of 2003, the fourth generation of this excellent car has reached the end of its production line, quite literally. Whether the new, fifth-generation model will please “Bimmer” fans remains to be seen. There is already much controversy about the styling, but if BMW has produced a better successor to the 5-Series title, any quibbles about body shape will swiftly be forgotten.

We are looking back at what has proved to be a true driver’s car. The one we tested — a 2003, fourth generation model — was a 525i

“Efficiency” is a word that springs readily to mind when one climbs into a BMW. Yes, it is bright and com, portable, but it is also right there — “in your face” in the most excellent sense of the phrase.

Driving the car was a pleasure, too, but rather than go into great detail, we are going to limit ourselves to a few points:

  • The road holding was superb. Even when taken around right-angle curves at speeds one usually wouldn’t contemplate, the car followed an exact line, and the body roll was less than expected.
  • Braking firmly to a standstill from 60mph to simulate an emergency showed that the car held perfectly to its line and felt controlled throughout
  • Road noise on the partially broken pavement was slightly intrusive, but the suspension smoothed bumps and potholes nicely.
  • On uneven, slightly subsided pavement, however, the car tended to wallow like a small boat on a lake. Though, we’ve had to look very hard to find a bit of road terrible enough for this purpose for on-road tests.
  • The most significant aggravation could be that a mechanic has rectified it in just a few minutes. Thoughtful drivers ease off the brake pedal a split second before their vehicle comes to a complete stop, and this smoothes out the finish and prevents the car from jolting as it comes to a standstill. Unfortunately, on this particular car, it proved impossible to do this; the brakes “snatched” a little, at the last moment, every time.

One feature of the car which I distinctly did not like was the automatic lowering of the right-hand external mirror whenever the reverse gear was selected. The problem was not so much that the mirror tilted to give the driver a better view of the ground behind the right-hand back wheel when reversing; it was the fact that it lowered so far. The result was that I could only see the ground and nothing else. The video that comes with new “Bimmers” (or “Beamers” — choose your cultural preference) stated that this allows a driver to follow a curb, but of course, much reversing is done in parking lots and other places where there are no curbs and where people walking behind one’s car are a more critical risk. Ultimately, I learned how to stop the mirror from lowering itself by changing the L-R mirror selector switch (either way) immediately after selecting reverse. I preferred the full view, with the mirror in its normal position. No doubt some drivers might be happier with the lowered stance.


As safety is the overriding concern at the Drive and Stay Alive website, it is pleasing to write that the BMW 5-Series is no slouch regarding occupant protection.

In the Euro NCAP tests, the 5-Series scored four out of five stars for the frontal and side-impact crash rating. In reducing the injury severity for pedestrians struck by a 5-Series, however, the current model does not do very well and scores only one out of a possible four stars for its pedestrian impact rating. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how well the imminent new fifth-generation model will perform in this respect. Read the complete Euro NCAP 5-Series report here.

In “Insurance Institute for Highway Safety” (IIHS) crash testing in the USA, the 5-Series BMW scored an overall rating of ‘Good.’ Click here to read the full IIHS report.

As each report covers some partially different aspects of safety, we would suggest reading and comparing both is important.

The electronic windows in this car have an automatic “stop” function if anything interrupts their movement. Over twenty children have been killed in the USA, and more in other countries, due to electronic windows closing on them while they were playing, unwatched, in a parked car. This is something that the American government could have legislated against many years ago, but they have not yet done so. BMW (and many other European imports) have had this function for years, and it can prevent one of the most pointless and distressing accidents imaginable.

The tail lights each have a backup bulb that comes into use if a main bulb fails, and a warning light on the dash tells the driver to fit a new one. In extremis — in terrible weather, for example — not losing a tail light could make the difference between life and death.

The “little things” are also looked after in this car. For example, there was a reflective, red warning triangle stowed away neatly in the trunk — an essential safety item for breakdowns and crash scenes — and all drivers should carry at least one (but preferably three) of them. There’s also a rechargeable flashlight in the glove box, permanently ready for use — another nice touch.

The “trip computer” (a vague phrase nowadays) probably has as many functions as the average NASA spaceship.


Would I have one of these fourth-generation 5-Series BMWs myself?

Well…yes. But I have to admit to a degree of hesitation. I want to drive one of the fifth-generation models first because I suspect I’d be smitten!

The fourth-generation 5-Series has gone, so — if I may paraphrase Shakespeare — “The queen is dead. Long live the queen.” (After all, it’s uncouth to apply the male gender to desirable cars!)