The 5 Series lives up to its reputation

The BMW 5 Series is one of those standard-bearers people use to benchmark other full-size sedans – and for good reason. It’s been well loved by BMW loyalists and jaded journalists the world over. From its home on the German Autobahn going triple digit speeds to weaving its way through the crowded streets of third-world countries where it chauffeurs government officials and local dignitaries, the 5 has been a mainstay for decades. For 2017, BMW debuted an all-new 5 Series, complete with an updated design, an architecture shared with the larger 7 Series, and more driver tech than ever. This new seventh-generation 5 Series also boasts a new M Performance model for 2018 – the BMW M550i xDrive.

Think of the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive like this: it’s like the standard 550i, but with its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, suspension, steering, and brakes reworked by the go-fast gurus at BMW’s M Performance division. And since the M5 variant of the seventh-generation 5 Series (G30) isn’t available till March of 2019, the M550i is the baddest 5 of the bunch. But it’s also worth pointing out the M550i xDrive and upcoming M5 have a lot in common. The two share the same V-8, though the M5’s will have more power thanks to larger turbos and a higher-flow fuel injection system, among other upgrades. The M5’s suspension will use stiffer bushings to match its sticker tires. The M5 will also have more driver control over the xDrive system and drive modes. And, of course, the M5 will have a more aggressive appearance to go with its track-focused performance. Still, the M550i is a 456-horsepower beast capable of hitting 60 mph in roughly 3.9 seconds yet treats its occupants to opulent luxury befitting a more dedicated cruiser.

Continue reading for the full driven review.

  • 2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven
  • Year:
    2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V8
  • Transmission:
    ZF eight-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    456 @ 6000
  • Torque @ RPM:
    480 @ 1800
  • Displacement:
    4.4 L
  • 0-60 time:
    3.9 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    155 mph
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • size:
  • Purpose:
  • body style:
  • Overall:
    9.7/10

Video Review

Exterior

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The 2018 BMW M550i xDrive is a monster compared to its “base” 530i little brother, but the M550i doesn’t boast its performance credentials with huge aesthetic changes. In fact, the changes are subtle and confined to the front and rear bumpers, the wheels, and decklid badge. Keep in mind, similar changes come on the 530i M Sport, minus the satin chrome accents and the larger side intakes, so keen eyes are required when car spotting.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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Up front, the M550i has a slightly more aggressive lower fascia with larger openings.

Up front, the M550i has a slightly more aggressive lower fascia with larger openings. The single bar of the 530i is split into three, with the large side intakes for the twin intercoolers. L-shaped trim pieces help define the openings while their satin chrome color is a distinctive feature of the M550i. The satin chrome continues onto the side mirror caps and the molding behind the front wheel.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The rear of the M550i also enjoys a more aggressive lower fascia.

The rear of the M550i also enjoys a more aggressive lower fascia. Gone are the round tailpipes found on lesser trims – replaced by rectangular tips with dual tips hiding inside. The overall look is more dimensional without being overstated or flashy. The same can be said for the oh-so-small spoiler mounted to the truck. Beyond that, the 19-inch M-branded alloy wheels and the blue brake calipers peeking from behind are the only indications as to this 5 Series’ sporty intentions. Still, the M550i xDrive knows its place under the M5; it wears all-season Pirelli Cinturato P7 Runflat tires best suited for daily driving. Incredibly, the tires do an amazing job grabbing the road, and much credit can probably be attributed to their wide size. The front is sized at 245/40R19 while the rear wear 275/35R19. 20-inch wheels are optional, as are summer-performance Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.

Interior

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The BMW’s interior isn’t much different than is non-M Performance brethren. The changes boil down to the M-branded, three-spoke steering wheel, the metal and rubber pedals, and different options with upholstery choices. My tester came fitted with the Cognac Dakota Leather with Contrast Stitching and Piping option, which looks amazing in person. The 20-way seats with two-way memory are among the most comfortable I’ve ever sampled. Nice touches like the tightening side bolsters that accompany Sport Mode are appreciated. The seats, combined with the power-adjustable steering wheel, meaning anyone of any size can get perfectly comfortable.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The M550i is no 7 Series Executive, but passengers won’t be complaining.

