Read the news lately? Barely a day passes without a suggestion that BMW may have lost its way.
The storied German brand seems to be doing its best to usurp the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ mantra with perhaps a wordier ‘Really quite good and undoubtedly clever, if only you can get past the design' style slogan.
I’ll be the first to admit it’s not quite as catchy, and I’d be concerned… If it weren’t for cars like this.
The 2020 BMW M550i xDrive Pure is a BMW’s BMW; a lazy but loutish muscle car disguised as a stylish, upmarket saloon.
Currently priced from $134,900 before options and on-road costs in its Pure form or $149,900 in full-house spec, the M550i sits $22K (or 19 per cent) above the 530i M-Sport and a whopping $100K (or 74 per cent) below the M5 Competition. The updated model, due here before the end of the year, will see prices increase across the range, the 2021 M550i xDrive Pure ringing the till at $139,900 before options and on-road costs.
Those figures change when you look at output, too, as the M550i’s twin-turbo V8 offers 390kW, which is 111 per cent more than the 530i (185kW), yet only 18 per cent shy of the M5 (460kW).
It’s this positioning that makes the M550i a bit of a surprise package, a proper wolf in sheep’s clothing, from the people who really invented the concept and yet now insist on dressing their wolves like sheep going to a rave.
And while it's not particularly cheap, is the M550i Pure all that you really need in a BMW sports sedan?
|2020 BMW M550i xDrive Pure|
|Engine configuration||V8 twin-turbo petrol|
|Power||390kW @ 6000rpm|
|Torque||750Nm @ 1800–4600rpm|
|Drive type||Variable torque-split all-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption (combined-cycle claim)||10.6L/100km|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle on test)||12.3L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||68L|
|Sales category||Large luxury car|
|Key competitors||Mercedes-AMG E53 / Audi S6|
In terms of design, the G30 5 Series is one of BMW’s best of recent times. A signature beltline crease and the iconic ‘Hoffmeister Kink’ on the rear window tell an obvious story of the car’s lineage.
The wide-set grille and angular LED running lamp signature certainly make it a more attractive proposition than some of the more polarising BMW releases. The M550i is able to be quickly identified by its ‘Ferric Grey’ trim components around the lower air dam.
There’s a subtle lip spoiler on the boot, too, and slightly less subtle but still muted quad exhaust tips below. Wolf or sheep, this one is dressed properly.
The 5er fits into that Goldilocks category of being neither too big nor too small. Rear passengers, even tall ones, have plenty of leg room and shoulder space, plus there’s a 530L boot that even includes a handy tub in the floor. Perfect as a champagne holder.
The 12mm lower stance of the M550i (compared to a regular 530i) gives it an even more muscular look, amplified further by the stylish 20-inch wheels (on Bridgestone rubber), which conceal huge 395mm front and 370mm rear brake rotors and blue M-Sport callipers.
On the inside, too, our Pure in its pre-LCI update ‘runout’ guise still carries a strong equipment list despite the $15,000 gap to the big-spec car.
The cabin is flush with leather, the seats are heated, and the full suite of BMW infotainment and assistance technology is part of the package. It’s well built, well laid out and feels rightly premium.
Our car is finished in Mediterranean Blue Metallic ($2000 – and one of six choices) and has the optional sunroof ($3200), which are both standard on the not-Pure (it’s a really confusing naming convention).
The Pure also misses out on laser headlights and soft-close doors, which frankly you’d never notice if I didn’t mention it.
There’s also the exclusion of the active roll-stabilisation and rear-wheel-steering function, which arguably add weight (44kg) and complexity where it simply isn’t needed. The Pure punts, turns, grips and steers just fine. In fact, more than fine.
Up front, that powerhouse 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 is both wolf and sheep. Leave the car in its regular Comfort setting and you can lazily doddle about town, with a mild rumble from the exhaust and a whistle from the turbos as the only indication of the potential lurking away.
The eight-speed transmission works well, too, offering a smooth transition between gears, and an automatic selection that suits urban driving behaviour.
The ride is plush and comfortable, even with the low stance and big wheels. But left in the standard setting, I’d even say the adaptive dampers are too soft, as you can feel the car tap the bump stops on the compression and rebound over speed humps and the like.
You can change this to use the stiffer Sport setting, but then the gearbox never changes ratios, so I’d recommend the Sport Individual mode for the firmer ride, but more livable transmission settings.
Here, too, it’s light and direct enough to steer around town. Big enough to feel, but not too big to manage.
