What is it?
When mid-life changes were recently announced to the seventh generation of the BMW 5 Series, at 48 years the company’s oldest nameplate, they had all the hallmarks of a routine review of an already good car. Sure, there were to be different lights, reshaped bumpers, a bigger grille, some more tech, but nothing to stop the traffic.
That was when we learned that as well as making gentle revisions to existing models, the company planned to reintroduce a very special flagship – the M550i. Not content with that, they’d be launching it with xDrive intelligent four-wheel drive, greatly improving the all-roads-all-weathers capability of a car with 523bhp on tap from a mighty 4.4-litre twin-turbocharged V8 engine likely to be remembered as the pinnacle of the species.
The M550i is a model BMW buyers in mainland Europe have been enjoying for several years, but in this country, where top-end cars sell especially well, there had been a presumption that the very top performance, 616bhp BMW M5 Competition would cater best for demand from 5 Series customers who wanted the fastest and the best.
But as successive road tests have shown, the M5 has grown more and more hardcore in demeanour and behaviour in recent years, belying its near 5.0m length. Against the watch, it’s now also far quicker than most ambitious drivers of business saloons are likely to need and, what is more, its suspension is deemed too stiff, much of the time, for rough-roads Britain.
All of which is why BMW’s local bosses submitted a request to Munich for a right-handed version of the M550i xDrive and were rewarded with a car that’s still hugely fast (0-62mph 3.8sec) but much more emollient with it. A car, as one experienced BMW driver put it, with “more waft built into it”.
Helpfully, a UK M550i will save something like £30,000 compared with an M5. It starts at a reasonable-sounding £68,590 although our test car – bristling with pricey options such as a £4995 Technology Pack, a £4595 Comfort Pack, and an extra £3695 added for Adaptive M Suspension Professional – was priced at £89,445 on the road.