BMW’s 4WD M550i will chomp up motorways – but not British ones
How does a slightly slower, all-wheel-drive BMW M5 sound?
That’s a shorthand description of the twin-turbocharged V8 M550i. This is a pukka member of BMW’s M Performance range. Don’t waste your time looking out for it on British roads, though, because BMW UK won’t be importing it. Nor will they be bringing in the diesel-powered M550d.
Officially, the reason given is that there’s no room in the British range between the 540i xDrive and the M5. But we reckon there’s more to it than that.
Though the M550i’s 4.4-litre V8 produces a perfectly respectable 456bhp, that’s a fair way short of the M5’s 600bhp. Even so, thanks to all-wheel drive and the lower weight of the new 5 Series cars, the 550 does the 0-62mph run more quickly than the last-generation F10 M5, with a claimed time of four seconds. Standard running gear includes an eight-speed automatic transmission alongside a rear-biased all-wheel drive system that can’t be switched to rear-drive only as the M5’s can.
Price: €82,700 (not available in the UK)
Engine: 4395cc V8, twin-turbocharged petrol
Torque: 480lb ft
Gearbox: Eight-speed auto
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy: 31.7mpg
CO2 rating: 204g/km
Star of the show is the big V8 engine. It’s characterful and brawny, delivering peak torque from just 1800rpm. It will potter politely or snarl round to its 7000rpm redline, the gearbox chiming in with smart part-throttle shifting and fast gear engagements when pushing hard. On both straight-line speed and sound, it easily trumps the turbo V6 of the Mercedes-AMG E43.
The M550i isn’t quite so impressive in other aspects of the sporting saloon proposition. Rather than a slower M5, it feels more like a faster standard 5 Series – a car that, in new-gen form, is quite a ‘soft’ offering. Even with adjustable damping set to the tautest Sport mode, the M550i fights to stay in control on poor roads. Grip is high, but so is body roll. The car feels heavy up front, and the value of the steering’s accuracy is compromised by the shortage of feedback. It’s undemandingly quick, astonishingly refined on the cruise, very safe and pretty economical for the performance at 27mpg, but there’s none of the encouragement to go harder that you might expect from an ‘M’ badged car.
Naturally, all the other positive attributes of the new 5 Series are here in abundance: the superb finish of the kit-packed cabin, the smoothly functioning tech, the crystal clarity of the big display screen. Our test vehicle had the semi-autonomous CoPilot active steering system, which was impressively good on US freeway lanes. The subordinate ‘lane keeping assistant’ wasn’t anywhere near as good at detecting lane markings and was quickly disabled.
You can see a healthy market for this car in Germany, where the limit-free autobahns will be a natural stamping ground, but Britain doesn’t offer the same sort of environment or any opportunities for high-speed cruising. The M550i is more a super-fast Five for those who want the ‘M’ badge more than an actual M car. As things stand, UK fans of fast BMW saloons will either be happy enough with the existing 540i xDrive – or they wlll stretch themselves up to the M5.