But it’s the engine's response in this ‘off’ setting you notice the most. Feedback from a mild feather of the throttle is very muted, even lazy, as the big V8 barely ticks above an idle. Slow off the line, it’s like a retired professional boxer. You know they could still go a few rounds and hold their own, they just don’t want to.
BMW quotes an urban thirst of 14.8L/100km, and while I was under that at 12.3L/100km (obviously driving at peak-old-man setting), I couldn’t help but feel that stealthily rolling through traffic is not where the M550i works best.
The open road, however, gives the chance for the wolf to stretch its legs. And what legs they are! Simply put, this thing boogies.
|2020 BMW M550i xDrive Pure|
|Wheels/tyres||20-inch – 245/35R20 front, 275/30R20 rear, Bridgestone|
Peak power from the V8 comes on at 6000rpm, with all 390kW working hard to move the 1826kg saloon at a civilised sub-warp speed. Pop the car into Sport, stab the throttle, and response is all but instant, with the twin turbos dishing up the full 750Nm of torque between 1800 and 4600rpm.
On an empty, threading country road you quickly reach and surpass triple-digit speeds, a muffled growl and rushing air the only real identifiers of the pace the big 5 can deliver.
At this point, you can lift off, keep within legal bounds, and think about how to spend the $100,000 you didn’t need to stretch to an M5. Sure, it doesn’t get the iconic badge, but this is all the 5 Series you need.
A sublime big-country tourer that slips to an almost economical consumption level in the mid 9L/100km range (against a claim of 8.2 – combined 10.6L/100km). Fair to note that a more real level is in the mid-12 range, as flowing roads and sharp downshifts tend to encourage a less touring approach to smashing through curves.
The variable torque-split AWD system sends power to the front to help pull the BMW through bends, and to correct any unruly oversteer shenanigans that a twin-turbo V8 is basically trying to provide as soon as you fire it up.
It’s good in the way you have no real idea what it's doing and when it is doing it. What results is exceptional grip in both wet and dry, with an ability to slingshot out of corners far more rapidly than your passengers would expect (or, most likely, enjoy).
A gold star for BMW driveline engineers that sadly isn’t backed up by their cabin-tech crew.
The G30 5 Series only launched in 2017, but it is already one of the oldest models in the BMW showroom, and while it is still an impressive platform, some of the newer technology pieces feel a bit tacked on.
I’d almost suggest that the earlier cars made more sense, in that the older iDrive software and more traditional digital cluster seemed to be more harmonious with the car as a whole.
BMW has rolled the latest version of the BMW OS-7 (the artist formerly known as iDrive) infotainment and connectivity software into the pre-update 5 Series to keep it in line with other, newer models.
The wide-screen 10.2-inch touch display in the dash is clear and visible in all light conditions.
It works and is well featured, sure, but I do think it has taken a step back in terms of intuitive interface design, particularly with the main menu screens and instrument cluster.
You do get used to it the more you use it, but the beauty of the previous iDrive iterations was the simplicity of navigation, so you weren’t distracted while driving. There is a lot more going on with the new system, so it can be easier to get lost or harder to find what you need within the menu structure. Once again, another example where setting it up once and never touching it again makes more sense.
It’s a pity, as BMW used to lead the market here. I can’t help but feel a quest for even more technology and features has seen them miss the most important feature of all, ergonomic usability.
|2020 BMW M550i xDrive Pure|
|Colour||Mediterranean Blue Metallic|
|Options as tested||$5000|
|Warranty||3 years / unlimited km|
That said, spending more time looking out the windscreen at fast-moving landscape, and less time worrying about how to change the instrument display, is a far better way to enjoy the M550i.
Owning one isn’t too tricky either, with BMW Service Inclusive priced at $1850 for a five-year/80,000km package. Having bought a number of BMWs, I’d always recommend having this negotiated as part of your purchase, making ownership a much less complicated process.
Simply put, the M550i Pure is the M5 for the rest of us.
Power, performance, comfort and luxury, paired with just the right amount of subtle menace, creates a sports sedan that ticks all the boxes, except the ‘quarter of a million dollars’ one. You don’t need the M5, you don’t even need the full-spec M550i, to enjoy a proper BMW sports saloon.
Like I said earlier, the 2020 BMW M550i xDrive Pure is a BMW’s BMW, even in these modern times. It manages to be fast, luxurious and lovely to drive, yet still quite good and undoubtedly clever.
Proof perhaps that BMW old and new can still exist harmoniously together.