BMW 550i xDrive, Silent Luxury Speed Machine

The BMW 5-series has been around for a long time. It is as old as Nicole Eggert (you know, the cute girl from ‘Charles in Charge’ and ‘Baywatch’) and it is not only one of the best selling models in BMW’s line-up, but also one of the best selling cars in its class.
For 2011, the sixth-generation model is out, just in time to do battle with the new Mercedes-Benz E-class (its main nemesis).
So what is new on the new 5-series? Well pretty much everything. Starting with the styling. This new 5-series (internally known as F10) is much softer to the eye than the last 5-series (known as the E60), which was penned by the eccentric designer Chris Bangle, who lead BMW’s design department until last year. Adrian von Hooydonk, the new design chief and the man behind the new 5-series wanted a less controversial design. The look is not as noticeable as the E60 model (F10 model blends into the crowd rather too anonymously) but it will probably attract a much larger audience.
The interior changes on the F10 are quite subtle when you compare it to the E60 model. You get the feeling that you’ve been in it before, but with everything slightly better than it was before. For instance, the screen for the navigation system is in the same spot as the old model, but the screen in now much bigger and has better resolution.
BMW started adopting the new style i-Drive system (the control knob that lets you do everything) on their cars since 2009, so of course the new 5-series has this updated version. The new i-Drive is much simpler to use, and after just a few days of playing with it, life feels empty without it. So yes, I do like the new i-Drive system.
I also pretty much like the rest of the interior too. The seats are excellent, as you’d expect from a BMW, and in the front the space is abundant. Sadly, rear seat occupants don’t get much legroom, in fact it has less room in the back than in the much smaller new Mini Countryman. So if you’re tall, you won’t like sitting in the back of this car. However, when you are there, you will enjoy this cars silky smooth ride, and if the car is equipped with the four-zone climate control and rear DVD screens, you will have an even better time.
What about new technology, does the F10 has any new features. Yes it does. You get a new heads-up display system which shows you your speed on the windscreen, and now you can adjust the height of this system to your liking, which is great. You can also opt to get what I call the junction saver camera system. This system has cameras situated in the nose of this car, pointed sideways. So as you come upto a blind junction (lets say at a busy mall), you can see much more clearly if any other car is coming at you. I used this system regularly when I had this car, and I can honestly say it works beautifully. Makes you think why no one else had thought of this before.
Also on the list of new technologies for this car, has to include the new drivetrain. In the 528i model, and the 535i model, you get a slightly updated version of the old 3.0-liter, inline-six cylinder motor, but the 550i model gets an all new engine. This new motor is a 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V8, that produces 400 hp and an astonishing 450 lb/ft of torque.
Mated to a new eight-speed automatic gearbox (which is standard on all the new 5-series models), it sends power to either just the rear-wheels or all-wheel as in the model I tested. Hook this up properly and you will get from 0-100km/h in just 5.3 seconds, and onto an electronically limited top speed of 210 km/h (in Europe, the top speed is limited at 250 km/h). So this family sedan can easily take on and defeat many sports cars, and it will do it quietly. This new 550i even when provoked hardly makes any noise. Most cars with 400 hp shout and growl when you push them. The 550i seems to softly whistle and get you upto speed, so if you like refinement, you’ll love this.
Handling has always been a strong point for BMW’s and the 550i xDrive doesn’t disappoint. The chassis set-up is not only great for cruising on the highway, but also tight to offer great stability when pushed through corners. The steering has a bit of a vague feel to it, but when you learn what this car is capable of doing, you will enjoy it more.
The best surprise came when it rained, because even on the wettest day on the wettest roads, the 550i xDrive felt as stable as it did on a warm sunny day. I have never come across a car that handles this well in the rain. So if you live in the northern hemisphere, you’ll truly appreciate this car.
So, to sum it up. The new 550i xDrive looks good, has a nice interior, and drives phenomenally well. The only downside I could see is the lack of legroom in the back seat area, but if you want more space, do look at the 5-series GT and that has abundant room.
Prices in Canada for the 528i starts at $53,900. The 535i is yours for $62,300 and the 550i starts at $73,300 for the rear-wheel drive model, and $75,900 for the xDrive model. My very well equipped tester however was priced at nearly $85,000. So its not cheap by any means, but it is quite the machine too.
But given the money, would I buy the new 5-series sedan? No, because I’d rather have the BMW 5-series GT. The GT version has a longer wheelbase and thus has much more room in the back. Plus I prefer its quirky looks. So if you’re headed to a BMW showroom, do ask the sales person to show you the GT. In any case, you can’t go wrong with buying a BMW.

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