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Week at the Wheel: BMW 550i Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.

Week at the Wheel: BMW 550i Gran Turismo
Looking for a niche within a niche within a maker? Look no further than the almighty BMW 5 Series GT in twin-turbo V8 form.

 



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| Week at the Wheel | BMW 550i Gran Turismo |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

The rabbit in the GT's hat is actually in its backside... ok, so that makes no sense. It's got a trick-hinged boot, basically, in the style of the Skoda Superb, which allows it to be opened like a hatchback or a saloon. It seems like a gimmick at first, but it's actually very handy when you're loading small things because lifting the full tailgate is like lifting the Christmas tree into the loft. Unfortunately, there's a huge black area concealing the hinges at either side of the rear screen, resulting in appalling visibility.

But the boot is massive, as is the amount of leg and headroom - front and rear. Think what you like about the looks (first impressions usually begin with "what the..."), but underneath the 'half-SUV, half-fastback' shape is a package that offers 7 Series equalling space at a much lower price. You can specify either a normal back bench or, as was the case in our test car, two fully adjustable rear chairs. The latter makes more sense in this application. Whatever you choose, the rear bulkhead separating the boot from the passenger space folds flat at the press of a button, making this as practical as a giant hatchback should be.

Up front the cabin previews the next 5 Series (due next year) and is remarkably similar in style and quality to the Seven. In the GT it's angled upwards slightly to aid the feeling of the higher driving position, called 'semi-command' by BMW. Unsurprisingly, the quality is flawless across every surface and the ambience top-notch - especially at night, when certain surfaces are illuminated with a lovely warm orange glow.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

It was out of a sense of deviant curiosity rather than journalistic integrity that we chose to take a 550i for a week when it will be a very small seller indeed (though in our defence, we've recently driven the 530d GT and 535i GT, so this completes the range). The 550i is powered by a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine with 407bhp and 442lb.ft of torque - the latter produced at just 1,750rpm, which despite battling with 2,135kg of hatchback manages to post a 5.5-second sprint to 62mph. Wherever you happen to find yourself in the rev range, the 550i just goes and goes, all the while emitting a muted V8 thrum. Devastatingly quick, incongruously serene.

The engine is linked to BMW's new eight-speed automatic transmission. Does it need that many cogs? Probably not, but it's done for economy's sake, in which case we dread to think how a five-, six- or seven-speeder would manage given that our economy never went close to touching the twenties. Regardless, it's still a highly accomplished gearbox, albeit one that's better suited to a good workout than a lazy stroll. Floor the throttle and the eight ratios work together with sharp harmony; in full auto mode it's brilliant at deciding the best gear and switching to it instantly. However, at town speeds, especially shifting downwards, it can be slightly jerky, making you all-too-aware that there's a lot of changing happening.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

While the 550i GT offers crushing pace, it's still set up like the rest of the range - with comfort and calmness as its main goals. The suspension is active, switchable between Sport, Dynamic and normal. The floaty 'comfort' setting of the launch cars we drove recently has gone, which is no loss because in normal mode the car rides over all surfaces with enough dismissive, self-levelling composure to satisfy even the pickiest businessman, minor celebrity or hen partygoer. It's one of the best-riding cars BMW has made, and mostly a match for the 7 Series.

That setup, combined with the GT's ship-like proportions and kerb weight, mean that even with its remarkable turn of speed, sharp steering and almighty brakes, it always feels like you're battling with the laws of physics. It grips as hard as any BMW, but it's far better on fast, sweeping roads that it is through tighter corners, in which the sheer scale of weight transfer can unsettle the chassis. Ultimately, it handles better than it should, but its pace is better enjoyed in straight line bursts.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

There are two ways of looking at this particular GT - it's either an outrageously expensive 5 Series, or it's a very fast and well equipped BMW limo, and therefore reasonably priced. We settle in the latter of those camps in this one, but make your own mind up...

This 550i GT Executive is 53,490. A 750i is 65,885 and a 550i SE saloon is 45,960. So, the GT sits nicely in the middle of the normal 5 Series (which is soon to be replaced), and the maker's fully-fledged flagship. We've already mentioned that the space on offer is similar to the Seven's, and the GT's hatch makes it more practical. It of course doesn't have the prestige of the Seven (and that prestige will diminish further when the new and similarly faced Five appears next year), but it's loaded with kit. Our test car came with the eight-speed 'box and adaptive chassis as standard, as well as leather, iDrive, parking sensors, cruise control, and 19-inch rims to name but a few niceties.

And so to economy - are you kidding? Don't buy this car if you're in any way concerned with fuel economy. We collected our test car from Wick in Scotland and never averaged more than 15mpg on the way back - granted, mostly on B-roads. Still, throughout the week even its official combined consumption figure of 25.2mpg seemed wildly optimistic.

Overall: star star star star star

Having a GT 'at home' so close to driving it on foreign soil at launch hasn't diminished our slightly twisted love for the big, ugly GT - it's still spacious, comfortable and good to drive. However, its sheer size and awful turning circle make it infuriatingly challenging during day-to-day chores like manoeuvring in shopping centre multi-storey car parks - so you should think about that before committing to buy. It's hardly stealthy, but nobody will expect the 550i GT to be capable of the type of performance it is, which makes it an intriguing performance car for the well-heeled family man looking for an alternative to the usual SUV suspects.

Still, the 530d is the GT we have to recommend, obviously.

Mark Nichol - 13 Nov 2009









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2009 BMW 5 Series specifications: (550i Executive)
Price: 53,490 on-the-road.
0-62mph: 5.5 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 25.2mpg
Emissions: 263g/km
Kerb weight: 2135kg

Full technical specifications

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.



2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 

2009 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. Image by Mark Nichol.
 






 

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