Range-topper offers impressive performance, but it isn't sporty

What is it?

This is the car that you never knew you needed, unless you’ve always hankered after a 5 Series saloon, estate and X5 all rolled into one. The 5 Series GT has, according to BMW, no direct competitors and if you think the 535 petrol and 530 diesel versions are niche products, then this range-topping 550 should be even more exclusive.

What it amounts to is a halfway house between executive car and SUV. It is 8cm higher than most saloons, with a coupe-like roofline and side window graphic, X5 rear headroom and 7 Series legroom, but with a twin-turbocharged V8 engine mounted in the front.

It’s a heady mixture, and the bottom line is that it partly skirts around the “social acceptability” issue that clings on to large SUVs. The V8 is mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox that actually weighs less than the previous six-cog auto, and all that power is (perhaps unusually, considering the mild SUV styling) channeled through the two 19-inch wheels at the back of the car. Four-wheel drive is not an option.

What’s it like?

In terms of comfort and space, the 5 Series GT nails it. Impressively for a BMW, there is a very high level of standard kit, with items like the panoramic roof and leather seats all thrown in. The car we drove was in Executive trim, which curiously offers fewer seats for about two grand more. At least the rear X6-style chairs are electrically operated.

The 550 has the potential to be the most GT-like of the 5 Series GT range. As has been proved with cars like the X6 and X5, BMW has a knack of defying physics with big SUVs. In many ways it has worked its magic with the 550i.

Under the bonnet is the same 402bhp V8 as in the X6 xDrive50i. It has a healthy 443lb ft from 1750rpm, meaning plenty of low-end grunt. It's best described as deceptively quick; the numbers on the head-up display always register far higher than you expect, and the V8 is silky smooth all the way through to the red line.

In fact, the engine and gearbox are a sublime combination, delivering both a mix of linear shove and almost seamless shifts. It would be even more impressive if the eight-cylinder soundtrack were slightly more audible, but BMW has clearly worked towards cabin refinement, which is top drawer

There’s no denying that, at over two tonnes, the GT is a big car and this is constantly evident in the amount of inertia involved in moving it. It is not the most incisive drive, never feeling particularly agile, and it's more suited to flowing through bends rather than attacking them.

With the standard ‘Drive Dynamic Control’ in comfort mode the GT wafts along, but put it in Sport or Sport+ and the throttle, steering, suspension and gearchange speed are all sharpened. The car becomes tauter but the ride, especially on the bumpy Scottish backroads where we tested the car, becomes too harsh to make it a mile-munching GT.

The overall exerience is similar to that in an SUV like the X5 or X6; the levels of capability are deeply impressive for this size of car but are never that close to anything you would call truly sporty.

Should I buy one?

If you want an X6 but can’t stand the thought of buying one, then absolutely. Which means BMW has pretty much achieved what it set out to do with the 5 Series GT.

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Oliver Stallwood

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voyager12 29 October 2009

Re: BMW 5-series GT 550i

Has no competitor because it is butt-ugly. That's personal but I hope the market will see it that way too.

tali 29 October 2009

Re: BMW 5-series GT 550i

550 will no doubt be the rarest of the GT as it was with 5 series -in fact , i have yet to see a 550i -despite them being on sale for several yearrs now

PhilM4000 28 October 2009

Re: BMW 5-series GT 550i

You may be right, I still don't get this new niche thing though, it just seems like a massive hatchback. I keep seeing X6's on the road and I am sure I will start to see these.