Normally when you’re talking about a fast large BMW sedan, your immediate thought would be the ‘M5’, right?
What if I told you that you could have 90 per cent of the performance for almost $100,000 less, and be more comfortable? Enter the M550i xDrive.
The M Performance version of the 5 Series technically competes with the six-cylinder Audi S6 and Mercedes-AMG E53, but offers twin-turbo V8 power that splits the gap in terms of performance between said models and their full-fat RS6 and E63 S counterparts.
So, is the M550i xDrive all the super sedan goodness you need? And, should you wait for the facelifted model due later this year?
Two versions of the M550i xDrive are available in Australia – the full version simply named M550i xDrive, and the more affordable ‘M550i xDrive Pure‘ tested here which eschews some of the luxury goodies but keeps the same mechanicals.
Pricing starts at $134,900 plus on-road costs for the M550i xDrive Pure in current MY20 guise (pre-facelift), while the fully-loaded M550i xDrive variant starts at $149,900 before on-roads.
Our beautifully-specified test vehicle was fitted with a couple of options, such as a powered panoramic sunroof ($3000) and Mediterranean Blue metallic paint ($2000). The fine-wood trim inserts with Pearl Chrome highlights are a no-cost option, and go perfectly with the Ivory White ‘Dakota’ leather fitted to our tester.
By comparison, the Audi S6 starts at $149,900 plus on-road costs, while the Mercedes-AMG E53 is priced from a relatively eye-watering $173,436. Compared to its rivals, the M550i is something of a bargain.
Note: Prices are set to rise by a couple grand in the coming months when the updated range arrives in October.
In short, a lot. Being a near-flagship luxury vehicle asking for around $140,000 before on-roads, the M550i xDrive Pure packs in quite a bit of kit.
Specification highlights include the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 (more on that in a bit), a variable xDrive all-wheel drive system, an electronically-controlled M Sport rear differential, adaptive M suspension, 20-inch M light alloy wheels in Cerium Grey with performance tyres (Bridgestone Potenza S007), Cerium Grey exterior accents, and an M rear spoiler.
There’s high-gloss black exterior accents for elements like the window surrounds and grille inserts, four-zone climate control, and illuminated ‘M550i’ door sill finishers.
It’s worth noting the mid-life refresh for the 5 Series will be in showrooms in October, bringing fresh looks and some extra tech like wireless Android Auto and Apple CarKey, with prices for the M550i xDrive Pure and M550i xDrive rising by about $3000.
The current-generation 520d wears a 2017-stamped five-star ANCAP safety rating, based on tests carried out by sister firm Euro NCAP – while the rest of the range remains unrated in Australia.
In Europe, the five-star rating oddly is limited to four-cylinder variants only, including the 518d, 520d and 520i, all available in both sedan and ‘Touring’ wagon bodies abroad.
BMW’s large sedan and wagon scored 91 per cent for adult occupant protection, 85 per cent for child occupant protection, 81 per cent for pedestrian protection, and 59 per cent for safety assist.
Key feedback from the crash-testing authority included marginal chest protection for rear passengers in the full-width frontal assessment, and marginal leg protection for the driver in the frontal offset test due to incorrect deployment of the driver’s knee airbag.
The 5 Series also lost marks in the safety assist category as the European test car wasn’t fitted with any form of lane support system (clearly optional equipment in Europe at the time), and therefore lost 3.0 points out of the possible 12 as a result.
Euro NCAP’s tests of the autonomous emergency braking system did, however, showed good performance across all situations.
Dual frontal, side chest, side head-protecting airbags and a driver’s knee airbag are standard. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane support systems, adaptive cruise control and intelligent speed assistance are also standard on all Australian variants of the BMW 5 Series.
Rather lovely. At this end of the market a lot of cabins are heavily dependent on how they’re specified.
Luckily, the M550i xDrive Pure test car we had was finished with a lovely interior colour scheme that screams old-school luxe.
The standard ‘Dakota’ leather is finished in Ivory White here, contrasted with contrasting black trim for everything else, including the headliner. Plenty of other options are available if the light leather isn’t your thing, too.
Fine-wood inlays in ‘Fineline Ridge’ continue the contrast theme, and fit in with the old-school vibe. There’s also configurable ambient LED lighting throughout the cabin.
As has been the case with the latest set of BMWs, the level of fit and finish in the cabin is fantastic. Everything within reach is finish in a soft-touch surface and looks of a high quality.
