BMW has the automotive world just about covered. They offer just about every kind of vehicle that a person could want. From amazing motorcycles to sporty two seat sports cars and everything in between, there is probably a BMW for you.
If you need a comfortable, safe, stylish and sporty sedan, BMW has the much-loved 3 Series. But what if you have a growing family or maybe you like to go golfing with your friends. Owning a 3 Series means your foursome will either be really cramped or you will have to take 2 cars. Also, the trunk on the 3 Series is a really tight fit for four pro bags. If you have kids who play sports, the 3 Series could hold a few of your little guys, but if any of them play ice hockey, that huge equipment bag will fill the trunk.
Enter the newly redesigned 5 Series. I have written previously about the new 5 Series – see my 535I 6-speed review – and offered the opinion that this may be BMW’s best 5 ever. But the 535i I drove had the 6 cylinder, 300 horsepower turbo. Not a slouch, in the performance department, by any means. But for even better performance, BMW offers the 5 with their legendary 400 HP V8. This turbo-charged powerplant shaves nearly a second off the 300HP’s 0-60 time and over a second and a half off the 240 HP non-turbo six’s sprint to the 60MPH benchmark.
More important, the V8 also has more power all through the RPM band and speed range making for more confident passing and quicker acceleration onto a crowded highway. This is due to its “torque” and the BMW V8 has it. It makes 450 lb-ft of torque, 50% more than the 535i’s 300 lb-ft and it comes on strong at a very low 1750 RPM. Remember, high levels of torque make a car feel quicker and more responsive. In the 550i, this is evident the first time you pull out to pass a slower car on a tight two-lane road or try to merge onto a fast-moving freeway. I found that the V8 gave me a higher level of safety by helping me get a pass done faster. On my backroad test, the 550i’s passing power was strong and confidence inspiring.
Helping with the job of getting all of that power to the ground is BMW’s new 8 speed automatic transmission. Simply put, more gears mean that the engine can be kept more often in its most efficient power band, offering quieter and more economical cruising. However, performance drivers need not fear the automatic. When it becomes time to get-up-and-go, the V8, connected to the 8 speed transmission can hustle with the best of them.
But our subject 550i also came with BMW’s all wheel drive system called “xDrive”. Under normal driving conditions, the BMW system sends 40% of the power forward and 60% rearward helping the 5 to retain that great “Ultimate Driving Machine” experience. However, on ice, snow, rain or other slippery conditions, the xDrive system redirects power to where it’s needed the most – and it does it all within one tenth of a second. On my rainy test drive, I never put a wheel wrong. The xDrive system helped keep all wheels pointed where I wanted them. No drama what so ever.
Of course the 550i has luxury as well as sporty performance – tempered as only the Germans can do it (all stylish, nothing gaudy here). And there are a bunch of technology goodies installed in the basic package to satisify anyone this side of NASA. Things like brake energy regeneration (called BMW EfficientDynamics), electronic limited slip differential, active cruise control (i.e., it won’t let you run into a car in front of you!), anti-blind-spot technology, lane departure warning, BMW Night Vision with pedestrian detection and that’s without talking about the music system, navigation system, Blue Tooth integration and heads-up display. In reality, there are more cool and interesting technology goodies in a new BMW – all making the car safer and easier to drive – than you can imagine.
As always, while I think the new BMW 5 Series sedans are in a class by themselves, I like to make sure I add some personal observations so you can evaluate them for yourself when you take a test drive. First, the xDrive system does add a layer of technology between the driver and the steering wheels. I found it less crisp and slightly over boosted than the non-xDrive 535i I recently drove and a lot more “numb” than the X6 M. Not bad, but it’s there.
Also, iDrive – BMW’s do it all electronic control system is still part of the package. Love it or hate it, you need to try it before buying. I find the current generation to be very much improved over the first offerings and I can now work radio, heating/air conditioning, navigation and the blue tooth settings quickly and easily AND without cracking the manual. You may not like it and if you don’t, it could be a source of annoyance every time you drive.
Last point, the base price for a nicely equipped car is pretty high – about $64,000. Certainly, not cheap. And naturally, you can load it up with enough options to bring the price to the high $70,000 range. Choose wisely!
So, if you want a classy, safe, fast, comfortable and yet still sporty vehicle, look at the 550i sedan. It has it all and could be the best car you ever owned (at least until next year’s BMW is released!)