1983 E28 528e vs 2017 G30 540i
The BMW 5 series has roots dating back to the early 1970s in the E12 model. From the original model to present day, design elements such as the kidney grill, double round headlights, orange instrumentation glow, and Hofmeister Kink are still found on 5 series models nearly half a century later.
Present day BMW models have been getting a reputation for becoming less engaging, luxury-focused and less driver oriented. To test the validity of this notion, I decided to compare my personal car, a 1983 528e (E28 chassis) to a current generation 2017 540i xDrive (G30 chassis).
E28 528e engine basics
Both 528e and 540i models in comparison feature an inline 6 engine. The G30 is also available in 530i, and M550i versions which feature an inline 4 cylinder and V8 engine configurations respectively. The US spec E28 was only available with I6 engines. The 528e, which is the car I am comparing, houses the M20B27 also known as the “ETA” engine, greek for efficiency. This motor produces a modest 120 horsepower with 170 lb-ft of torque, and the redline is at a diesel-like 4500rpm. The lack of engine power is made up by its low-end torque. The E28 model was only available in rear wheel drive, and was capable of 0 - 60 mph in 10.5 seconds. The E28 houses a 5-speed manual transmission, in lieu of the optional 4-speed automatic transmission.
G30 540i engine basics
The G30 540i houses my favorite part out the G30, the B58B30 motor. This motor produces 335hp and 332lb-ft of torque. BMW has a reputation for underrating their performance figures and real-life testing has seen this engine output nearly 360hp. This engine has won numerous awards such as making Ward’s top 10 engine list in 2017. Unlike the inline 6 cylinder found in the E28, this G30 features a single turbo. BMW deceptively markets this as “TwinPower Turbo”, which ends up tricking customers into thinking it is a twin turbo (see our explanation on this topic HERE).
This particular G30 540i has a Dinan Sport Tune which increases boost in the turbo. BMW says the car will sprint 0 - 60mph in 4.7 seconds (AWD) while I have personally tested 4.4 seconds in stock form. With the Dinan tune in “Race” mode, I timed a 0 - 60mph in 3.9 seconds, a substantial increase in performance. The Dinan tune is only $350 and can be self-installed within 30 minutes, a highly recommended upgrade. A major contributor to this incredible acceleration is due to the ZF 8 Speed Transmission which makes shifts lightning quick. Although not a DCT, the shift times are nearly as quick. Unfortunately, BMW does not offer the G30 in a manual transmission.
How do the E28 and G30 steering compare?
The driving experience of both cars are very different. The E28 is very analog, most noticeably with mechanical hydraulic steering offering a great amount of feedback through the steering wheel. You can feel the imperfections in the road travel from the wheels through to the steering wheel and then into your fingertips. The G30 offers Eco Pro, Comfort, and Sport driving modes. Each mode not only changes the shift response but also the weight of the steering. In sport mode, the steering has a decent weight, but there is little feedback from the electric steering rack while carving back roads. This is a common complaint on most all newer BMW models. The new electric steering racks are great for efficient since the engine is not powering the hydraulic pump, but the tradeoff is lack of feel through the steering wheel.
How do the E28 and G30 handling compare?
The E28 weighs only 3,000 pounds and feels very nimble, the car wants to oversteer in almost every corner partly due to the trailing-arm suspension design. Modern BMWs have replaced this older design with multi-link setups to offer more safety and reduce oversteer. Driving the G30 is less exciting in the bends due to the car being almost 1,000 pounds heavier than the E28. The trade-off is the G30’s engine power, torque and shift response. The most frustrating thing about the 540i is that it has a noticeable acceleration squat and suspension dive under moderate braking. The G30 is capable of out handling the E28 in the corners due to increased grip, however, as a whole, the G30 is less engaging to drive.
How do the E28 and G30 cabin noise compare?
On the highway, the G30 is incredibly quiet. Little to no engine or wind noise makes its way into the cabin offering a peaceful and relaxing environment to be in. At 70mph the engine sits 1500 rpm, thanks to the 8-speed gearbox. The E28 in comparison at 70mph is much louder, with a decent amount of engine, wind and road noise. The boxier, less aerodynamic design and less sound insulation contribute to this characteristic of the E28.
How do the E28 and G30 exterior designs compare?
On the exterior you can see many similarities between the two models. The 3 box design, the double kidney grills, the four headlamps, as well as the Hofmeister kink can be found on both. All of these iconic features executed in a unique way, but still recognizable in their basic form. They both have a main character line running from the front quarter panel all the way to taillight like most BMW models. Uniquely on the G30, the character line twists and splits into two meeting up to the Hofmeister kink. Many people seem to think that the G30 looks dull, but I really like the understated looks. At a closer look, the G30 features subtle design elements which add to a refined look.
The E28 is classic European 80s styling, a much boxer design with sharper lines. Up front is the famous “shark nose” grill which is angled forward, projecting an aggressive look. The grill houses the iconic dual round headlights for the high and low beams. The US spec “diving board” bumpers are a bit distracting and take away from the natural beauty of the body lines.
How do the E28 and G30 interior designs compare?
The interior of the two models have many similarities like the exterior. The basic design and layout of the instrument cluster are the same, although the G30 has a semi-digital cluster. Both dashboards are very driver-oriented, with the center console angled toward the driver. This allows for an ergonomic design accessing the controls as well as a visually aggressive feel.
The G30 features the latest technology, including: wireless charging, gesture control, preset / programmable buttons, and the latest iDrive system. The car I tested was a 2017 and it does not have optional safety equipment found on later models. For the 2019 model, BMW has added new safety equipment as standards such as lane assist and pedestrian detection. The G30 uses the iDrive 6 system, which in my opinion, beats out COMMAND from Mercedes and Audi’s MMI system for its ease of intuitive use and layout. I haven’t used the new Mercedes MBUX, Audi’s new touch response MMI, or BMW’s new iDrive 7, so I cannot comment on those in comparison. The E28 is very sparse compared to the G30, the only gadgets it has is a check control panel which offers the driver alerts on system faults for brake fluid, coolant, engine oil level and burnt out light bulbs. A real-time fuel consumption dial can be found under the tachometer.
I feel BMW has shifted their 5 series focus from the “Ultimate Driving Machine” to a more comfort-oriented vehicle. I understand that the 540i is not an M car or a sports car and that it is an executive saloon. However, going back just two generations to the E60 you find a much more sporty drive in the non M variants compared to this G30 model. The latest G20 3 Series seems to be winning over journalists because of its improved driving characteristics over the previous F30 car. One can hope that in 2 or 3 years when the G30 mid-cycle refresh occurs, BMW will have remedied some of the numbness to make it a more of an engaging car. For now, the G30 sits as an excellent luxury sedan riding on the success of its E28 sports sedan past.
Article review and photos by Ujjwal Rathore