In Reply to: 540i auto vs. manual -long- posted by Norm on January 28, 2000 at 23:26:28:
: Considering buying 540i sport (6spd) but got confused after visiting edmunds.com (re: 1998 model):
: First, before I start - I know the decision is all mine and I should really drive both to see for myself. But I'd really appreciate opinions of those who have experience already to help me decide.
: Quote1: "The 540i that competed in our last comparison test suffered from a balky six-speed manual transmission. The clutch was constantly slipping between first and second gears, and it generally made our lives a driving hell in urban corridors. Nevertheless, we were impressed by the rest of the car enough to forgive this one transgression (or transmission, in this case). Still, the thought in the back of everyone's mind was, "How would an automatic perform?" Now we know. The 540i's automatic transmission is simply better than its manual counterpart. That statement is difficult to comprehend until one drives them both, but it's true."
: Quote2: "Devotees of the manual transmission and believers in its importance to sporting driving should clutch their chests, gasp deeply and sit down hard. We absolutely despised the 540išs six-speed manual. OK, take a deep breath, and wešll explain. In West Los Angeles, the car was virtually impossible to drive smoothly. Clean launches that didnšt snap passengersš necks or require excessive slipping of the clutch proved elusive. Modulating the clutch to ensure a smooth shift from first gear into second stymied our test drivers. But once in third gear, the BMW behaved in a more characteristically composed manner."
: So do you guys who have driven both manual and automatic agree? For automatic, would steptronic be a better choice? Or maybe they fixed this "problem" in '99,'00' models?
: Any opinions greatly appreciated!
I seriously considered purchasing my first slush box in years due to the mixed reviews you refer to, but was finally convinced to buy the six speed because I prefer the control and found the reviewers to be too harsh on the gearbox. I doubt there has been any revision to the car in this area since I bought mine.
The shifting does take concentration to do smoothly. The clutch is very light with a low friction point. The system is also sensitive to proper warming up, requiring that the car be fully up to temperature to get the smoothest results.
I'm guessing that the clutch delay valve (see archives) was responsible for some testers reporting that the clutch slips. It doesn't slip in normal use, but if you slam the shifter and pop the clutch there is a delay in take up. This valve can easily be removed, but mine is still in the car and it doesn't bother me. I don't speed shift anyway, as my goal is maximum longevity and sensible fun.
All this aside I think the manual is the way to go. I live in a heavy traffic city, and there are times when shifting is somewhat of a pain, but despite what your tests say, the car is very smooth and responsive in all types of driving. The reward for having the manual more than makes up for any momentary inconvenience at rush hour. I wouldn't buy the automatic, and of course, the M5 I now have on order will be a six speed too.