Opting for the full M550i adds things like a real leather dashboard and an Ambient Air system with ionisation and fragrance, lifting the feeling of luxury further. If extended upholstery for the doors and other elements of the cabin, you need to step to the M550i xDrive and tick a couple of options boxes.
With that in mind, the 5 Series cabin is nice and familiar but can seem a little dated compared to something like an Audi S6, with its array of displays and swathes of leather throughout the cabin.
Space up front is pretty good, with good head- and legroom for occupants and a good amount of storage to stow phones, wallets and other trinkets.
Another highlight is BMW OS7.0, which was quietly introduced to the pre-facelift 5 Series as a running update. The iDrive system has long been one of the benchmark infotainment systems for ease of use, and this latest version is no different.
We found the wireless Apple CarPlay flawless in this test car – I personally have had multiple experiences with bugs and annoying drop-outs in other BMW vehicles with this system – and the proprietary software is nice to use and responds quickly to inputs.
If I had one complaint, it’s the lack of customisation for the digital instrument cluster. In Audi and Mercedes-Benz models with virtual binnacles, there’s a range of different layouts and menus to cycle through.
In the Bimmer there’s one look for the rev counter and speedo, with limited configurability for the other readouts on the huge 12.3-inch display.
The standard 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is a highlight, delivering crisp and deep sound which impresses at every volume. It turns the 5er into a rolling concert.
Moving further back, there’s ample space for adults or large kids in the back, though you may be surprised there’s not as much overall space as you’d initially expect for such a large car.
Head- and legroom is fine, even for me sitting behind my own driving position – I’m just over six-foot-one – and you could probably fit three across at a pinch.
Other than outright space there’s amenities galore in the back of the 5er, including a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders, third and fourth zones for the climate control, two USB-C charge outlets, a 12V socket, large door bins, as well as map pockets behind the front seats. All it’s really missing are heated rear seats – only available on the full M550i as an option.
Rest assured, your passengers will be comfortable and entertained in the back seat provided there’s only two of them most of the time.
Under the electrically-opened bootlid is a 530L luggage area which is nicely wide and square to accommodate larger items. You won’t find any form of spare wheel under the boot floor; all M550i models instead come with a tyre repair kit.
The BMW M550i xDrive features a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, something of a rarity in the segment these days.
With 390kW of power available at 6000rpm and a whopping 750Nm of torque on tap between 1800 and 4600rpm, the twin-turbo V8 channels power to a variable xDrive all-wheel drive system through an eight-speed ZF automatic.
BMW claims a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 3.8 seconds on its way to an electronically-limited top speed of 250km/h.
Keep in mind those figures not long ago were the realm of supercars, so the M550i is packing some serious performance – not that you’ll really get to test its full potential in Australia, unless you take your gentleman’s express to the track.
Fuel consumption is officially rated at 10.6L/100km on the combined cycle, with the fuel tank rated at 68L. Premium 95 RON unleaded is required as a minimum.
Beautifully. It’s something of a rarity to get behind the wheel of a V8 sedan these days, and hopping into the M550i xDrive reminds you just how great that can be.
From the moment you fire the thing up, there’s that signature bent eight burble. It’s not quite as loud or aggressive as what you might find in a proper M car, but you don’t want to be that neighbour, do you?
Get out on the road and the M550i doesn’t feel too different from other 5 Series variants – it’s comfortable, quiet, and easy to manoeuvre despite its size.
The 20-inch rims are shod in Bridgestone Potenza S007 rubber, which is one of the tyre brand’s top-tier performance products, but despite their sporting focus they’re exceptionally quiet on the move.
Regardless of road surface, the M550i xDrive is beautifully refined and makes perfect sense as a long-distance highway cruiser. You can tell this thing would be the perfect companion on an Autobahn, humming along at 250km/h.
Alas, we live in Australia so the M550i will never see highways like those back home, but even at 110km/h the 5er is barely breaking a sweat.
The M550i offers a balance of brutal acceleration and luxurious ride comfort
With its pliant ride and impressive NVH suppression, the M550i is more a brutally quick GT than a razor-sharp corner carver – the latter is better left for the M5.
Speaking of corners, the M550i is a hoot to punt up a winding country road, though like other versions of this generation of 5 Series, the steering may not feel as quick or communicative as you might expect from a BMW.
That’s not to say the 5 Series isn’t fun to drive – because it’s bloody brilliant – but the steering is on the lighter side until you dial up the drive mode selector into ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport Plus’.
