RE: BMW M550i: Driven

Thursday 28th September 2017

BMW M550i: Driven

One of those M cars that BMW denies us. We're not too sad



You already know there are different types of M car. At the lowest rung is the BMW 318d wearing a wonky looking "M" badge purchased on eBay. Above these there are BMW's own M-Sport versions, which is just a trim level. Next come the products of the official M-Performance sub-brand (or maybe that should be sub-sub-brand), cars like the M240i and M760i. Then, and only then, at the top of the tree are the fully fledged M-cars that get to indicate their specialness with a single integer: M2, M3, M4 and M5. Confusingly the X5M and X6M also nominally sit at this top table.

But there is also a simpler way to distinguish between them, and one that takes far less account of such a rigid dynamic hierarchy, between those which are good, and those which are not.


Nicht fur dich
It's not long since everything M Division touched turned to dynamic gold, but in recent years things have got very hit and miss, with success and failure at all levels of the ladder. So while some are still sell-your-kidneys hits - the M135/ M140i and M2 stand out as recent highlights - there have been some really damp squibs, too. Speaking personally, I don't like the overly aggressive M3 and M4 as much as any of the obvious alternatives, the last M5 didn't even set my trousers smouldering, and I'd question the very right of the X5M and X6M to even exist.

Enter the BMW M550i, to see if it can pull the sword from the stone of M's core values. As its name suggests it is one of the M-Performance models, sitting below the new M5 in the 5-Series range. But BMW GB has already confirmed that it won't be coming to Blighty, reckoning that the marketing gap between the 540i that tops the regular range and the M5 itself it too small to squeeze it into. For similar reasons, we won't be getting the diesel-powered M550d either.

The M550i's little brother status is similar to that of the M240i to the M2, with less firepower and fewer trick parts. Both M-badged 5-Series have similar engines, 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8s. The M550i boasts a peak 456hp, still a respectable tally but a way off the 600hp of the M5. The xDrive all-wheel drive system is described as being rear-biased, but it lacks the ability to go rear-only that the M5's big skid mode has. It's certainly not slow, though - on BMW's numbers it dispatches the 0-62mph dash in just 4.0-seconds, making it quicker than the last F10 M5 despite a 100hp power deficit. That's the advantage of all-wheel drive for you.


Eight is great
Let's start with what's good, with the engine at the top of the list. The big V8 is brawny and characterful, deep lunged and supplying peak torque from a diesel-rivalling 1,800rpm, but still happy to explore the upper reaches of its rev range. Under gentle use there's little noise beyond a muscular hum, but with whip applied the M550i moves with a serious purpose, pulling hard to the 7,000rpm redline and making some pleasantly angry noises in the top quarter of its rev range. It feels properly quick, not just tick-the-benchmark fast, with even a gently flexed toe creating a pleasingly forceful forward surge thanks to a pleasantly keen throttle response. Compared to the Mercedes E43, which packs a 400hp turbo V6, the BMW feels like it's brought a gun to a knife fight.

It also delivers all the other virtues of the current 5-Series. The cabin is well designed and well finished and packed with kit, including the semi-autonomous CoPilot active steering system on the car I drove. Materials are well chosen, the gentle LED lighting in the door trims is just so and the fonts and animations on the various display screens are crisply rendered. Cruising refinement is almost freakishly good, and the M550i is quieter over rough freeway surfaces than almost anything else. Even economy is respectable, with the trip computer's claimed 23mpg in U.S. gallons, on a run including both hard use and cruising, translating to 27.6mpg.


There's a but
Have you spotted what's missing yet? Any hint that the M550i is anything more than a very fast, very refined 5-Series. There's a good reason for that; with the possible exception of the typing accident that was the X6M 50d I can't remember any car to wear an M badge while exhibiting fewer of the brand's key attributes.

