12 Mar Car Review: 2018 BMW M550i xDrive
OK, it might not be the über BMW — the iconic M5, mother-of-all-kickass-Euro sedans — but the all-new M550i xDrive is no half-hearted effort on the part of the German automaker. The car takes the premier spot, the company proudly proclaims, as the topline performance car in the “current” 5 Series lineup. Having 455 horsepower emanating from a twin-turbocharged, 4.4-litre V8 and finding their way to all four wheels via an eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission are bona-fides worthy of the proclamation.
Still, there’s a bit of confusion going on here — or maybe it’s just me. Yes, the M550i is the champ, but only if you don’t consider the M5 to be part of the “regular” 5 Series. Here’s the official word from BMW; its M Performance Automobiles — the new M550i xDrive as well as the M240i, X4 M40i xDrive and M760i xDrive — are “exclusive products from BMW M GmbH positioned between the top-of-the-range BMW core models and the BMW M models built for maximum performance.” In other words, according to Frank van Meel, CEO of BMW M GmbH, “we develop the BMW M Performance Automobiles for customers who are seeking very sporty driving characteristics yet do not wish to sacrifice any of their BMWs everyday practicality.” Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up!
And there will be a new M5 introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. As early reports suggest, it will boast in excess of 600 horsepower and possess all-wheel drive. However, it will also likely have a price tag at least $25,000 above that of the $80,900 M550i. So, while the gearheads who live and die by performance stat minutia might proclaim the M550i as a mere pretender, those who can actually afford one — and who want a mid-sized powerhouse four-door, since not everybody dreams of owning sports cars such as the Porsche 911 — will find the newest member of M Performance in possession of a full menu of skills.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, though. The M550i, fast and furious it might be — BMW claiming just four seconds to blast from rest to 100 km/h — is not an ideal track weapon. This is not to say you can’t, just that you probably won’t find the experience overly rewarding. All the go-fast bits, mechanical and otherwise, the all-wheel-drivetrain, the comfort and convenience features and the stuff that keeps you safe and out of harm’s way add up. As in 2,058 kilograms of Bavarian beef and a front/rear weight bias of approximately 55/45 percent. That’s a lot of mass to try and change direction in a hurry.
It’s not as though the M550i wallows. Oh, mercy, no! Set the car up in Sport or Sport+ modes and barrel onto a highway on-ramp or take on a twisting bit of two-lane. It corners flatter than a pancake and your nerve will probably give out before the sedan’s grip does.
Here are a few things to consider if going out for a hoon: First, the “intelligent” xDrive AWD system splits drive power between all four wheels as the situation demands — with a rear-wheel bias. Second, the Adaptive M Sport suspension lowers ride height by 10 millimeters. Third, if you decide to bail, the M Sport brakes — with blue metallic brake calipers — offer prodigious stopping power. Brake feel and steering feel are both excellent. And in Sport+ the sound emanating from the exhaust is glorious, a deep throaty timbre (think operatic baritone) that you can listen to all day — though the Harman-Kardon sound system is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
The M Performance configuration of the eight-speed transmission’s shift modes has been tailored for even faster engagement across the V8’s entire rev range. It can also be operated using the steering wheel shift paddles or the shifter in the centre console. In Sport modes, the upshifts are lightning-quick, if occasionally abrupt, and downshifts are accompanied by a throttle blip.
Comfort and Eco Pro modes progressively turn down the car’s aggressiveness to the point it stashes away its Superman garb and becomes Clark Kent, mild-mannered sedan around town.
There’s a bunch of subtle changes to the M550i, courtesy of an M aerodynamic kit, that add a bit more muscularity to the pleasantly styled but otherwise ordinary-looking 5 Series. The kit includes a rear spoiler on the trunk lid, ostensibly to optimize the airflow around and over the car. The exterior mirror caps, kidney grille frame, the “special” M Performance design accents on the front air intake and the two air breathers on the front fenders feature an exclusive Cerium Grey metallic finish, while the trim around the windows are the high-gloss Shadow Line. An M sports exhaust system does yeoman service in amplifying the V8’s output.
Moving to the cabin, additional elements include illuminated doorsills bearing the “M550i xDrive” inscription. Standard sport seats are upholstered in black Dakota leather with blue contrast stitching (the tester was fitted with optional black/ivory Nappa leather — a nice upgrade that brightens the interior environment immensely), the latest version of the M sports steering wheel, M design floor mats and aluminum pedals.
Considering how many European test vehicles are loaded to the hilt, I believe BMW Canada show remarkable restraint in keeping the M550i’s option list to just slightly less than $9,000, meaning the tester rings in at $89,650 (before taxes and other money grabs). However, Audi’s S6 and its 450-hp turbo 4.0L V6 starts at $91,200 (and also weighs an equally stout 2,035 kilograms), so the M550i is not looking so bad by comparison. Jaguar’s XF-S AWD, the Mercedes-AMG E 43 and the Lexus GS 450h are also in the Bimmer’s price ballpark (though less powerful, if bragging rights are your thing).
There’s plenty of room for the front occupants, though taller backseat passengers might knee room a bit compromised if those up front are equally tall. Instrumentation is clear and bright and includes a head-up display to keep you informed of a variety of motoring activities.
The list of standard modern conveniences is quite comprehensive, which makes the tester’s options mostly superfluous. For instance, the $6,500 Premium package adds such fripperies as ventilated and massaging front seats, soft-close doors and ceramic controls for the iDrive and audio buttons (really?) along with the more useful 360 surround-view camera and satellite radio. And, if you’re a cautious driver, the $1,500 Advance Driver Assistance package could be worth the coin, adding driving assistant plus, steering and lane control, evasion assist, front cross-traffic alert, and active cruise control with stop-and-go lane keep assist.
Other than the fact BMW should put the M550i xDrive on a diet, the mid-sized performance sedan is a lot of cars and a lot of fun — maybe not track-worthy, but definitely capable of traversing twisting roads through hill and dale with great enthusiasm and comfort. And, unlike the upcoming M5, you don’t have to wait for one.