The BMW 550i GT is not what you think of when you hear the word \'hatchback\'.
The BMW 550i GT is not what you think of when you hear the word 'hatchback'.
Hatches are now commonplace at the lower end of the price bracket (think BMW 1 Series), but luxury hatchbacks seem to be a no-go-zone for manufacturers, until now.
The new 5 Series GT is a hybrid of a 5 Series sedan and X6 cross-over, making it a luxury hatchback, a niche vehicle that has carved its own section in the marketplace, currently untouched by other manufacturers (until the Audi A7 arrives later, in 2011).
In pictures, the 5 Series GT is done no justice. It looks cumbersome and awkward at the rear and far too tall to be practical. In person it’s a similar story, but to a lesser extent.
The front end looks remarkable, in true 5 Series fashion. The side profile also looks attractive with flowing lines that run from the front corner all the way through to the rear. The only styling anomaly is at the rear, where its flat look is dominated by a massive bum. It looks big in pictures and is even bigger in person. Lovers of big boodies, they will love it. For everyone else, it will take a bit of time to get used to.
It’s inside the cabin that the 5 Series GT really shines. Starting at $143,400 for the 530d GT, our $192,900 top-spec 550i GT had almost every option ticked, resulting in remarkable cabin presentation and a paramount level of luxury.
As you plant yourself on the driver’s seat, an immediate feeling of containment and power is conveyed. The driver’s quarters leave you feeling comfortably cocooned and in control of the whole operation. Visibility out of the front and to the sides is impressive. Rearward visibility is fairly unimpressive, but is helped by a raft of high-resolution cameras.
In addition to a high-resolution reversing camera that relays its image to the 10.2 inch colour LCD screen, our vehicle was optioned with two side cameras that are mounted to the sides of the front bumper-bar. Once selected, the cameras help in situations where you can’t see traffic at a T-intersection. Once you select the cameras, you can creep forward and watch for oncoming traffic that would otherwise be blocked by parked vehicles. It’s $900 well spent when you consider how many times you are forced into dicey situations due to illegally parked cars or trucks.
BMW’s revised iDrive multimedia command system is now easier to use and features a revised satellite navigation system. The new satellite navigation system features a 3D topographical view that superimposes large buildings and points of interest as they are approached.
Voice recognition can also be used to enter addresses, change discs and change radio stations. The end result is more time spent monitoring the road – an excellent feature that should find its way down to run-of-the-mill cars in the not too distant future.
Other optional features fitted to our test vehicle included lane departure warning ($1400) and lane change warning ($1400). The former system vibrates the steering wheel when the car senses the driver is about to cross lanes unintentionally and features graphical warnings on the heads up display, while the latter uses small lights mounted on the wing mirrors to alert the driver of vehicles in their blind spot.
The build quality and fit and finish inside the cabin is second to none. High quality materials are used throughout with opulent leather used to comfort the driver and passengers. Aeroplane style head rests with bolster adjustments are standard fitment on the 550i GT and come in handy for passengers wanting to snooze on long journeys.
Our test vehicle was fitted with the comfort seat option for rear passengers ($4000). The comfort seat option converts the three seat rear into two seats, inserting a centre divider that offers storage space, cup holders and a holding area for the entertainment system remote control. This option also makes the seats electric, allowing rear passengers to recline the seat to offer more room and a comfortable seating position.
A reclining seat wouldn’t be complete without a screen to watch movies on. Our test vehicle was fitted with the rear entertainment system professional option ($5,700) that gives rear seat passengers two 9.2 inch colour LCD screens that can independently watch television, DVDs on scroll through satellite navigation.
The impressive system comes with a wireless remote control that controls either of the two screens and allows rear seat passengers to customise every aspect of their experience. A digital high-definition TV tuner provides for crystal clear television reception, while the 12-speaker sound system offers plenty of punch for movies with surround sound.
The biggest talking point around the 5 Series GT is the rear. The new hatchback design looks strange, but promises function. Much like the Skoda Superb, the hatchback has a dual operation. It can either open as a fully featured hatchback, or it can open like a car boot, with a hinged door arrangement.
While the former works exceptionally well, the latter leaves a lot to be desired. With the hatchback open, you can fit virtually anything into the cavernous 440 litre boot space. With the hinged boot on the other hand, it’s even hard to put shopping in the rear as the hole doesn’t offer enough of an opening to insert contents. The hatchback portion is of course driven by a motor, allowing hands free opening and closing.
It wouldn’t be a BMW without excellent performance and handling to back it up. The 550i GT certainly doesn’t disappoint. Sporting a twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre petrol V8 engine, the 550i GT produces 300kW and 600Nm of torque. Power is sent through a new eight-speed ZF Sachs 8HP70 gearbox that provides very fast gear changes and an exceptional sports mode that blips revs on downshifts and holds gears for a more spirited drive.
Sporting a combined fuel efficiency figure of 11.2L/100km, the 550i GT is good for a 0-100km/h dash of just 5.5-seconds. It’s an impressive effort considering the car’s portly 2060kg kerb weight.
The system individually monitors steering wheel position, pitch and yaw forces and works in unison with the Variable Damper Control (VDC) to offer a ride that can be extremely comfortable one minute and precisely sporty the next. The results speak for themselves with the 550i GT sitting flat and steady through any corner thrown at it.
On the other hand, when in comfort mode, the car feels like it’s riding on a soft layer of cloud, absorbing any road surface (both sealed and unsealed) thrown at it.
Brake pedal feel and steering feel is absolutely second to none. BMW knows a thing or two about perfecting these critical aspects of a car and certainly haven’t skipped fine tuning the elements in the 550i GT. The brake pedal offers uniform pedal pressure and feel. The steering is just as good, offering superb feedback with every portion of the road felt through the wheel.
So there we have it, the new BMW 550i GT. While you may, or may not like the design, everything else about the car is top notch. At that price, it broaches on 7 Series and Jaguar XJ territory, so there would have to be a fairly compelling reason to drop almost $200,000 on such a niche vehicle.
If you can stomach the rear end, you are bound to be pleased with the 550i GT. It’s a lot of car for your money and performs every bit like a BMW should.
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