2014 BMW 5 SERIES REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Luxury sedan
Price: $159,900 (plus on-roads), $167,200 as-tested.
Engine/trans: 330kW/650Nm 4.4 turbo petrol V8 | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.8 l/100km | tested: 14.4 l/100km
Anyone who’s shelled out $230k for an F10-generation M5 perhaps won't like hearing the news, but it’s true: in a lot of ways, the 550i is more enjoyable than the full-blooded 423kW flagship.
It pains me to say it, but the M5 is just a little too extreme.
A fellow journo described the current-gen M5 as being a caricature of its former self, and I agree. Having so much power is great for bragging rights, but it can be a liability when you’ve only got two driven wheels to funnel it through.
And when you spend most of your time driving past speed cameras.
And this is where the 550i steps in.
It’s still got a twin-turbo 4.4 litre V8, and is brutally quick, but at 330kW it’s a lot more manageable than the 423kW monster that lurks under the M5’s bonnet.
- Four-zone climate control, head-up display, cruise control, heated and powered front seats, sunroof, surround-view camera, parking sensors, LED headlamps.
- 550i standard infotainment includes: Navigation System Professional, incorporating internet browser and connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB input for external music players, DVD player, digital radio tuner, touchpad interface for iDrive controller.
- Dakota leather standard in either black, white or black/white combination.
The 550i’s cabin isn’t dramatically different to other models in the 5 Series range, but the range of upholstery and trim options is generous.
Standard equipment levels are great too, with thickly-padded Comfort Seats, quad-zone climate control, a head-up display, motorized rear sun-blind, digital radio tuner and high-end navigation system.
And that’s on top of the also-standard Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB media input, cruise control, heated seats, LED headlamps, sunroof, surround-view parking cameras… the list goes on.
Our car had a few option boxes ticked though. Nappa leather was one (a $1300 option); the other, the M Sport package.
As far as the interior is concerned, the M Sport pack gets you a three-spoke steering wheel (which feels great), a black headliner, and aluminium door sill-plates.
Externally, there’s a sportier (but relatively restrained) bodykit, 19-inch alloys and a lowered sports-suspension.
As part of a mid-life upgrade brought in late last year for the F10 5 Series range, the instrument panel has been upgraded to a full LCD display, which reconfigures the dial graphics depending on what drive mode you’re in.
Selected ECO-Pro? You get an efficiency meter instead of a tachometer. Dialled it up to Sport or Sport+? The background goes blood-red and your current gear is displayed, along with a live power readout.
It’s a neatly presented interior and not short on features.
Some may find the rear legroom a tad tight for what is billed as a large sedan, but headroom is good.
Also, the 550i’s standard roll-out side window-shades and power-retractable rear-shade will keep your passengers shielded from the harsh Aussie sun.
Quad-zone air-con is standard, and backseaters are kept cool by four face-level air vents - two on the rear of the centre console, and one on each B-pillar.
ON THE ROAD
- 4.4 twin-turbo petrol V8, 330kW @ 5500-6400rpm, 650Nm @ 2000-4500rpm
- eight-speed automatic, RWD
- Double-wishbone front suspension, multi-link rear
- All-disc brakes with regenerative braking function
So it’s no M5, but let’s be honest: 330kW, 650Nm and 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds are numbers that are not to be sneezed at.
It’s got terrific low-end pull. Getting off the line smartly rarely requires big revs, and the 550i’s 4.4 litre V8 delivers a full 650Nm from just 2000rpm.
But - and this is the crux of our argument here - the 550i never feels as overpowered as the M5.
Being able to boot it off the line without triggering a near-total meltdown of the traction control system is something the 550i does better than the M5. (The M5 needs the extra slip of its special M Dynamic Mode to make a clean getaway.)
That’s not to say the 550i can’t light up its rear wheels. It can, and it will if you enable Sport+ mode or deactivate stability control altogether.
Less manic than the M5, but plenty fast.
And much credit for that extra driveline refinement is down to the 550i’s ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic. It’s a lot smoother to engage than the M5’s twin-clutch transmission, which in turn makes it easier to live with in traffic.
Taken out beyond the confines of a city, the 550i is a superb cruiser. It's the concessions to comfort that give it such appeal.
It's fast, but there is some body roll. And even with the sportier suspension of our M Performance-equipped tester, the 550i has pronounced squat, dive, and roll if you're really pushing the envelope.
But down below is a very well-balanced chassis with brilliant cornering grip.
The big brother M5 will leave it for dead around a set of corners, but the 550i has the better balance between ride comfort and handling.
And the 550i absolutely relishes long highway miles. It's effortlessly powerful should it be needed; overtaking requires just the mildest flex of the ankle.
There’s only one major issue that we found, and that’s fuel consumption.
BMW claims an average figure of 8.8 l/100km, but even with a great deal of highway driving and the aid of regenerative braking and engine stop-start, we could only average 14.4 l/100km out in the real world.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 36.53 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Stability control (switchable), traction control (three modes), ABS, EBD, brake assist all standard. Six airbags are standard - dual front, front side and full-length curtain.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
At $160k plus, BMW's 550i is one for the premium buyer. But this is a very classy package, and one that balances superb performance without sacrificing comfort.
This is a performance sedan that strikes a perfect middle-ground. Not too flashy, in no way lairy, but thumpingly quick in a straight line and a genuine sporting drive.
If you're doing the sums, it's $70k cheaper than an M5. It's not as quick, but close; and not as monstrously powerful, but far the better day-to-day proposition.
The 550i is a boxer in an Armani suit. It's nursing big power under the bonnet, but balances it with plenty of refinement and impeccable style.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- BMW 520i Sedan $79,900
- BMW 520d Sedan $82,400
- BMW 528i Sedan $97,400
- BMW 535i Sedan $116,900
- BMW ActiveHybrid 5 $119,900
- BMW 535d Sedan $121,900
- BMW 550i Sedan $159,900
- BMW 520d Touring $90,900
- BMW 535i Touring $122,900
- BMW 520d Gran Turismo $93,900
- BMW 530d Gran Turismo $108,900
- BMW 535i Gran Turismo $117,900