Driving Impressions: 2018 BMW M550i xDrive Sedan By: Mark Moskowitz MD
The 2018 BMW M550i xDrive arrives on a barge. Bathes you in luxurious leather. Accelerates to 60 in less than four seconds and continues to pull well into the triple digits. Plays an interior exhaust note that would make a hot rodder or an Italian aficionado proud. And employs sophisticated electronics and an active suspension to lend its driver an air of invincibility. I pine for a super car. Is this one? Read on and decide.
Styling and Design
Earlier this year I dined with Dr. Johan Tomforde, award-winning designer and the man credited with the development of the Smart Car. 'The great brands have a consistency of design; you always know a BMW as it approaches'. There's no question this is a BMW. Supercar styling: no. Stealth perhaps. From the front there's that classic split grill. The 550 has it, the lower air intake, and two enlarged side intakes blacked out. The front bumper/spoiler is racey. Despite its taller 19 inch wheels the BMW sits lower to the ground than the standard 5 series. From the side, it looks like most other modern sedans. Take away the satin vent accent and the profile, swage line and 'rocker panels' are barely distinguishable from a Hyundai Sonata. A spoiler lip, trapezoidal exhausts and that lovely M badge accent the rear.
How It Drives
Charlotteans and other mid staters do not have to venture out west to the Tail of the Dragon or the roads around Weaverville for automotive thrills. There's highway 221 around Boone but it's crowded. Midday it's hard to beat the 15 mile stretch of Old North Carolina 18 from Toluca to Sunnyside. Varied terrain, a host of off camber turns, sweepers and hairpins all tested the M550i's mettle. Steering was precise. Body lean was minimal. And time between turns was minimized. Acceleration at all legal speeds and beyond was instantaneous and impressive. Adaptive suspension, all-wheel drive and electronic traction devices drove the car more deeply in turns than I would have thought possible; most often testing the driver's rather than the car's limits. Shifting could be done with the console mounted shifter or the paddles. The Sport Plus Mode changed shift points, added resistance to the steering and tightened the suspension. Most often the computer found better shift points than the driver. Mode selection is adaptive as well and certain controls change with driving style. This can be 'overridden'. I am not a fan of the heavy steering that accompanies sport modes. BMW allows you to set a 'personal' mode.
It mastered the steep dirt driveway test. Where others required a running start the BMW could crawl upwards without slippage.
On the highways it was docile and the controls were light and luxo-sedan pleasant. The cockpit is quiet at speed and engine noise is barely audible at idle. As is the trend the M550 has stop start which must be repetitively thwarted.
Back in Charlotte and in and around the Speedway, there were a variety of opportunities to test acceleration and the eight speed transmission. The 4.4 liter aluminum V-8 has nearly equal bore and stroke, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and dual twin-scroll turbochargers. (The turbos are actually chambered and their lengths tuned like racing headers to deliver a more consistent delivery of exhaust gas energy to the turbine.)
Using launch control the folks at Car and Driver
were able to achieve 12.1 second quarter miles and zero to 100 mph times of 8.2 seconds. Times recorded on the Apple IPAD stop watch affirmed the veracity of these recordings. Needless to say acceleration with negligible lag was there when needed.
Interior and Cargo
The test model's interior was covered with yards of Cognac Dakota Leather…..football colored and more interesting than tan. Real wood accents and satin metal finishes complete a functional and attractive interior.
Normally I shy away from Teutonic seats. BMW's are called 20-way seats. All the usual adjustments are complemented by moveable dual lumbar supports, thighs supports, side bolsters, and an angling shoulder and scapula support. One would be embarrassed not to be able to find comfort within their confines.
Up front there was ample headroom but a seemingly wide and tall console interfered with knee position. Raise the seat and the knees rested comfortably. Fine for a driver of average height but worthy of investigation for the very tall.
The rear seats were comfortable and foot room adequate. I would have to question roominess behind someone taller than 6'2'. Adjustable rear compartment climate control was a plus as were rear seat heaters.
Trunk room was generous and easily accessible. The Smart Trunk opened consistently and quickly when a foot passed beneath the rear bumper.
Electronics and Ergonomics
Nothing but superlatives here. The 10.2 inch touch screen allows one, two or three easy-to-read displays with rapid response to voice and touch. BMW's console mounted scroll wheel is among my favorites allowing easy adjustment of touch screen features without the need to sacrifice the driver's forward focus. Change the driving mode or exit traction control and an understandable graphic appears on the touch screen.
There are numerous safety features. Though lane change and blind spot warning and adaptive cruise control seem de rigueur they become worthy of note as prerequisites for Driving Assistance Plus. With activation of a steering wheel mounted switch, the BMW stays in its lane without active input, though a periodic touch of the steering wheel is mandatory.
The 360 degree view is enhanced by a 3D feature enabling parking. Infrared NightVision with pedestrian detection is an available option.
Seat ventilation seems expensive as a $1200 option. But it seems that only special cows can have their hides perforated and their leather costs another $1000.
The wireless battery charge is positioned in front of the cupholders and easily accommodated the larger android phones but could not be accessed without removing taller cups from their receptacles.
While safety considerations should rule, maneuvering the shifter in and out of park can be a chore and seems a more complex maneuver in this car than most others I test.
The 2018 BMW M550i xDrive sports sophisticated electronics and amazing performance features. As a sports sedan, it carries a significant price tag. A full slate of options brings the tab to over $90,000 but its scintillating performance features can be obtained for a price tag which nears $77,000. And it doesn't approach that magic 200mph that may define the modern supercar but who among us would dare to achieve it on American roads. Get past that sedan façade. Engage those form fitting seats. Hear the snarl of the V-8 under power, achieve 60 mph in under four seconds, and handle curves with confidence. Then call it what you want.
Features included but not discussed include heated steering wheel, Head-Up Display, Moonroof, power fold down side view mirrors, Gesture Control, Apple CarPlay compatibility, M Sport Brakes, and Bowers & Wilkins sound system.