Rear seat comfort is extremely good, too. No, the M550i is no 7 Series Executive, but passengers won’t be complaining. Amenities include a folding center armrest with twin cup holders, heated outboard seats, two air vents, and two 12-volt power ports. It would be nice to see window shades back here, though. I also desperately missed vented seats up front as the mid-August Florida heat doesn’t play around. Thankfully, the BMW boasts both dual zone and dual fan speed functions in the HVAC system. (Read my thoughts on the BMW’s “Coolest” function.)

Besides the HVAC system, the interior is interior is packed with technology. The iDrive system is best it’s ever been, offering such luxuries as a 360-degree camera system and wireless Apple CarPlay. The system will also show instant horsepower and torque readings, though you’ll have to dig through menus to call up the digital gauges. GPS navigation, SiriusXM, weather, traffic, and other convenience features keep technophiles happy. A wireless phone charger keeps compatible batteries charged, while two USB ports up front offer the old-fashioned way to keep charged.

My tester also enjoyed the optional, $2,300 NightVision system with Pedestrian Detection. The system uses thermal imaging to show heat signatures on the main iDrive screen. Concrete structures like Bridges show up white in the night sky, while the grassy embankments show up darker. Puddles in the road are darker than the surrounding pavement. And of course, any living creature will glow bright white with a clear silhouette. For people, BMW’s NightVision system highlights their shape in yellow, ensuring you can’t miss them. The only downfalls are the NightVision’s low placement in the car’s grille, offering an unfamiliar perspective of the road and its narrow field of view. Anything not directly ahead is simply not seen. Still, the system is immense fun to play with and would likely come in handy in folks frequently driving dark roads or fighting foggy conditions.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The 2017+ BMW 5 Series also has an interesting gauge cluster that combines analog with digital in an interesting way.

The 2017+ BMW 5 Series also has an interesting gauge cluster that combines analog with digital in an interesting way. Both the speedometer and tachometer gauges have analog scales, save for the portion towards the gauge cluster’s center. The sales for the fuel and coolant temperature gauges are also analog. Everything else is digital, including all four gauge needles. This allows for a digital readout of speed and the eight-speed auto’s current gear. The center digital screen also shows information like mileage, trip, fuel economy, and the driver-selectable following distance for the automatic cruise control. A full-color Head-Up display is also a handy add-on. Conversely, I did not like BMW’s $190 Gesture Control system. I couldn’t elicit predictable responses to the radio volume. Perhaps with practice the system would be more appreciated.

All told, the M550i’s interior is definitely a place I loved spending time. Its combination of luxury and tech should make all but the most jaded swoon in comfort.

Drivetrain

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Drivetrain High Resolution
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The heart of the M550i xDrive is its 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8.

The heart of the M550i xDrive is its 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. This all-aluminum mill features direct fuel injection, four valves per cylinder with variable timing and lift, and intercoolers to keep both of its twin-scroll turbos sucking cooler, denser atmosphere. The engine is basically a carry-over item from the previous-generation 550i, though this M Performance version has 11 more horsepower. That means it kicks out 456 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and the same 480 pound-feet of torque at only 1,800 rpm.

Backing the V-8 is a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW has calibrated its shifting patterns for butter-smooth responses during normal driving while giving that kick-in-the-pants feel when in Sport+ Mode and under heavy throttle. Manual shifting with the paddle is rewarded with quick responses, too, making the M550i a joy to leave in manual mode. Mated to the other end of the ZF gearbox is BMW’s xDrive transfer case. The full-time AWD system works seamlessly in the background, never calling attention to itself. BMW says it has a rear-biased programmed in, but you’ll never notice on public roads unless doing something illegal. Still, goosing the throttle into a corner from a full stop never evokes torque steer, nor does any other throttle input. Much of that can likely be credited to BMW’s electronic steering system and clever programming.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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Performance stats are impressive. Car & Driver estimates the M550i xDrive will hit 60 mph in 3.8 seconds (BMW says 3.9 seconds) before running the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds. Top Speed is governed to 155 mph.

But rather than offering a completely isolated experience for the driver cocooned in the ultra-quiet cabin, BMW lets the M550i have some fun when in Sport and Sport+ Modes. The V-8’s exhaust features active shutters that open, filling the cabin with glorious shouts from the torquey engine. Turbo noises are missing, though lag is felt at the split second revs are requested. Engine noises aren’t overbearing, however. Burbles and pops are just as loud as the turbos. BMW does augment the V-8’s grumble through the audio system, but it still sounds natural.

