Post mend, the 550i has made a good first impression. As I mentioned before, not breaking down within walking distance of the workshop was a fairly decent start. In the subsequent weeks I've been getting to know it a little better. The overriding impression inside is one of solidity, which is impressive when you consider that the car is no spring chicken. There are squeaks and rattles to endure, and precious little penetrates BMW's sound deadening. Too little, in fact: I wouldn't mind if the V8 was a bit more vocal. Obviously it was never intended to be, but this is a lush and expensive sounding V8 we're talking about - hearing it is no chore. As lowering the windows has taught me...
Still, the distant tone is in keeping with the car, which is as grown up as a bank manager. This is the sort of car BMW was aiming at upper management 15 years ago and it shows. The cradle for a now defunct mobile phone is an everyday reminder of the 550i's former company car status, as is the comprehensiveness of the kit list. The seven-speaker Logik sound system is definitely a step up from what I've been used to and the head-up display is an unexpected novelty. Special mention must go to the front seats, which are armchair-comfy compared to the office chair the M135i made me sit on.
Though dated, the sat nav seems up to the job, too. Although I have to admit, the noise of the DVD drive whirring into life is one I could do without. It ranks right up there with a dial-up modem in the list of sounds best consigned to history's dustbin. I'm told there are Android upgrades available which will replace the current with an HD touchscreen, and frankly I'm tempted. But for circa £500, I can currently think of better things to spend the money on - especially when for £130 I managed to replace the glovebox CD changer with a Bluetooth adaptor that incorporates USB charging. It only needed 20mins of fibre optic cable fiddling, and retains all the steering wheel button control functions. Bargain.
To drive, the 550i still does what it was intended to do, which is cover endless autobahn miles in entirely unflustered style. Driving it to and from the station was never going to be a strenuous test environment, but I did manage to get one longer run before the lockdown consigned us all to our kitchens. That the car felt right at home on the M40 will be a surprise to no-one; the biggest takeaway for yours truly was the transition from the M135i's modern turbocharged straight-six to a naturally-aspirated V8. Initially the switch seemed like a regression, so seamless and accessible is the torque delivery in the former. But there's drawn-out pleasure to be had from the latter, and it's power band is seemingly endless. Or it is when there's precisely no chance of hitting the speed limiter.
The gearbox is probably a little harder to love. If we're now indulged by turbochargers, we're positively spoilt by automatic transmissions. I won't claim to be an authority on the subject, but suffice it to say the M135i's eight-speed 'box was light years ahead of the 550i's six-speed slusher. The latter is not clunky or even obtrusive - it just simply isn't as smooth or as fast or as clever as the newer alternative. Hardly a revelation given the intervening years, but there we go. Perhaps a service will make the best of it at some point, although I gather it's not a straightforward task. We'll see.
Where the 550i exceeds the hatchback is in cruise control. I mean literally the business of cruising down the motorway in nonchalant command of its faculties. As you might expect, the saloon is much more compliant than the M135i ever was. Yes, it's on 19-inch wheels and M Sport suspension - a fact it will occasionally remind you of in that forthright way that BMW's do - but the net result is unmistakable: after a 200-mile round trip, I felt like I'd driven about 50 miles. And that's a fabulous feeling when you're driving for work reasons. It even managed to average mid to high 20s on the MPG front. Who could ask for more?
Car: 2005 BMW 550i
Run by: Sam Liggett
On fleet since: April 2020
Price as tested: £4,232
Last month at a glance: Drivin' time
Last seen:Auction time
1 / 4