Test Drive: 2008 BMW 528i

It?s not too often that I like a BMW.? Even though I drive a MINI Cooper S – a BMW design – I tend not to enjoy the driving experience in the BMW-badged cars. I think it?s because the venerable Bavarians have gone too much for the execu-tone market and too little on the sporty driving side.

So I was pleasantly surprised with the new 528i. The test car has a 6-speed manual transmission mated to BMW?s DOHC straight-6 3.0-liter engine. The clutch and shifting is light, and the engine?s 230 horsepower and? 200 lb-ft of torque provide surprisingly good power for their low numbers. I suspect BMW may be fudging those ratings down to get the number-obsessed to buy up into the 535 or 550, but that?s just a guess.

The real surprise and win for the 528i is in the steering and handling. My complaint with many BMW cars is that they feel dead and heavy – but not so the 528i. This car wants to turn, it feels as light and lively as a racecar, and it?s just a complete joy to drive. There?s plenty of power under your foot, and the good old fashioned BMW rear wheel drive gets you going with authority. This is a car I?d like to drive across the country.

Inside, let?s start with the seats. First of all, you get the good seat on both sides. None of this stupid stuff about giving the passenger a basic seat while the driver gets 10-way adjustable comfort. You can extend the thigh support (nice if you?re in the 40% of Americans taller than 5 feet 8 inches) and the seat is not too narrow if you?re a bit, um, wider than the average Bavarian. If you?re skinny, you can adjust the bolsters in so you don?t flop around. The seats are leather, heated, and generally wonderful for sport driving.

The steering wheel is fully adjustable, and the rest of the controls are standard BMW. I still don?t like the I-Drive system, though I?m getting used to it. BMW should take a look at the Cadillac or Jaguar systems for a few pointers, I think.

There?s plenty of room in the 5-series – big trunk, ample back seat, and plenty of leg and head room. Fuel economy is also quite decent at 17/27. Not bad for a proper Euro-sports sedan.

So, let?s break down the price. As tested, with cold weather package, leather, sport suspension, keyless entry and start, GPS Navigation, HD Radio, premium stereo, and destination, this 528i stickers out at $55,525.? Not horrible for what you get, but not easy for most people to swallow, either.

But the base price on the 528i is a much more reasonable $44,300. So, I?d start there and add the cold weather package (heated seats!) at $750, and the sport package (love that suspension!) at $2,800, but I think I?d leave the premium package on the shelf. I like leather, but not for $2,300. The keyless start system is overpriced at $1,000 – most manufacturers are doing that for free now. And I?d leave out the Navigation at $1,900 and the HD Radio for $500. HD is just not that much better – and the radio stations still play terrible music. I?d also skip the premium sound system. Do you really think BMW will give you a crappy stereo in the base model? Nope. That?ll save another $1200.

So, if I ordered a 528i, I?d have $3,550 in options for a total price of $47,850. That?s good – bringing a car this nice home for less than $50K. That makes a smokin? deal on a great car – which is what a BMW should be.

More from Our Auto Expert