Not that anyone buying a $75,000+ performance sedan with a twin-turbo V-8 is concerned about what the EPA thinks, but fuel economy is rated at 16 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined. During my week of mixed yet heavy-footed driving, I somehow managed nearly 22 mpg combined. There is an Eco Pro drive mode should you be worried about conserving that premium unleaded.

BMW M550i xDrive
Engine: 4.4-liter V-8
Transmission: Eight-Speed Auto
Horsepower 456 @ 5,500 RPM
Torque 480 LB-FT @ 1,800 TPM
0-to-60 MPH 3.9 Seconds
Top Speed 155 mph (electronically limited)

Behind the Wheel

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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The M550i is like James Bond running tire drills like an NFL wide receiver, but in his three-piece suite.

The 2018 BMW M550i xDrive is a hoot to drive – but not like a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Jaguar F-Type SVR. No, it’s more of a luxury sedan that doesn’t let its soft demeanor hinder it from acting like a sports car. The M550i is like James Bond running tire drills like an NFL wide receiver, but in his three-piece suite.

Select Sport+ via the piano-black toggle switch left of the gearshifter, slide the shifter into Sport mode, press the Traction Control button once, left-foot plant the brake pedal to the floor while doing the same with the skinny pedal under the right foot, feel the 4,300-pound car squat down like a sprinter at the start line, watch the tachometer climb and stabilize about mid range, then dump the brakes. That launches the M550i like a Saturn V rocket towards the moon like it was 1969. Sixty mph comes in only 3.9 seconds. The ZF gearbox slams through its underdrive gears with haste, keeping the V-8 singing near its 6,000-rpm happy place, as the landscape begins blurring like stars through the windows of the Millennium Falcon. A third digit quickly appears on the digital speedometer in the Head-Up display as you realize what’s happened.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Interior High Resolution
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BMW’s electronic steering better than many journalists describe it, offering almost no vagueness and a moderate amount of road feel.

Turning is just as fun. BMW’s electronic steering better than many journalists describe it, offering almost no vagueness and a moderate amount of road feel. It also tightens in accordance with the drive modes. And thanks to the $3,600 Dynamic Handling Package, the dampers actively respond, as well, along with the active anti-roll bars. Not that the M550i has excessive body roll in Comfort Mode, but the sedan remains surprisingly more flat when in Sport+ Mode.

But not all driving situations call for such high-strung settings. Slip the drive mode into Comfort or Eco Pro, and the M550i settles into a relaxed state. Set the automatic cruise control, engage Lane Keep Assist, and let the miles roll by. Should traffic come to a halt, the cruise control will bring the car to a full stop and hold it there, only moving when pressing the accelerator. Wind noise is hardly noticeable and road noise is only mildly audible on broken pavement. It’s this duality that makes the M550i xDrive such a surprisingly sweet daily driver. It handles a cross-country road trip with the same expertise as it negotiates twisty back roads and vice versa. For those not heading to the autocross course every weekend or wanting that all-important M5 badge, the M550i xDrive should prove a perfect all-rounder with little compromise. Want some extra sportiness? Just get the $1,100 Michelin Pilot Super Sport tire package. Best of all, the 2018 M550i is available now and the M5 won’t be around till March of 2018.

Pricing

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The BMW 5 Series starts at $51,200. That gets you the 530i sDrive with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Skipping over the 530e iPerformance and 540i, the M550i resides at the top of the 5 Series lineup (that is, until the M5 debuts). It carries a base price of $73,400 and obviously comes standard with xDrive.

The list of options is long, typical of any BMW. The Build & Price online configurator clearly shows each, along with a matching description. Six color exterior color choices are available at no charge, while four color options from BMW Individual are available at $1,950. Wheels are the next choice, with three styles to choose from. Upgrading to either the 20-inch, five-spoke or 20-inch V-Spoke alloys costs $950. The five-spoke wheels are also available with those Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires for only $150 more, making the package $1,100 over the no-cost wheel. Inside, 10 choices of leather come at no charge, with three other options from BMW Individual costing $3,200 each. Five trim packages are offered at no cost, while the Piano Black trim adds $1,080. BMW Individual only has one other trim option, again costing $1,080.

Option Packages are where the big money resides and coveted features can be added. The $800 Cold Weather Package adds a heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats. The $1,700 Driving Assistance Package adds a backup camera while making available the Driving Assistance Plus Package. For another $1,700, the DSPP brings Bling Spot Detection, Daytime Pedestrian Protection, Frontal Collision Warning w/City Collision mitigation, Lane Departure Warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and the Head-Up Display.

