by: Mike Ginsca
Performance – A decade ago, a 400hp V8 in a BMW could only be found in the iconic M5. Today, that sort of power can be obtained without having to go into the 6 figure price range. The 6th generation 5-series is available with a 400hp twin turbocharged V8 mated to a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission.
First the engine. Although the 550i weighs in at a staggering 2000kg, the engine produces so much power and torque at low revs that it almost feels like it weighs 1 ton less than it actually does. It uses a small turbo for low rpms and then a larger turbo takes over for higher rpms and to produce the monumental power. As a result of this sequential turbo system, the engine is very responsive and turbo lag is nearly non-existent. However don’t think that fuel economy has been sacrificed in the pursuit of power. Variable geometry turbochargers, twin-scroll intake, direct injection, brake energy regeneration, and other new “efficientDynamics” technologies help the 550i achieve a respectable 13L/100km in city and 8.2L/100km on highway.
The transmission is supplied by ZF Friedrichshafen, a German manufacturer specializing in new automotive chassis and driveline technologies. Arguably, depending on who you ask, they make some of the best automatic transmissions in the world. The 8-speed automatic that they supply to BMW is no exception. The lower gears provide quick acceleration and keep the engine in its “sweet spot” to move the massive 2000kg body and the higher gears help the 550i with fuel economy. It is also a silky smooth shifting transmission and when it does shift, it’s hardly noticeable.
In the corners it was a bit of a letdown for me. Its massive weight is very noticeable when changing directions from left to right or vice versa. Also the steering feel wasn’t what I was expecting from a BMW. It is an electronic assist steering and whilst these types of systems have been getting better over the years, on this 5-series it felt disconnected from the front wheels. It’s hard to describe the feeling in words but it felt too digital and not analog like how driving enthusiasts want. I’m not saying the car had poor handling, because it can grip like there’s no tomorrow, it just felt as though the driver wasn’t involved.
Comfort – This is where the 5-series shines like no other car. The interior is so well insulated that you can hear your own heart beating when you’re cruising at 100km/h. Heated and cooled seats wrapped in soft leather can melt or freeze your bones depending on which settings you choose. Also the actual seating position is quite high for a sedan but that does mean that you get a better view of the cars ahead of you. The dashboard is a major improvement over the previous generation’s boring look. Wood and aluminum trim is still the standard but it is a better use and design of those materials. Satellite navigation, iDrive, and a Bang and Olufsen sound system will keep everyone in the car entertained on long trips or when stuck in city traffic. This is by far one of the best, if not the best, interiors I’ve been in and I would gladly spend 2 or 3 hours of my time inside this car if I were commuting on a daily basis.
Odds and Ends – The exterior has been given a “conservative” redesign. New LED strips are featured into the taillights and a lower front grill is reminiscent of the M5 but apart from these new exterior features it looks just like any other German executive sedan.
All in all, it is a very good car and like I said this is one of the best interiors I’ve ever been in without it being a six figure vehicle. But it is also a forgetful car. Once I got out of it I didn’t have the urge to get back into it and just drive for the sake of driving.
Thank you to Autoform Performance Inc. for providing the vehicle.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.