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First drive: BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.

First drive: BMW M550i xDrive
A big V8 and xDrive all-wheel drive brings serious performance to the BMW M5 that's not an M5.

 



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BMW M550i xDrive

4 4 4 4 4

BMW fills the gap between the standard 5 Series range and the next M5 with this, the medium-hot M550i xDrive. With its turbocharged V8 engine and four-wheel drive it has devastating performance and terrific handling, but sadly the wheel's staying on the wrong side, as it's not coming here.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: BMW M550i xDrive
Price: not available in right-hand drive
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body style: four-door saloon
CO2 emissions: 204g/km (Band 191-225, 1,200 year 1, 450 thereafter)
Combined economy: 31.7mpg (8.9 litres/100km)
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.0 seconds
Power: 462hp at 5,500- to 6,000rpm
Torque: 650Nm at 1,800- to 4,750rpm
Boot space: 530 litres

What's this?

When is a BMW M5 not an M5? Well, usually when it's an Alpina, but in this case, BMW has expanded its portfolio of M Performance models to, at last, include a 5 Series. The recipe for the M550i is much like that of the M240i or, for that matter, the original M535i from the eighties. Most of the power, most of the poise, but less of the price and slightly less of the performance. A medium-heat M-car, if you will.

Mind you, medium heat is something of a relative term. The M550i xDrive is still packing a turbocharged 4.4-litre V8 engine with 462hp and a fairly significant 650Nm of torque, so clearly it's not going to be slow.

It is going to be subtle, though. The new G30 5 Series is an under-the-radar looking car at the best of times, and the M550i's M Aerodynamic body kit doesn't change that much. Yes, there are air intakes that gape a little more than standard, yes there's a gorgeous, delicate-looking Gurney Flap boot spoiler and yes there are Cerium Grey highlights around the kidney grilles and on the mirror caps and bright blue brake callipers, but this is a very understated effort. BMW has described the G30 5 Series as an athlete in a business suit, so following that logic, the M550i wears the same suit, with slightly shinier shoes and nicer cufflinks.

The cabin follows that same template. The all-digital instrument pack gets a few model-specific tweaks (looks great in normal mode, but too video-gamey in Sport for my liking) and there were gorgeous, and very comfortable, optional Mocha Nappa leather seats in our test car, but for the most part the cabin is indistinguishable from that of a well-specified 520d. The build quality is exceptionally good though, and I think it's fair to say that BMW has really caught up with Mercedes and Audi in that regard.

Underneath, xDrive four-wheel drive is standard, with a slight rear bias, and BMW has lowered the suspension by 10mm compared to a standard 5 Series. M Adaptive dampers are also standard, as well as active anti-roll bars and variable-ratio active steering. Normally, the M550i would ride on Cerium Grey 19-inch alloys, with 245/40 tyres at the front, and garden-roller 275/35s at the back, but an unseasonable cold snap in Munich during our test drive, with temperatures plummeting to below zero, meant we were running on proletarian 18-inch rims and winter tyres.

How does it drive?

Not like an M5, before you ask. Well, not like the outgoing M5 at any rate, which for all is usability, was still a very hard-core fast saloon, apt to snap the unwary sideways in wet conditions. Well, on our test drive of the M550i, we certainly had wet conditions. And freezing ones. And a touch of snow. Through all of which, the fast 5 didn't put a foot wrong, nor give us even a hint of a scare.

Does that make it inert? Far from it, although I do reckon that the steering is just a little too light and detached for true involvement (a criticism of the entire current G30 5 Series range). Even so, though, the M550i delivers a mix of capabilities that is pretty hard to match.

It starts with the lovely noises coming from the engine. A traditional V8 rumble overlaid with a metallic growl and snarl that sounds a touch Porsche-esque. And its performance is very, very senior. It will actually beat the outgoing BMW M5 in the 0-62mph sprint, clocking up a four-second run, 0.3 seconds ahead of the standard F10 M5 and a dead heat with the vaunted 30 Jahre Edition. That's despite being around 100hp down on the old M5, much of the advantage of which can be put down to the off-the-line traction of the xDrive four-wheel drive.

But it keeps going. In spite of peak power coming at a relatively low 5,500rpm, this is a V8 with very deep lungs and on a long, quiet stretch of Autobahn the M550i soon overran its winter tyres speed limiter and hit an indicated 260km/h - that's 161mph. Slightly chagrined by our exuberance, we slowed back down, but even the tiniest flex of a right foot has the M550i adding significant speed in big, meaty chunks. It's not slow.

It is comfortable though. OK, so this is an assessment made on smooth Bavarian roads, and with the benefit of smaller wheels and tyres than standard, but the M550i rides with almost limo-like smoothness, and with seemingly no penalty in terms of handling or body control. As well as the usual Comfort, Sport, and Sport Individual modes there's a 'can't make my mind up' option of Adaptive, which tweaks the dampers, throttle response etc. as appropriate to how you're driving.

Left in this mode, the M550i is a devastatingly effective cross-country missile. You can amble through towns and villages, not gathering a single sideways glance, and then open the taps as you cross the speed limit threshold, spearing across the landscape like a leather-lined F104 Starfighter. The M550i's near-perfectly judged chassis lets you maintain that speed, and even the too-light steering comes out to play, proving accurate and fast, if not full of feel. Only on one corner - a fast right-left-right flick over a crest, did the M550i feel nervous, just allowing a small shimmy as the suspension reached the limits of its ability. Does that faint, momentary motion leave room for the new M5 to make its authority known? We shall see...

Verdict

The only problem with all this is that you can't have one. BMW has said that there are no plans for right-hand-drive production of the M550i, and so we'll just have to live with the yawning chasm that lies between a standard 5 Series and the incoming new M5. Which is a shame. True, it would only be a very niche market, but the M550i's broad-spectrum of abilities, its mix of performance and comfort, its sledgehammer in a velvet-lined suitcase mien, would all make a great addition to the BMW line-up. Looks like we'll have to just buy an Alpina after all...

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Neil Briscoe - 28 Apr 2017









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2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.

2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.2017 BMW M550i xDrive. Image by BMW.








 

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