The steering sums it up. On the regular 5-Series the reduction in steering feel to little more than digitally synthesised weight isn't really a huge problem, certainly not for the sort of typical duty cycle that a 520d driver is going to experience. While some genuine feedback would be nice, its absence is unlikely to be a deal breaker. But the M550i has what feels like exactly the same anaesthetised helm, finger-twirlingly light in Comfort mode and then with syrupy resistance added when switched to Sport. There's no issue with the speed of responses, it scythes into corners and the helm is deadly accurate. But it's completely lacking the chatter that used to make BMW steering feel so special, the lightening and tightening that indicated different surfaces and road textures. It's the M550i's considerable misfortune that the last M-badged car I drove before it was an E60 M5, a slower car that manages to feel about 600 percent more involving.

The rest of the M550i dynamics follow the same path of mild disinterest in anything other than covering ground quickly. The soft suspension struggles to maintain body control over rougher roads, even firmed up in Sport mode, and hard cornering reveals a surprising amount of body roll. It takes the combination of a slow turn and a big throttle opening to get the xDrive giving any hint of its rear bias, for the most part grip levels are high enough to make the 5-Series feel like a quattro-driven Audi. It's a neat trick, but not what most people are likely to expect from an M-badged BMW. There's absolutely no encouragement to go and play.


M-aybe not
The debate over whether cars should be getting faster and more powerful is an interesting one, and an increasing number of manufacturers are using downsizing as an excuse to launch what are being pitched as back-to-basics products like the F-Type 2.0-litre. The M550i could have been something like that, a car that celebrated the virtues that made the less powerful M-cars of old feel truly special and which played the role of understudy to what will doubtless be the huge talent of the M5.

But it's not. It's nothing close. Dynamically it feels like a 530i with a warp drive attached rather than a true M Car, a very fast 5-Series for people who want to cruise in comfort and accelerate hard in straight lines. It's painful to admit, but we should be grateful that it's not coming here.


BMW M550i
Engine: 4395cc V8, twin-turbocharged
Power (hp): 456@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 480@1,800rpm
0-60mph: 4.0-sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1810kg
MPG: 31.7mpg
CO2: 204g/km
Price: €82,700 (Germany)

Or you could have...
BMW M5 Nurburgring edition
BMW E39 M5
BMW F10 M5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author
Discussion

cerb4.5lee

Original Poster:

10,281 posts

114 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
I do find it a bit of a shame that the UK don't get certain models, and I do like the idea of the 550i and 550d, l don't think the 550i would sell that well here but I think there's a strong market for the 550d though.

gizard

2,124 posts

217 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Was wondering if it was ever going to come to the UK - esp in estate form - I'm increasingly attracted to MB now as there are many more options for the estate - E43 and E63..... shame but there we go I've had a lot of BMWs

David87

4,977 posts

146 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
A shame that it's not coming here. I've always liked the very top not-an-M-model cars. frown

Desiboy

3 posts

13 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
There's a huge gap between the 540i and M5. About £30k and more than 200bhp.

Sir_Dave

1,256 posts

144 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
PHBloke said:
But it's not. It's nothing close. Dynamically it feels like a 530i with a warp drive attached rather than a true M Car, a very fast 5-Series for people who want to cruise in comfort and accelerate hard in straight lines. It's painful to admit, but we should be grateful that it's not coming here.
Sounds like an M135i/M140i to be honest, which sold very well here by all accounts.

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Plate spinner

12,813 posts

134 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
I used to really like BMW cars, that's why I've had a few.
But it is becoming more and more clear, that what I like in a car and what today's BMW customer's like in a car, are on increasingly different tangents.

It's not a complaint, good luck to BMW, their business is to make money by selling cars.

Krikkit

13,157 posts

115 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Have to admit that this sounds like just the ticket - I think anything short of an M5 should be a comfy cruiser rather than trying to be a hard-edged sports car.

Would be an interesting comparison of 540i vs M550i

gofasterrosssco

1,038 posts

170 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Sir_Dave said:
PHBloke said:
But it's not. It's nothing close. Dynamically it feels like a 530i with a warp drive attached rather than a true M Car, a very fast 5-Series for people who want to cruise in comfort and accelerate hard in straight lines. It's painful to admit, but we should be grateful that it's not coming here.
Sounds like an M135i/M140i to be honest, which sold very well here by all accounts.
Well except the M135/140i are decent to drive (not exactly the last word in steering feel, but that's EPAS for you..) and far more than straight line hero's as implied to the M550i.

