2018 BMW M550i xDrive Review

2018 BMW M550i xDrive - Must love driving.

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Occasionally, you should just set the cruise control and leave it alone on a long drive. Otherwise, you'll be in serious danger of getting a speeding ticket.

The 2018 BMW M550i is one of those vehicles that feels better at faster speeds, so during a long road trip on pre-weekend, police-laden highways in Wisconsin - you better believe I locked onto an acceptable speed.

But, of course, when I was sure no one was looking, I did have to punch it a couple times. Purely for research.

I'm still smiling.

Design
BMW design is more classic than flashy. And, even when you have a vehicle with a twin-turbo V-8, it looks more like a sedate family sedan than a vehicle you'll get a ticket in.

The M550i has austere horizontal lines surrounding the vehicle, which add to the nondescript air. But the little touches of elegance, such as the 10 spoke 19-inch alloy wheels and adaptive full LED angel-eye headlights, denote that you're driving something special.

The interior is pure luxury and comfort with 20-way power adjustable front seats, a heated steering wheel and available wireless Apple CarPlay. I fully appreciate the hard-button controls for the HVAC and audio and the large 10.2-inch infotainment display screen.

Most things in the vehicle are well located and intuitive, and I like that the cup holders are between the gear shift and the center stack, but I don't like that they block access to the available wireless charger.

Ride & Handling
If I had to sum up the M550i in one word it would be "smooth." From fast acceleration to corning maneuvers, everything about it is seamless and effortless.

The M550i is equipped with a 4.4-liter TwinPower turbo V-8 that delivers 456 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. While it's not the M5, which delivers 600 horsepower and adds $30K to the price tag, it hits the sweet spot between power and luxury.

The M550i includes the adaptive M suspension as well as the M Sport brakes and xDrive all-wheel drive system.

I enjoyed taking cloverleaf on and off ramps at a fast clip, and aggressive in-city maneuvers came off smooth.

I had some friends in town during the test period, and I tend to drive like a taxi driver in the city - which is tough to tone down even when you have non-city passengers. I apologized more than once for my driving, and they replied with: This car handles it really well; we hardly even notice it.

Perhaps they were being polite, but I took that as permission granted. The car didn't disappoint.

Fuel economy
EPA estimates that you will get 16 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway with a combined fuel economy of 19 mpg.

I'm actually surprised to report I averaged 20.5 mpg during the test period. Granted I did have about 300 miles of highway driving behind the wheel. But I wasn't driving slow, and there was a fair bit of city driving thrown into the mix. Not to mention a couple of stop-and-go highway treks.

I'll consider this one a win.

Tech & gadgets

The 5-Series has a lot of available technology. And I say available because everything is an option - including Apple CarPlay compatibility ($300).

Another interesting bit of available tech is gesture control ($190). There are a series of pokes, swipes and circles you can do with your right hand to control volume, change radio stations or even accept or decline phone calls.

But I couldn't get it to work 100 percent of the time. I couldn't even get it to work 50 percent of the time.

Some of my Facebook followers said it was user error, that I didn't have my hand in the right place. But the instructions in the operating system indicate that if you have your hand anywhere in front of the center stack, it should work.

Other high-tech features on the M550i include parking assistance, a surround-view monitor, head-up display, lane centering technology, adaptive cruise control, wireless phone charging, a WiFi hotspot and night vision.

There is also a premium Bowers & Wilkins sound system available ($3,400).

Trims

The BMW seems to offer a slew of models, but what you're really looking at is engine and drivetrain changes - and perhaps a few features added in. Unless it states "xDrive" in the trim, the vehicle is rear-wheel drive. The 5 Series breakdown for 2018 is as follows:

530i ($53,645): This includes the base 2.0-liter twin power turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine that delivers 248 horsepower. Standard features include leatherette seating surfaces, wood trim, 16-way power adjustable front seats, iDrive 6.0, navigation, a 10.2-inch infotainment touchscreen display and 2 USB ports with 2.1A charging.

530i xDrive ($55,945): This model simply adds BMW's all-wheel drive system.

530e iPerformance ($53,645): This model turns the 5 Series into a plug-in hybrid, adding an electric motor and battery pack and enabling around 16 miles of all-electric range. Estimated MPGe is 72. The only additional features added center around the electric drive modes and controls.

530e xDrive iPerformance ($55,945): This model adds all-wheel drive to the plug-in hybrid and the MPGe drops to 67.

540i ($59,195): On this model, you get the 3.0-liter twin power turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine that delivers 335 horsepower. Leather seats are also added at this trim.

