We’ve all heard the saying before. “M-Sport cars are not real M cars”. But does that matter these days anymore? The 2020 BMW M550i xDrive is trying to prove that M-Sport cars can offer 90% of the fun of an M car but at a lower cost. So has it worked?
Engine – Just like the M5, the 2020 BMW M550i is powered by a twin-turbocharged 4.4L V8. Unlike the M5 though, the M550i has to make due with just 523 hp and 553 lb-ft of torque. Both of those numbers are actually up from last year’s model by 67 hp & 73 lb-ft of torque. Although this sedan doesn’t have 600 hp like the M5, it’s still enough to sprint the 2,000 kg body to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds. The acceleration feels very violent from behind the steering wheel. To put it plainly, this car will give you that “kick in your backside” when you smash the throttle pedal to the floor.
The throttle and engine response in its most sportiest setting is immediate. The turbochargers are placed in the “hot” V-bank of the V8 engine which allows for immediate spool up with peak torque coming in at just 1,800 rpms. But when you just want to have a relaxing drive, the engine is buttery smooth and at times you forget just how powerful it is.
But with great power comes great – as in big – fuel bills. To my surprise though, the fuel economy of such a powerful and heavy car was not that bad. Sure, it does require premium fuel but it’s rated for 9.3 L/100km (25.3 mpg) on a highway and 13.6 L/100km (17.3 mpg) in a city.
Transmission – An 8-speed automatic is mated to the V8 engine. It’s not a dual-clutch but rather a traditional automatic. But that doesn’t make it any worse or slower because this 8-speed is brilliant in any condition. From Comfort to Sport+ modes, the transmission does the job it was intended to do. It is smooth around town with shifts being almost unperceivable. Switch to Sport+ and the shifts are noticeable but almost Porsche PDK quick.
Braking – Stopping the 2 tonne car is a lot of work for the brake calipers but they get the job done. The M-Sport 4-piston fixed calipers clamp on the brake discs with enough force to almost make it feel as though you crashed into the thing you were trying to avoid. They are seriously impressive considering how much mass they have to stop. They are also very smooth and easy to modulate. It doesn’t take much force from the brake pedal to stop the M550i in everyday driving situations. Forward automatic emergency braking is a standard feature on the M550i.
Handling – Although this is a heavy luxury sedan, it …. feels like a heavy luxury sedan when going around a corner. I’m not going to sugar coat it. I’m not saying by any means that it’s bad because the chassis feels fairly neutral and planted around corners. But it’s hard to beat the simple physics that a big object such as this feels more at home going in a straight line.
Steering is very precise regardless of what drive mode the car is in but it doesn’t offer much in terms of feedback. Sport and Sport+ modes artificially make the steering effort heavier without much gain in feedback.
Ride Comfort – The adaptive suspension also feels like it’s more tuned for long journey drives rather than canyon carving. It does change stiffness between the softest Comfort setting to the hardest Sport+ setting but even so, you can drive the 2020 BMW M550i in Sport+ on most unmaintained city streets without much discomfort. This is a plus in my opinion though as this car was not meant to compete against the likes of the BMW M4 on a race track for example.
The ride comfort is further aided by the large and massaging front seats. With 8 different massage programs, the M550i makes long journeys or daily commutes superbly comfortable.
Interior Space – Up front, the BMW M550i offers a lot of space for tall adults. The front seats have a lot of adjustability as does the steering wheel so finding a perfect driving position is a breeze. The rear seats are also spacious but if you’re taller than 6-feet, like myself, you may be wanting for a bit more leg and head room. You’d be fine for a trip to the city center from the suburbs but you wouldn’t want to be there for much longer. Trunk space is generous at 530 L (18.7 cu-ft) of cargo capacity.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Despite the powerful V8 engine under the hood, the cabin of the 2020 BMW M550i is supremely quiet. If the car is in Comfort mode, it’s almost as quiet as an electric vehicle because the transmission upshifts very early so you never hear the engine and outside noises like tire and wind noise are well insulated. On the other end, you can add some engine noise into the cabin by changing the enhanced engine sound option in the infotainment system. Yes, the engine sound inside the cabin is a bit fake but from the outside, passersby will enjoy the V8 rumbles coming from the exhaust pipes.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The 2020 BMW M550i comes equipped with BMW’s latest iteration of their iDrive infotainment system. It has a bit of a steep learning curve for those that are new to BMW vehicles but it doesn’t take very long to figure out your way around it. This system can be controlled via the gorgeous touchscreen or the rotary knob on the center console or by your voice. Just like Mercedes’ new MBUX system, this latest BMW infotainment can be controlled by simply saying “Hey BMW, …”.
Certain functions, like changing the volume, can also be controlled by a simple wave of your hand. There’s a sensor next to the rear mirror that is looking down towards the touchscreen and if you wave your hand in a circular gesture in front of the screen, the volume can be turned up or down. Honestly, it makes you look like a complete dork when other drivers see you waving your hand at a stop light and in my opinion it’s just a gimmick. The voice controls or the steering wheel mounted volume controls are more than enough.
Other than the infotainment system, the M550i can be equipped with just about everything in the BMW options catalogue. Heated and ventilated seats, navigation, blind spot sensors, adaptive cruise control with lane keep, park assist, and so on.
Interior Design – The current 5-series, in fact most of the BMW range, has a good blend of physical buttons and touchscreen based feature controls. The important stuff like climate control and radio controls have physical buttons that are easy to use and understand. Other features are accessible through the infotainment system but usually these are features that you set once and then never touch again.
The cabin materials are a blend of leather and soft touch plastics. There are some harder plastics throughout the cabin but they’re relegated to the lower portions that usually get hit by shoes or bags so they need to be tough. The overall esthetics of the cabin is on the conservative side. It doesn’t scream for attention like in a Mercedes-Benz – especially at night with subtle ambient lighting in the BMW unlike in a Mercedes – but I think BMW could take a couple of chances here and there with the next generation 5-series.
Exterior Design – Like the interior, the exterior is on the conservative side as well. Thankfully it doesn’t have the gigantic kidney grilles of the 7-series or the new 2021 4-series. The front fascia is well proportioned for the rest of the car and there are subtle highlights of bronze-like M-Sport highlights on the grille and mirrors. In a way I’m glad that the exterior design of the M550i is a bit on the conservative side because this type of car is not meant to attract attention. If you want attention, get a BMW i8 while you still can.
The 2020 BMW M550i xDrive starts at $86,650 CAD ($76,650 USD) and this particular demo vehicle is just over $101,000 CAD ($90,270 USD). Yes, that is still a lot of money but a base M550i is over $30,000 CAD less expensive than a base BMW M5. Whatsmore, you’re not losing much in the way of performance because the 0-100 km/h of the M5 is only 0.4 seconds faster which is not a whole lot. Sure, there’s always going to be those types of people who have to have the top spec of whatever model they buy and that’s fine. But these days the M-Sport cars offer so much more performance and luxury than they used to at a significant discount to their ///M counterparts. So is this BMW M550i worth the money? Well considering that the Mercedes-Benz E53 AMG doesn’t offer anywhere near the same performance and the E63 costs as much as an M5, this BMW M550i is perfect for those that want super sedan performance but without quite the 6-figure price tag.
Thank you to BMW Canada for providing the vehicle. www.BMW.ca