Is BMW's M550i the best high-performance bargain?
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BMW M550i XDRIVE PURE
- Oodles of power and torque
- A lot of grip
- Relatively good fuel economy
- Gesture Control gimmick
- All-wheel drive makes it a heavy car
- Should it really have an M badge?
At risk of sounding like a grumpy old fart, I want to start this road test off by complaining about the unimaginative state of performance cars currently.
I get that tightening emissions regulations might mean that the days of crazy cool engines in road cars are gone, but why does everything have to have a twin-turbo V8? Once upon a time, that was something reserved for carbon fibre-clad race cars, and you would never have dreamt of these engines becoming the norm across passenger vehicles.
You can have too much of a good thing. But I still think that BMW’s M550i is the perfect application for the brand’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8. The M550i isn’t an oversized taxi, nor is it a fully fledged performance car, but it’s the essence of the M Performance range, and I think BMW’s got it just right.
The M550i xDrive is a “sleeper” in my eyes. Because it isn’t an M car, BMW hasn’t gone to town on the aesthetics, and apart from the rear spoiler, you’d be hard pressed picking it out from a line-up of normal 5 Series models. It sits a little lower and it wears bigger wheels wrapped in serious rubber, but it keeps things classy.
The model we tested was a Pure, meaning it leaves out some of the extra equipment (like the glass roof) to save weight. But it still gets four-zone climate control, an incredible Harman Kardon sound system and BMW’s full driving assistance systems.
The big V8 puts on quite a show. A massive 390kW /750Nm is sent through the eight-speed auto transmission to BMW’s all-wheel drive system. BMW quotes a 0-100km/h time of 3.8 seconds.
Make no mistake, this BMW is a fast car. But instead of sprinting to 100km/h by snapping and snarling like other German performance machines do, it’s a composed ride. Even in Sport Plus mode you won’t be reaching for the ear plugs, as the V8’s roar is muffled by the well-insulated cabin.
When you get into the twisties, it becomes clear that you’re driving a two-tonne car, but the steering remains light and direct. For the most part, the xDrive system does a good job of giving the car a rear- drive feeling, and only seems to start sending torque to the front when it senses that things are about to get sketchy at back.
Fuel economy isn’t something at the front of a buyer’s mind when considering a turbocharged V8, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the M550i isn’t overly thirsty.
Sure, planting your right foot at every green light around town will leave you over the 20l/100km mark, but that gets boring fast. On the open road, with the Eco Plus mode selected, I found that BMW’s claimed economy of 10.7l/100km wasn’t hard to hit, with that figure even dipping into single digits when in the tailwind of a sizeable vehicle. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last iteration of the 5 Series V8 without some sort of electrification, as Audi’s heavy-hitters already feature mild hybrid systems alongside the burly V8s.
Calling a $150,000 car a bargain might make me sound removed from the real world, but I genuinely think the M550i is when you put it up against its rivals. It’s around $80,000 cheaper than the M5 Competition, which offers the same torque figure (albeit much more power). It’s a similar story when you put it up against something like Audi’s RS6, which looks like a spaceship with all its aero in comparison.
The M550i isn’t a face-melting performance car, and it doesn’t want to be one either. It’s just a comfortable sedan that will get you from A to B in a very brisk manner.