Speaking of the selectable drive modes, opting for Sport and Sport Plus opens up the exhaust a little, and amplifies the sound through the cabin speakers, for a more exciting aural experience. You’ll hear some pops and crackles on overrun too if you push it a bit.
Bury your right foot and the M550i hurtles towards the horizon. This could well be one of the quickest cars I’ve driven so far, and a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 3.8 seconds is nothing to be sneezed at.
The added traction from the variable xDrive all-wheel drive system means you can get that power down safely in all weather, too. Even during spirited driving, the M550i never feels lairy or like it’s trying to step out if you breathe too hard on the throttle. You just point and shoot. Quite addictive, actually.
With 750Nm under your right foot from just 1800rpm, the M550i never feels underdone regardless of situation, though occasionally you can feel a hint of turbo lag as the revs climb towards that maximum torque band.
This feeling of lag is exacerbated somewhat by the tuning of the eight-speed automatic transmission at low speeds.
When coming to a stop (and engaging the idle stop/start system) and moving away from a standstill, it can be tricky to make smooth progress.
Press too little and next to nothing happens, press too hard and the M550i jolts to life and revs out to 2000rpm quite quickly with all the engine’s torque hitting you in the back, hard. Shifting from first into second isn’t always the smoothest, either.
These traits seem to be common with a lot vehicles with ZF eight-speed autos – including the VW Touareg and Audi Q7 I sampled recently – likely down to the transmission being tuned for efficiency in normal drive modes making them reluctant to rev.
In most turbocharged cars these days, setting off from 1000rpm means there’s little response until around 1800rpm which is just before these transmissions tend to shift to second.
During our time with the V8 5er we also got to sample the vast array of driver assistance technologies which no doubt will help driving this big, expensive luxury sedan that little bit easier.
On the freeway the BMW M550i xDrive features Steering and Lane Control Assistant, which in combination with the adaptive cruise control system offers semi-autonomous driving ability, and can even take over stop/start driving in a traffic jam.
I’ve used this technology in other current-generation BMW models and it’s a fantastic bit of kit that feels pretty natural, and isn’t overly intrusive like systems from some other brands.
There’s blind-spot and rear cross-traffic assists should another vehicle ever find itself in your blind spot, and the head-up display means you don’t have to be taking your eyes off the road to check your speed or change the song on Spotify.
My only complaint about the driver tech, and I touched on this earlier, is that there’s limited customisation for the digital instrument cluster. My Volkswagen Golf GTI is already fairly “limited” by only allowing two sizes of dials on either side of an array of menus, but the BMW system doesn’t even give you that.
It seems like an oversight to not offer different designs for the dials and menus, which was actually available on the previous-generation cluster paired with iDrive 6. Probably a small complaint to most, but as a tech-head it’d be nice to have more personalisation with all that digital real estate.
BMW offers inclusive service plans which make ownership surprisingly affordable. The ‘Basic’ package covers you for up to five years or 80,000km – whichever comes first.
All 5 Series models are available with the Basic package for $1850, which averages out to $370 per year for the first five years. That’s cheaper than some mainstream brands.
There’s also a ‘Plus’ package which covers consumable items like brake pads, brake discs, and windscreen wiper blades where applicable, which asks for $5540 for the same period.
Like the wider line-up, the 5 Series is covered by BMW Australia’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty with complimentary roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty.
As for real-world fuel consumption, we couldn’t quite match BMW’s 10.6L/100km claim. We averaged an indicated 14.0L/100km during our week of testing which was skewed to urban driving (with a heavy right foot, mind you), translating to around 450-500 kilometres per fill of the 68L tank.
For anyone fortunate enough to be able to drop $140,000-$150,000 on a luxury performance car, the BMW M550i xDrive Pure makes a lot of sense. It’s more affordable and packs more muscle than its competitors, while also covering all the basics in terms of luxury and convenience features.
It’s also beautifully refined and comfortable in normal driving, meaning you can drive it like a normal 5 Series in town, and then wring its neck like an M5 on the twisty stuff.
Speaking of the M5, you’re also saving nearly $100,000 compared to the M-branded model, meaning you can have an M550i and a well-specified 3 Series or X3 for the same price as one M5. In value-for-money terms it’s a no-brainer.
Also keep in mind the facelifted model is available to order now and set to arrive within months, so you can either snag a deal on the model you see here or wait a little longer to reap the benefits of the mid-life facelift.