540i xDrive ($61,495): This model adds all-wheel drive.

540d xDrive ($62,995): This model adds the 3.0-liter twin turbo diesel inline 6-cylinder engine that delivers 261 horsepower. It is only available as an AWD model.

M550i xDrive ($74,895): This top-tier performance model adds the V-8 engine as well as a sport exhaust system, adaptive M suspension, M sport brakes, 19-inch wheels, rear spoiler, included metallic paint options, 20-way power adjustable front seats, premium Harmon Kardon surround-sound system, power trunk lid and glass moonroof.

One thing to be aware of with BMW is everything seems to be an option - including paint choices other than black or white. But this opens up the door for a lot of customization, including the type of design you want (Sport, Luxury or M Sport) and which feature tier (Premium or Executive) you'd like to add. That doesn't even touch on the individual packages or options you can add as a part of the build process.

The point: Even though the base price for a 5 Series is $53,654, you'll likely spend more than that to get the vehicle you want. A lot more.

The test vehicle was an M550i xDrive, and it added a slew of available features including the Cold Weather Package, Driving Assistance Packages, Dynamic Handling Package, Executive Package, Parking Assistance Package, CarPlay, Bowers & Wilkins sound system and gesture control for an as-tested price of $88,985.

Safety
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically crash test the M550i xDrive model, though both look at the 5-Series Sedan generally.

IIHS gives the 5 Series gives crashworthiness ratings of "Good" across the board, and even gave the 2018 model a Top Safety Pick + Award.

NHTSA, however, hasn't rated the 2018 model yet, but gives the 2017 version an overall 5-Star safety rating.

Not sure what the safety ratings mean? We break it down for you here.

New for 2018
The M550i xDrive is the first M Performance version of the 5 Series sedan and is, thus, all-new for the 2018 model year. So, in addition to the specially modified M Performance 4.4-liter engine, this vehicle adds the M aerodynamic kit, M rear spoiler, M sports exhaust system and M Performance design accents.

A few of my favorite things

I spent 6 hours behind the wheel of the M550i in a single day, and about 2 of those hours were in stop-and-go traffic. While I normally prefer to be in control of the vehicle at all times, I have to say I really appreciated the Driving Assistance Plus Package ($1,700) - especially at the end of a long day.

It kept me centered in the lane and maintained a specified distance between me and the vehicle in front of me, giving me a little less stress to contend with during rush hour.

I also loved the 20-way adjustable front seats. From the seat bottom to the side bolsters, I could completely customize the seat and seating position. And every time I made a tweak, the car asked me if I wanted to save it. Yes, please.

Oh, and the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and handling is a given.

What I can leave
I liked the fact that you didn't have to wire-in to access CarPlay, but I sincerely disliked that it's a $300 option. BMW is the first automaker we've seen who doesn't include this as standard fare. Sure, some automakers don't include this on the base trim, but invariably as you level up, it's included. When you're looking at a $72K car, just add it to the bottom line and call it a day.

Word on the street is BMW will take this CarPlay for fee one step further and make it a subscription service - free for the first year, and then $80/year following. Seriously?

Oh, and Android Auto is not available.

I like the idea that wireless charging is available in the M550i, but the location is award. It's in a tray behind the cup holders, and if you have anything in said cup holders, the space is difficult to access.

One more nit to pick: The head up display, which is part of a $1,700 isn't visible if you wear polarized sunglasses.

The bottom line
The M550i is a driver's vehicle, which it's meant to be. It's fast, smooth and comfy in all the right places, and it looks elegant inside and out.

If you have to spend any significant amount of time commuting, I'd opt for the Driving Assistance Plus Package ($1,700), and if you live in a northern clime, I'd get the Cold Weather Package ($800). Then I'd call it a day.

This car doesn't need a lot of stuff to be amazing. It just is.



Jill Ciminillo

After more than a decade of writing car reviews, Jill is still considered relative newcomer to the auto review scene. But with her "fresh" perspective, she represents the female point of view amongst her predominantly male colleagues. And, since something like 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are either made by or influenced by women, that's nothing to sneeze at. Formerly the online automotive editor for the Chicago Sun- Times and the print auto editor for Pioneer Press Newspapers, this 5th percentile (aka petite) female tells it like it is from the fun to the functional. As a marathon runner, Jill also serves on the Active Lifestyle Vehicle jury, judging the cars she drives for how well they fit in to a weekend warrior athlete's lifestyle. Jill is currently the automotive editor for the Auto Matters section hosted by Sinclair Broadcast Group and the senior vice president for the Midwest Auto Motive Media Association.

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