2011 BMW 550i
– Very powerful engine
– Cabin trim and features
– Ride and handling
– Very expensive
– Steering lacks feel
– Average rear legroom
The BMW 5-Series, considered by many as the benchmark luxury-sports sedan that other carmakers aspire to, entered a new phase with its 2010 redesign. On initial reflection, one could say it went back to its roots in terms of exterior design, conservative yet handsome, while going a step further from its roots in terms of sportiness, with its overkill of technology that started with the flamboyant previous-generation model. Or has the extra tech helped more than harmed?
The external styling is standard BMW, with the kidney grille and the angel-eye headlights, but other than that, it is rather generic to the point that no one gave the car a second stare, even though our car, the 550i, is as pricey as they come. It is still handsome though, with its 20-inch alloys, LED tail lamps, dual exhaust tips and perfect proportions.
On the inside, the 550i exudes every bit of the 7-Series ambience, expected, considering the new 5er is just a shortened version of the latest 7er. Again, the interior is designed to be as dull as the exterior, and yet, it is still a nice place to be in. Leathery soft-touch materials start from the dash and extend a fair way into the footwells, all over the doors and along the centre console, with black-stained wood and metallic-look trimmings lining it all to break the monotony.
Cabin space is great up front, with thick well-bolstered seats, power-adjustable in every possible way, even down to the headrests and extendable thigh supports, though our car did not have the optional butt-cooling feature. Rear legroom is merely average however, though average-sized passengers are unlikely to complain. With cup-holders front and back, various storage cubbies and a big boot, practicality is not an issue.
The gadgetry is among the best in its class, as we’ve come to expect from today’s electronics-laden Bimmers. There’s a superb CD/MP3 stereo with USB and Bluetooth, iDrive computer controlled with a rotary knob, a useable navigation system with outdated maps, some sort of internet capability that we didn’t try out, a power boot lid, a regular sunroof, cameras on three sides for an “overhead” view, parking sensors front and back, manual pull-up sunshades for the rear-side windows, a decent automatic a/c with rear vents and controls, smart keyless entry and start, tons of airbags, a heads-up display showing gauge read-outs on the windshield, an electric parking brake, an adaptive cruise control system and of course, HID headlights.
The 550i engine is the monstrous 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, making 407 hp from 5500 rpm to 6400 rpm, with 600 Nm of torque available from only 1500 rpm all the way to 4500 rpm. Mated to an 8-speed automatic and rear-wheel-drive, it’s a recipe for murder in the wrong hands, but there are enough electronic nannies to keep things in check. With some mild wheelspin, we launched the car towards a 0-100 kph run of 6 seconds flat in October weather with “super” RON98 fuel, so you can be sure you’ll outrun thugs in Chevy Camaros and wannabes in Porsche Caymans on your way to business meetings. Just leave the 8-speed manual mode alone though, as we had trouble keeping track of which gear we were in without looking at the LCD cluster. The transmission is smart enough to return a fuel economy of 13.6 litres/100 km, better than most V8 sedans.
Frankly, we believe the BMW M5 is overkill for the kind of people who’ll buy one. The 550i is more than enough car for your speed fix, even in the corners. Riding on 245/35 tyres up front and 275/30 in the back, it takes curves with the grip of a madman. Whatever little body roll that crops up is quickly quelled once the turn is over. Pump the throttle in the middle of a corner though, and the rear slides out enough to give you a stiffy. The ESP allows just enough wheelspin to keep things interesting, before reining you in. This car has the potential to be an powerful drift machine in the hands of a pro, but the artificial feel of the nicely-weighted steering, as well as its overall size and lack of a handbrake, means it isn’t a car that amateurs like us will be able to master sideways at once, even though we could manage the smaller BMW 335i just fine. For the usual grip driving in the twisties, the excellent handling is aided by adjustable suspension that becomes firmer at the press of a button, while the brakes are very strong indeed.
Switch all the electronics to “comfort” though, and the 550i becomes the luxury sedan that you damn well expected in the first place. The ride is very smooth and quiet, with no untoward floatiness, although there is always that slight tinge of firmness on some surfaces due to the low-profile runflat tyres. The car always has extra power reserves to speedily overtake at will, even when already doing 120 kph. In fact, one quirk of this car is that it has too much low-end juice, as even the slightest pedal application at crawling speeds makes it lurch forward like a bat out of hell.
The BMW 550i, though utterly inconsequential to look at now, is one hell of a sedan. It can imitate a muscle-car when you want it to, or just be a sedate limousine for your daily routine. It is very expensive, to put it mildly, but when you start thinking of it as a cheaper alternative to the M5, it starts making more sense. Unless you are Michael Schumacher or Chuck Norris, the 550i is more than enough car.
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