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2011 BMW 550i

By Justin Pritchard - 27 Apr 2011

2011 550i is smooth, solid and very fast

2011 BMW 550i

Except for the controversial, eyelash-batting looks of the last-generation model, the 5-Series is a car that BMW seems to nail iteration after iteration.

Long been held in high esteem by enthusiasts for its driving dynamics, looks and luxury, and it’s one of Germany’s staple automotive exports, not to mention a car that sets a standard by which numerous others are measured.

For 2011, the 5-Series has been re-styled, re-powered and re-equipped to further its ambitious goal of sport-sedan supremacy. With an ever-present eye for safety, efficiency and performance, the new 5 has now joined the brand’s sedan lineup as a more stylistically homogenous product that looks like a bigger 3-Series to some, and a smaller 7-Series to others.

The tested 550i came with Dynamic Handling, Technology and Executive packages. On board were an automatic trunk, four-zone climate control, rear sunshades, heated rear seats and plenty more. On the high-tech side, the tester also got a heads-up display, lane departure warning, blind-spot detection, and a surround-view parking system.

A Dynamic Drive controller lets drivers to toggle between Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus settings that alter suspension, steering, throttle and gearshift calibrations in real time. As such, the 550i can be fine-tuned to any particular mood. It’s almost like having 4 cars in one.

It’s all taken in from an interior with a delightful split personality. On one side, the 550i’s cabin is meticulously assembled, spacious, comfortable, unique and very upscale. On the other, it’s got enough buttons, switches and display screens to entertain even seasoned gadget aficionados.

Passengers express their excitement when boarding, most ask for a tour of the countless control interfaces, and none have to know you’re pretending to pilot the U.S.S. Enterprise while going about your daily commute.

In all, the tester’s cabin beautifully blended luxury and technology like no machine your writer has ever experienced-- even if all the controls are somewhat overwhelming at first.

A one-of-a-kind driving experience backs up the one-of-a-kind cabin. With a reputation as one of the world’s foremost sports sedans, the 550i has some big proverbial shoes to fill where driving dynamics are concerned-- though engineers seem to have dialled it in beautifully once again.

The new electric power steering system can deliver a variety of ‘feelings’ in terms of weight and effort, depending on the selected Dynamic Drive mode. Dialled into its sportier settings, the hefty German brute feels like it weighs 9 tonnes until drivers ask it to steer, brake or accelerate. Handling defines the ‘on rails’ feeling referenced in car reviews, and the steering gives drivers a sense of the weight, stability and cornering potential at their fingertips.

The 550i has handling capabilities beyond what most drivers will exploit, and those so inclined to try should be impressed.

Of course, during gentle driving, long-haul comfort is exceptional. Cruising, only small licks of exterior noise make their way into the cabin-- and they’re easily drowned out by the magnificent stereo.

The 550i moves along courtesy of a 4.4 litre, direct-injected, twin-turbo V8 with 400 horsepower. Smaller six-cylinder engines are available, too-- but the boosted V8 employs numerous tweaks to simultaneously increase power output and reduce fuel consumption.

The engine’s near-silent, head-pinning acceleration blends with the locked-down handling and heavy, planted ride for an overall feeling that’s less like a car and more like a high-speed electric monorail train.

Thanks in part to the engine tweaks and 8-speed automatic (yes, 8!) highway cruising saw mileage hover around 10L / 100km-- which is decent indeed considering the size and capabilities at work.

Other side of the sensible power equation? Jam the throttle out of a light, and the 550i glides a few feet off the line before a giant burst of twin-turbocharged momentum blasts speeds skywards. Passing power reserves let drivers fling the 550i past 18-wheelers almost as quickly as they can drop their right foot, too.

In the process, the powerplant never feels like its even thinking about breaking a sweat, and the paddle-shifted manual-mode gearchanges are instant, perfectly blipped and virtually imperceptible.

Complaints of the tester were minimal-- as they should be in a vehicle with pricing approaching the $90,000 mark. The rear-end can feel trampy when accelerating hard over rougher surfaces, and the whine from the transmission’s first gear at full throttle is notably audible. Enthusiasts will wish for some semblance of an exhaust note, too.

Ninety grand? Yes-- but at the end of the day, you couldn’t really ask for a better chassis, interior or powertrain. Folks willing to pay top dollar for what’s arguably the world’s top sports sedan should find no regrets.