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by Martin Sharp

It's hard to believe nearly a year has passed since BMW unveiled its daring new 5-Series. Despite the controversy about its styling, the growing number on the road shows the car has plenty of supporters.

And that following is set to increase now that a new range-topping model, the 545i, has arrived. To find out how the flagship measures up, we drove the manual version. Powered by the 4.4-litre eight-cylinder Valvetronic unit of its big brother the 745i, the newcomer has savage acceleration, doing 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds and boasting a top speed of 155mph.

On the open road, the 545i gives a sensational blend of refinement and performance. It cruises effortlessly on motorways, and has superb suspension that flattens out any surface, no matter how bumpy. Through challenging bends, the steering is accurate and there's plenty of feedback. Whether the car has enough to satisfy those who want driving thrills from their 5 remains to be seen, but it's certainly not a bad substitute until the M-badged version arrives early in 2005.

The big weakness with this model is changing gears. While the action of the lever is very smooth, the clutch lets the car down because the biting point is near the top of the pedal and makes seamless changes difficult. This leads to a fair amount of clutch-riding in heavy traffic to avoid kangaroo hops.

The longer you drive the car, the more you get used to the action of the clutch, but the 545i is hard work in town. We can't wait for the introduction of an uprated SMG semi-automatic gearbox, which is expected next year.

Frist Opinion
The flagship 545i has a superb engine under the bonnet, power delivery is very smooth and the newcomer accelerates quickly. The only real problem with the manual version is the clutch. Opting for the automatic due next year makes more sense.

At a Glance
* 545i SE offers impressive performance from V8 engine
* On sale now, priced £41,555
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Under the hood.....
 

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Discussion Starter #3
The gear shifter.....
 

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looks almost like the new 6...
 
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