Shaoxter

3,209 posts

58 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Krikkit said:
Have to admit that this sounds like just the ticket - I think anything short of an M5 should be a comfy cruiser rather than trying to be a hard-edged sports car.
Er but the M5 is a comfy cruiser and certainly not a hard-edged sports car.

fourscore

78 posts

83 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all

umm, 'it doesn't feel like a true M car'

That's because that's not it's remit. It's meant to be a very fast but more comfortable cruising model, which by the write up, it is.
Why is the car not reviewed on what it is, not the tired comparison against a true M car..

LewisR

664 posts

149 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
" Then, and only then, at the top of the tree are the fully fledged M-cars that get to indicate their specialness with a single integer: M2, M3, M4 and M5."
- What about the E24 M635 CSi ? I always thought that it should have been called an M6 but M635 CSi it was.

Ares

7,100 posts

54 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
I drove one of these in the US last month. I think you are being overly harsh.

It's not designed to be an 'M'. It's BMWs answer no Audi's 'S' and Merc's '43', and on those it fairs very well.

The steering is everyday, not raw sports feel, and does feel a little synthetic, but it is still an very accomplished sports saloon. The car I drove wasn't on runflats which also helped. But as a car pitched at that market it stands shoulder to shoulder and IMO, beats those it competes against. It's a compelling car, in the low-fuel/emissions ambivalent US at least.

Helicopter123

3,892 posts

90 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
cerb4.5lee said:
l don't think the 550i would sell that well here but I think there's a strong market for the 550d though.
...not really Mr Current Affairs are we?

The cult of diesel is over.

Thank Christ

philmots

4,474 posts

194 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
It’s meant to be just a faster 530i 540i though, the M bit is just Marketing...

Sounds right up my street tbh, shame we won’t get it.

JMF894

2,619 posts

89 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
This is a very disappointing article. It seems that you have judged the car against a remit it was never designed to meet in the first place.

Shame on you.

RSchneider

64 posts

98 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
But ... it will make a good basis for an Alpina version :-)

culpz

3,893 posts

46 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
I never thought any of these M-Lites would take off the way that they have done. The idea of a fast but not quite M-Car does make sense though, as we all know how expensive it can be to run a proper M-Car. Maybe not from first-hand experience but i think we all get the gist

This looks to be like no exception. As someone else said, i think there's an alluring appeal to the diesels version of this M550 but, with all this ant-diesel stuff circulating in the mix, maybe more would opt for the petrol instead?

GTEYE

1,201 posts

144 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Helicopter123 said:
cerb4.5lee said:
l don't think the 550i would sell that well here but I think there's a strong market for the 550d though.
...not really Mr Current Affairs are we?

The cult of diesel is over.

Thank Christ
I think you may be a little mistaken.

Count the number of new shape 5-ers you see and the majority are still "d" models....I still can't see the sense in buying a petrol 5 Series in the UK unless it was an M5...

j90gta

445 posts

68 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Shock horror! German manufacturer of aspirational cars (apart from the 2 Series Active Tourer) builds something which doesn't have 10,000 bhp, a 250 mph top speed, and a 0-60 time below 2 seconds! It would seem that this may be closer to a 7 series waftmobile than a sporting 5.

D200

514 posts

81 months

Thursday 28th September 2017
quotequote all
Ares said:
I drove one of these in the US last month. I think you are being overly harsh.

It's not designed to be an 'M'. It's BMWs answer no Audi's 'S' and Merc's '43', and on those it fairs very well.

The steering is everyday, not raw sports feel, and does feel a little synthetic, but it is still an very accomplished sports saloon. The car I drove wasn't on runflats which also helped. But as a car pitched at that market it stands shoulder to shoulder and IMO, beats those it competes against. It's a compelling car, in the low-fuel/emissions ambivalent US at least.
Exactly.

Complaining of its lack of steering feel compared to an E60 M5 is as relevant as comparing it to a Lotus Evora

It should be compared to a Merc E43 and Audi S6 [all 3 of these cars near enough exactly same price, size and performance etc.] – as these are its main direct competitors.

And to cylinder count snobs [i.e. everyone on pistonheads] the Merc only has a V6 must be immediately vastly inferior for this reason alone