By Kevin Harrison
The first thing you need to know about this car is that the pictures in this review or any pictures you find online don’t do it justice at all. This car is a looker. This was evident from the very moment I picked it up. At the first set of lights I arrived at, there was a young fellow in the lane next to me in a previous generation Audi A4 who looked the car up and down, then promptly gave his approval with a huge grin and a thumbs up. A man crossing the street ahead of us seemed to be hypnotized by the white signature BMW halo headlights staring back at him. I checked my review mirror to find a couple in a minivan pointing to the car and chatting it up. As I took off when the light turned green, the big V8 growl was enough to make an old woman waiting for the bus do a double take.
In fact, this car gets so much attention from pretty much every gender and age group you can think of that I was told the BMW dealership where I picked up the 550i GT had received seven calls that day alone from people asking about it. They had apparently seen me driving around town and wanted to know what it was and wanted to know more about it.
For the first time ever, BMW has launched a hatchback version of the 5-series. And also for the first time ever is a different body style being offered for sale ahead of the sedan. Usually the sedan debuts first, then a wagon variant follows a few months later. The redesigned 5-series sedan is not even out yet. This can only mean that BMW really wishes to prove that it can do more than just sedans and coupes, of which they are typically known for.
Have they succeeded?
As mentioned, those angular halo-styled headlights complete with LED turn signals, large kidney grille add up to a very tastefully done front facia. It gives quite a modern update to BMW’s design without losing that classic look that makes it one of the more easily identifiable brands on the road, even to people who could care less about cars. The side profile is also eye catching thanks to those 20 inch 5 spoke wheels, an attractive belt line, and a sloped roof. The rear is completed with large LED’s, chrome exhaust tips and a high rear deck lid. That rear deck lid can impede rearward visibility, but luckily the backup camera is there to help out along with front and rear sensors.
Inside is equally attractive with lots of the typical luxury goodies you’d expect from BMW, including sat nav, heated seats for both front and rear passengers, adjustable seats for the rear passengers, heated steering wheel and premium sound system. Fit and finish is excellent as are the attractive dark grayish – almost black – inserts. The huge panoramic sunroof really helps open up the cabin. And despite its sloping roof line there is enough head room for rear passengers, roughly the same amount as in the X5. Rear leg room is good too.
idrive makes an unfortunate appearance here too, but I will concede that this new upgraded system is more user friendly than the old one. That said, it’s still complicated and really distracts you from driving, which is pretty much the best part of the 550i GT.
BMW put its incredibly smooth V8 along with a twin turbo under the hood which develops 400 horsepower and 450 pound feet of torque which is constantly maintained between 1500 and 4500 rpm. This helps the big German hatchback make its zero to 100 sprint in 5.7 seconds. I have to say, the engine feels faster the numbers on paper. The 550i GT is able to accelerate with such gusto and precision. The exhaust note is perfect. Not obnoxiously loud, but not muted either. BMW makes incredible award winning inline-six engines and I’m happy to report that the V8 is just as deserving of such accolades in my opinion. The smoothness and refinement is really quite impressive.
An eight-speed automatic is the order of the day, but I’m not really sure if it’s needed. I was able to get the 550i GT up to some impressive speeds on the highway all while going no higher than fifth gear. Admittedly I was in manual mode which, while I’m on about it, it excellent as well. The shifter is on backwards as upshifts require you to pull the knob backwards and downshifts require you to push it forward. I’m not quite sure why BMW decided to do it this way other than to just go against the grain on what everyone else is doing, but I must say it was incredibly easy to become accustomed to. In fact, after a while it felt like this set up was better than the traditional way.
I can say with much certainty that no car, and I mean no car, of this size is able to take corners like the 550i GT does. It’s truly amazing what this car can do when the road gets twisty – almost like you’re riding on rails. It takes a lot to catch this thing off guard. Handling is one of BMW’s many strong points and it’s quite obvious that they take pride in this important aspect of performance. The 20 inch wheels with very sticky Pirelli P-Zeros makes much of the difference I’m sure. The suspension and traction controls are adjustable as well. There’s ‘normal’ where the suspension’s primary goal is comfort and the traction control stays on. Then there’s sport where the traction control bows out and the suspension gets firmer. Then there’s sport + which is a good balance of both. I found myself in sport mode 90% of the time. The suspension isn’t so firm for ordinary driving and the traction control nanny doesn’t interfere as frequently for those times when you feel a boost in testosterone. This is actually a bit of a gripe of mine. Since it does extremely well in sport mode for everyday driving, why not just make it that way and be done with it? Why even give the choice? If you can make it better, why not just have it be the best it can be all the time?
Cargo room is good enough to swallow mostly anything you wish to take with you, especially with the seats down. The hatch is a very unique design as you can open the trunk independent from the tailgate or you can open the entire tailgate. At first I didn’t think this was necessary. Again, I had the attitude of, “if it can open wider, why not just make it do that all the time? Why even bother giving a choice?” thinking that no one would ever just use the smaller trunk opening. But coming from the grocery store with only one bag, I actually opened just the trunk part without thinking about it. I then opened the full hatch for a large box without thinking about it too. So I suppose this is a good idea as both methods of getting to the cargo area will get used depending on how much stuff you need to load.
My tester also game with the comfort package with allows you to keep the key fob in your pocket without ever needing to remove it. You can lock and unlock the car with by touching the handle and can start it just by pressing a button. This is really quite convenient as there is no need to rummage through pockets or purses trying to find your keys. The comfort package also ads auto-dimming mirrors and the side mirrors can fold in electronically so there is no worry of someone ripping off your mirror as they drive by.
One thing this car cannot do well is be frugal with gas. Due to that wonderful engine, the 550i GT will cause you to make several trips at the pump. It’s rated at 14 l/100 kms city and 9.2 highway. However, to help ease gas use, BMW has incorporated its efficientdynamics technology. It incorporates light weight materials as well as a gauge the glows blue when you are driving efficiently. This helps train the driver to get the most out of their tank which is neat.
At the end of the day, I seriously had a hard time finding many faults with this vehicles. BMW’s venture into the hatchback segment is a complete success. The only thing preventing it from getting a perfect 10 out of 10 rating is the idrive system. If BMW made this system optional this would really be quite the driving machine for people who may need to carry stuff most of the time.
If Audi and Mercedes-Benz follow suit, the BMW will have even more proof that the GT is a winner as imitation is one of the sincerest forms or flattery.
The 550i GT is one fantastic vehicle, there’s really no other way of putting it.
Base Price: $79,600
- Unique design, very attractive
- Neat cargo hatch, lots of room
- Incredibly smooth & responsive V8
- Awesome handling
- Crisp gear shifts
- Excellent fit, finish and interior layout
- Luxury galore
- idrive still too complicated
- Thirsty engine
Special thanks to Campbell Harbord of Halifax BMW