The black BMW 525i I tested recently was a wonder, an easy-to-appreciate machine as it whisked along the gently curving roads of California's Gold Country.
Two days later, I headed east again, this time for an event in Sacramento. Running late, I decided that a very European 75 mph was needed to get me there on time. This is a car made for driving that fast or faster on Germany's autobahns. Needless to say, I got there on time. I was happy. The car was happy.
These were the best moments in this mid-size luxury sedan. In all, I put 744 miles on the car in a week. That meant plenty of time to convince me how nice this $38,680 car -- (a base price of $34,900 plus options and other charges) -- really is. Of course, a car that sells for nearly $40,000 ought to be nice. It also was enough time to make me wonder about a few irritating design flaws.
The 2.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam, 24-valve, six-cylinder engine produces 189 horsepower. It does a good job of moving this fairly heavy sedan down the road once it reaches Euro-speed.
Until then, however, the car has a heavy feel. The engine and optional automatic transmission work well together to create smooth shifting.
Despite its size, the car handles crisply on twisting roads. It sticks to the road, and its suspension keeps everything poised. The anti-lock, four-wheel power ventilated disc brakes were firm.
With its long nose and wide rear, the wedge-shaped 525i is exhibit A in the new generation of BMW. It is more aerodynamic than in previous incarnations, but it still comes across as a fairly boxy, very European, extremely distinctive sports sedan.
Jet black is the perfect color for this car.
The 10-way power adjustable leather seats provide plenty of support and comfort, even when traveling long distances. The fold-down center armrests are a real plus. However, it's almost impossible for the driver to reach them once you're seated.
The legroom for the driver is barely adequate. For some reason, there was a lot of wasted space surrounding the gear shift.
The room in back is adequate. However, two adults and a 10-year-old proved a very crowded arrangement.
Although there's some storage in the doors, the glove box is small, and there's no space between the seats.
The heating-air conditioning wasn't designed for simple minds like mine. It seems to me that all such systems should be immediately understandable, but this one required more than a little getting used to. The first time the car fogged up, I went into a bit of panic before figuring out where to position the levers.
The gearshift isn't illuminated, so you have to check the --board display at night to make sure you're in the right gear.
There's plenty to love for gadget lovers: heated seat buttons, lighted vanity mirrors, two-stage rear-window defroster, one-touch sunroof, rear center armrests with storage compartment, separate temperature controls for driver and passenger.
The true joy is the trip computer. You can compute all the normal things such as average speed, average miles per gallon and outside temperature. You also can set a maximum mile per hour limit so that a signal will beep and a written warning will flash if you drive too fast. You also can plug in how far you are from your destination and the computer will calculate when you'll arrive based on how fast you're going.
I drove the 1991 525i a few weeks after I sampled the '92 325i. Although I'm sure the manufacturer's research shows that potential buyers of entry-level 3-series vehicles are quite different from those luxury-loving potential buyers of 5-series cars, I think that might not be true in this case.