The quickest 5-Series for now
In order to survive in the automobile industry today, manufacturers have had to diversify and find niche markets (and audiences) like never before. This extra segmenting has resulted in the creation of Lexus’ F division expanding to F Sport models, as well as the addition of BMW’s “M Performance” variants.
BMW M’s chief executive Frank van Meel has said that pure M models have to satisfy rigorous criteria to be considered full blown M models. And thus these pure M models will remain limited to just a few key lines. These pure M models are also said to have to truly fulfil BMW’s motorsports philosophy.
Enter BMW’s M Performance models, offering sporty performance without necessarily being as track-ready as the pure M cars. Moreover, these “M performance” cars also help to bridge a price gap between standard BMW models and the full-fat M cars.
What is it?
OK, so the M550i is not quite the full blown BMW M5, but there is certainly no reason to sell it short. Think of it as an extremely competent 5-Series with unlimited everyday usability and comfort. There is no mistaking that this M550i has been sharpened to be much sportier, more burly, and made on the track for everyday use.
It sits slightly lower, with its Adaptive M suspension at a 0.4-inch lower ride height than a standard 5 Series. There are also automatically adjusting anti-roll bars specific to just this model.
The reputation of the 5 Series has always been that it has been an understated European midsized sedan that is a jack-of-all-trades. The M550i carries on that tradition in helping you complete your everyday mundane tasks. However, lean on the loud pedal with your right foot and it’s highly engaging enough to encourage you to take the longer way home.
Part of this winning formula is thanks to what is under the bonnet. Currently the only V8 powered 5 Series currently available for sale (till the M5 arrives), the M550i is fitted with basically the same aluminium-block V8 that powered the previous generation F10 550i.
There are two twin-scroll turbochargers, variable intake-valve lift, the ubiquitous Double VANOS system, and direct injection. Power is now at 456 hp at 6,000 rpms, and peak torque of 480 lb-ft (651Nm) at a delightfully low 1,800 rpms. This is 121 more respective horses than the turbocharged six-cylinder 540i.
How quick is it?
Zero to 60 mph flashes by in just 3.9 seconds, or roughly almost a full second quicker than the 540i. Thanks to better traction and reduced weight, the M550i is actually even slightly faster (by around two-tenths of a second) than the previous generation F10 M5.
Speaking of traction, xDrive all-wheel-drive is standard on all M550i models. M performance engineers have also equipped the M550i with launch control, allowing you to rev the engine to 3,000 rpms when you perform a brake torque. Despite the addition of xDrive, the M550i is about 100 pounds lighter than the rear-wheel-drive-only F10 M5.
Okay, there isn’t a double-clutch transmission on the M550i, but that reduces weight, costs, complexity, and the eight-speed autobox is very quick. At full throttle, it clicks off very positive and satisfying gear changes, keeping the engine revs up and exhaust noises to levels you would expect. Downshift with the steering-mounted flappy pedals and the autobox also rev matches perfectly each and every time.
It’s hard to believe that the very first E28 M5 was introduced back in 1985, which many believe invented the sports sedan segment.
Consumer tastes have changed over the years, and more and more buyers still want the look and feel of a sports sedan but without any compromises to tech and convenience gadgets, luxury, or ride quality.
This seventh generation 5 Series is blessed with an advanced chassis management system that allows the M550i to be a bit of a strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
In Comfort mode, incidentally the default setting, the suspension is plush, the steering effort light, and the engine hushed. The eight-speed automatic transmission is suitably creamy in its shifts, and the M550i is a wonderful long distance cruiser that just eats up motorway miles.
In Sport and even Sport+ mode, the ride is much less plush, at least on rougher roads, but by no means harsh. This is where BMW’s experience in chassis engineering shines. Body roll is minimal, and there is just enough to let you know what is going on at each corner of the vehicle.
Like the transmission, xDrive has also been tuned for each mode, distributing torque as the situation demands, intelligently and with a rear-wheel-drive bias.
The M550i’s exterior modifications are subtle. There is a small rear spoiler, satin finished trim pieces on the front fender vents, mirrors, grille surrounds. Look closer and you’ll also see blue-painted brake callipers featuring M badging. If you’re looking for a car that shouts “look at me, I’m special”, the M550i may be too discreet.
However, since 2012, BMW has managed to shift over 70,000 M performance vehicles worldwide. The truth is in the sales numbers and there is no doubt that the M550i will do well….at least until perhaps that M5 arrives.