2018 BMW M550i xDrive Sedan – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



OK, I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.

A fun game we enthusiasts play – win the big Powerball, and what would you drive? An exotic? Classic muscle car? An Opel GT with a 5.0-liter V8 and fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror? The mind boggles.

Allow us a recco for a daily driver – the BMW M550i xDrive.  Why?

It’s beautiful – in a tasteful way.

The 5-series was restyled for the 2017 model year, and the change was evolutionary – not a big surprise for BMW’s popular mid-level executive express. Having sold 7.9 million 5’ers over 6 generations, they know what works.

BMW has long liked to do the Papa Bear, Mama Bear, Baby Bear scenario with their sedans, with similar looks offered in a variety of sizes – all you have to do is find the one that’s just right.

Looking a bit like its smaller 3-series sibling as well as its 7-series big brother, the 5 is proof that being the middle child can be happy. New LED lamps front and rear help keep the design looking fresh, with crisp, conservative lines ruling the day. Being a 550M our tester got the M Sport treatment, with more aggressive front and rear fascia, and sculpted rocker panels. Our tester wore a restrained Mediterranean Blue Metallic exterior, and crouched just a little menacingly over 19” M light Alloy Wheels.

The net effect is that you know you’re looking at something beautifully made, and certainly expensive, but it’s not overdone or shouty. We got many thumbs up and no other extended digits in our testing. Win-win by us.

It’s even tastier on the inside.

Imagine the challenge of the poor BMW designers – make the new 5 feel fresh and modern and high-tech, but don’t scare away any of the current owners while you’re at it, ok?

More than OK, the new 5 seduces occupants in a big way. On our tester, that started with a beautiful Cognac Dakota leather that was a rich contrast to the blue exterior. Add in contrasting stitching, Fineline Cove Matte Wood Trim and perforated aluminum covers on the Bowers and Wilkins audio speakers, and it’s stunning. At night, the speakers light up, along with Ambience lighting that surrounds the cockpit in a cool, blue glow.

Plop down into the multi-contour front seats, and all is right in the world. BMW makes some of the best sport/luxury seats in the world, and it’s easy to find that just-right blend of support and comfort. Reach out, and the fat, leather-wrapped, 3-spoke M division steering wheel feels like it was made just for your hands.

Nice.

The large mostly-digital gauges look like analog BMW units, and are superbly clear, somehow managing to bridge traditional with high-tech. We like that – for many a M550i is a lifetime achievement reward – you want the latest, but you also want that traditional BMW feel.

Which in no way means they scrimped on the jaw-dropping tech. One of those mandible movers is Gesture Control, which premiered recently in the larger sibling 7-series. A simple movement of the hands or fingers is detected by a 3D sensor in the center console, and translated into commands. Pointing at the screen with index finger accepts an incoming call. A swiping motion rejects it. Trace a circle with the index finger adjusts audio volume, while you can zoom in our out on the navi map by separating or pulling together thumb and index finger. You can even custom design signals – like a “victory” sign to start home guidance on navigation, or skipping a track on a playlist. Crazy, but cool.

More familiar is the iDrive Controller. BMW was one of the first to create a simple interface for all your info-tainment needs, and the years of experience show up in a system that offers an incredible amount of info, but is simple and easy to use, even for first timers.

While we like to be in the driver’s seat, the new 5 also does a solid for you back seaters, with a noticeably larger rear seat – plenty of room for 3 adults. With the fold down center armrest with pass-through you’ve got easy access and room for longer items. Even the trunk is larger now.

But is the driving experience Ultimate?

Oh yes…If the 5 had just its good looks and swanky interior, it would have been a fine new model. But it’s the driving experience of M550i that makes you want break the piggy bank. Under the shiny roundel is the familiar twin-turbo V8 that powered the previous model. Power is up to a staggering 456 horsepower, and equally impressive 480 lb.-ft. of torque coming in at just 1800 rpm.

It makes its presence known immediately. Start it up and there’s a solid whump! And the V8 idles with a deep menacing burble. Leave it in normal mode, and you’re aware of the engine but its subdued and silky. Toggle over to Sport + mode and a valve in the exhaust gives a snarl that will raise the hairs on your arm.

 

And that’s a good warmup for your body, because combined with its 8-speed automatic and standard xDrive all-wheel-drive the M550i is fast. Ridiculously fast. Astonishingly fast. 0-60 comes up in under 4 seconds. To put that in perspective it’s a dead heat with an M4 coupe, which is much lighter and much more focused.

Throw it into a turn and the steering reads true – BMW is finally figuring out how to tune electric power steering to match the good old hydraulic types. The grip is phenomenal, and you’re never really aware this is an all-wheel drive setup – it just feels like a wonderfully balanced rear driver. Superb.

Better than superb, even. Because the Adaptive M suspension not only gives you the wonderful sport sedan dynamics, take it out of Sport+ and the M550i softens up into a hushed, compliant – but never sloppy – luxury sedan. Two awesome cars in one?  That’s gotta cost you, huh?

Is it going to cost me, huh?

Well, you know we have to bite our lip when we call a vehicle like the M550i a bargain – especially since we’ll need to win big to swing one – but it is.

If you love only the look, the 530i starts at $52,650. Fairly priced in its segment against the Lexus, Audi, and Mercedes that are all vying for you luxury dollar. Like all BMW’s, you get a large and tempting menu of choices to add on.

 

A little slice of heaven like our tester starts at a loftier $72,100. Ours included the Cold Weather Package ($800), Driving Assistance and Driving Assistance Plus Packages ($1,700 each), Dynamic Handling Package ($3,600), Executive Package ($1,200), and Parking Assistance Package ($700) add in Destination ($995) and you get a grand total of $86,685.

No small amount – but let’s look at the big picture. There’s only one 5 that’s faster, the M5 sedan, and it starts at $102,600. The only E class that competes with the M550i is an AMG E63S. It’s faster than the M550i, but not that much – and starts at $104,400 On the Audi front the story is similar.

You’re going to need an RS7 to run with our tester, and it starts at an eye-watering $113,900.

We love the fact that the M550i not only can run with these überdogs, but does so in such a low-key way. Let’s face it, if you’re in an M5, E63S or RS7 you’re asking for attention, whether you want it or not. And when you’re not enjoying its phenomenal abilities, the M550i gives you a level of composure, quiet and comfort that all-out performance vehicles like the above won’t serve up.

That makes the M550i the ultimate winner in our book.

And it’s only one winning ticket away for us.

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.