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The $3,600 Dynamic Handling Package is a must-have for getting the most from the M550i xDrive’s cornering performance. It includes the Integral Active Steering, Active Roll Stabilization (the active anti-roll bars), and the Adaptive M Suspension Plus system. The $1,200 Executive Package soft-close doors, ceramic controls, the wireless phone charger, and Wi-Fi hotspot. For another $1,200, the Luxury Seating Package brings massaging front seats with ventilation. Last but not least, the $700 Parking Assistance Package adds the 360-degree camera system and audible warnings from proximity sensors.

Selecting every option package adds $10,900 to the M550i’s price – and that’s on top of any wheel and tire options, upholstery upgrades, or high-end interior trim choices. The a la carte options list is even longer, so here’s a chart.

Power Rear Sunshade w/ manual side window shades $575
Gesture Control $190
Dynamic Digital Instrument Cluster $350
Apple CarPlay Compatibility $300
Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound $3,400
Rear-seat Entertainment Professional $2,200
Black Kidney Grilles $505
Carbon Fiber Mirror Caps $960
Carbon Fiber Rear Spoiler $845
M Performance Side Sill Decals $310
Space-Saver Spare Tire $150
Remote Control Parking $750
Night Vision w/ Pedestrian Detection $2,300

All told, the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive can cost upwards of $101,860. That’s not cheap, but most customers probably won’t select every single available option. My tester, for example, was well-equipped at only $88,985.

The Competition

2017 Audi S6

2016 Audi S6 High Resolution Exterior
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2016 Audi S6 High Resolution Exterior
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Perhaps the M550i’s strongest competitor is the Audi S6, despite its age. The current S6 has been around since 2012 with only a mild update in 2016 that brought new headlights and a welcomed 30 horsepower to the S6’s 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-8. Beyond that, the sports sedan is feeling its age. Audi is currently developing its replacement, which is scheduled for a 2019 release in North America. Nevertheless, the current S6 offers 450 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and Quattro AWD. Performance specs continue to be respectable. The sprint to 60 mph happens in 3.9 seconds, the quarter-mile passes by in 12.4 seconds at 113 mph, and the top speed is governed at 153 mph.

The 2017 Audi S6 starts at $70,900 for the Premium Plus trim and $74,100 for the Prestige trim. Fully loaded, the S6 can cost upwards of $95,000.

Read our full review on the 2017 Audi S6.

2018 Cadillac CTS V-Sport

2017 Cadillac CTS High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Cadillac CTS
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Hailing from the good ole U.S.A., the Cadillac CTS V-Sport offers strong competition in both luxury and performance, but in a package not seen in every other parking space at the local country club. Just as the BMW M550i is to the M5, so as the CTS V-Sport is to the 640-horsepower CTS-V. The V-Sport version is powered by a 420-horsepower, 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 with 430 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission sends power to only the rear wheels, while GM’s Magnetic Ride Control keep all four corners continually adapting to changing road conditions. Standard summer performance tires put the final touch on the CTS V-Sport’s 4.4-second run to 60 mph.

Prices start at $61,990 for the CTS V-Sport ad $72,090 for the V-Sport Premium Luxury. Fully loaded, the Caddy is a relative bargain at $78,000 compared to the others here.

Read our full review on the 2018 Cadillac CTS V-Sport.

Conclusion

2018 BMW M550i xDrive – Driven Exterior High Resolution
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The 2018 BMW M550i xDrive might not be a bonafide M5, but its shared components make it a perfect substitute for drivers not headed to the Nürburgring every weekend. What’s more, the price is far more reasonable. For those not worried about having the biggest and baddest, the M550i is the right choice. Its twin-turbo V-8 feels more powerful than its 456 horsepower suggests, while the xDrive ensures power grips the pavement in any weather condition. It’s simply a wonderful sports sedan perfectly content with daily driving.

This segment has been hot for years with plenty of worthy rivals, but BMW seems to have put them in their place with the M550i xDrive. No, it’s not perfect and no, I’m not a BMW loyalist or on their payroll. I’ve just got to admit the M550i makes all the 5 Series hype seem believable.

  • Leave it
    • * Feels its 4,300 pounds when pushed
    • * Most features are optional... and pricy
    • * Lacks that M5 street cred

References

BMW M550i xDrive

2018 BMW M550i xDrive High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the BMW M550i xDrive.

BMW 5 Series

2017 BMW 5 Series High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the BMW 5 Series.

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