Fast Take: 2018 BMW M550i xDrive
This 5-series is serious enough to render the current M5 a bit tame
Words by: Adam Allen
BMW has always been a bit conservative when it comes to engine output and performance figures. Even so, their quoted 0-100km/h time of four seconds flat for the new M550i certainly sounds impressive. Yet loyal Bimmerphiles know there’s always bit of sandbagging going on, and once the timing gear is strapped to the car in question the end result is reliably much quicker than BMW’s published figure. Various magazines have recorded times for the 0-100 km/h sprint from 3.8 seconds to a vertebra stressing 3.5 ticks. That, folks, is seriously fast and those acceleration times are good enough to supplant the F10 M5 as the fastest 5 series money can buy. If you want to go faster, you’ll need to wait about a year until the new M5 hits dealerships, reportedly packing more than 600 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
We know that this isn’t a full-blooded M car but rather what BMW refers to as an M Performance model. Since BMW started the slightly sub-M brand thing back in 2012, we’ve had plenty of time to get used to the pseudo ‘M’ badge gracing the decklids of cars that are certainly hotter than their regular versions but not quite up to delivering the next level performance you would expect from a full-fledged M car. While the M5 waiting in the wings promises to deliver a heaping helping of power and handling, those that might be looking for a stopgap measure until its release should find plenty to get excited about in the M550i.
Earlier in the summer, we had a chance to dip a toe into the new 5 series waters with the 540i. Wearing new duds that look an awful lot like the bigger 7 series and boasting a chassis that benefits from generous use of aluminium, BMW told us that they were trying to restore some of the driving excitement that the F10 version of the model could never quite muster. After we spent a week in the 540i, we were inclined to believe their claims- the car felt much better to drive than 5 series of recent memory, and we could see the desire to have more fun had returned. Our tester was powered by BMW’s peerless inline-six with modest horsepower and torque, but in typical BMW fashion it felt significantly more powerful than its numbers would indicate. Still, adding two extra cylinders and 1400 cc’s of displacement should do wonders to liven things up.
Step on the throttle in earnest once your buckled into the M550i’s eminently comfortable and leather swathed thrones and your definition of lively may need to be recalibrated. It leaves the line like a scalded cat and will keep storming towards the horizon until you run out of nerve. Arresting all that kinetic energy are massive brakes with blue painted calipers that are managed by a pedal that’s blessed with terrific feel. The steering could take a few pointers from the brakes, but what it lacks in chatter it makes up for in accuracy. The bottom line is that the M550i is not a track weapon. Despite that it is an absolute missile in real world driving and it serves up a gluttonous amount of speed and handling which will be much more than most people can safely deploy in day-to-day scenarios. We like to think of it as the ultimate point-and-shoot car that as a bonus features a sumptuous interior. With all occupants cocooned in glove soft leather seats bathed in the soft glow of the vivid ambient lighting, no one will be focused on the speedometer needle that twirls forcefully around the dial.
Sometimes you want to forget about indulging your Bill Auberlen fantasies and take it easy, and the M550i will embrace your request to relax. Select Comfort mode and the car untenses, wafting down the road much like its bigger 7 series stablemate. We can’t figure out how the suspension engineers managed to pull off such a creamy ride despite the 20-inch wheels and 30 series tires. It wasn’t that long ago that BMW’s shod with run flat tires offered all the ride comfort of a granite countertop, but it looks like those days are thankfully in the past and they’ve hit suspension tuning pay dirt in Munich.
The only uncouth element we found during our time in the M550i was linked to its Sport and Sport Plus settings you select using buttons mounted on the console. These days, its commonplace to have a myriad of chassis, steering, throttle and transmission settings at your disposal and the M550i’s two Sport modes which have gotten too darn frenetic for comfortable use in the city. Sure, the settings keep that potent V8 on boil but it just feels too nervous, almost a little bit forced. Happily, we discovered a workaround for this. You can modify each parameter to your hearts content and the sweet spot seems to be keeping everything in full attack mode except for the transmission- that we kept in Comfort. Right away that straining against a leash behavior went away and we were left with a perfectly calibrated Sport mode fit for everyday use.
Those with an unshakable jones for speed will wait patiently for the new M5, but many drivers will find the M550i hits the spot. For similar money you could have an Audi S6 or a Mercedes Benz E43, but both of those cost more than the Bimmer and aren’t able to muster the kind of scenery blurring output offered by the twin turbo V8. Those who lack the patience to wait until the high zoot M5 starts showing up in dealers will find the M550i xDrive does a fine job of splitting the difference in the 5-series lineup.
2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Specifications
- Price as tested: $89,650
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin turbo V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 456 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 480 @ 1,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,058 kg (4,537 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 12.1/100km (19 mpg)