2011 BMW 550i Sedan Road Test Review

Alexandra Straub - CAP staff
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Grace. Elegance. Performance. Three adjectives I find synonymous with the 2011 BMW 550i sedan. Introduced as an all-new model in 2010, the new 5 Series' road presence not only demands respect but also exudes excellence; qualities that have been eminent from the German auto manufacturer since day one.

Without an unflattering angle, the trim and toned sixth generation 5 Series sedan turns heads and breeds envy from its rivals. The combination of a long hood, short overhangs and coupe-like roofline work symbiotically to create an exterior that is graceful and elegant. Furthermore, with the signature kidney grille inclined slightly forward and visually stimulating curves, I much prefer this generation of 5 Series in comparison to the last. 

It also appeared as though I was not the only fan of the new 5 Series' styling. I had parked the sedan in my friend's underground parking stall only to return to see a piece of paper on the windshield. Confused as to why I had received a citation since I was legitimately parked, as I walked closer, it all made sense. There was a note under the wiper blade that read "NICE CAR." Relieved that I didn't have to pay a fine and excited that someone would take the time to write a note about the 5's good looks, I felt like a proud driver. 

From the outside, yes, the 550i is a "NICE CAR," but it is only when I sat behind the wheel that it transformed into a magnificent car. The interior upgrades are superb. Ergonomically, the 550i is a marvel. With plush leather seating surfaces, a visually stimulating dash including the high-resolution Black Panel display and a more user-friendly fourth generation of iDrive, my experience was only enhanced. Plus, my passengers also became fans of the 5's cabin configuration and much more. 

Whether I was driving in the city or on the highway, on straight-aways or on sinuous roads, the front and rear multi-link suspension that the 550i embodies was ready for any challenge. Until recently, the 5 Series had a front strut-type suspension, which also embodied the characteristics of a smooth and refined ride. However, with the introduction of the multi-link system, first seen in the X5 in 2007 then the 7 Series sedan in 2009, overall ride quality is improved and is more dynamic than before. Added stability and capability in turns makes it a joy to drive and the ability to change between "Sport" and "Comfort" modes give this sedan even more of an edge when it comes to competency. Add a set of front 245/35R19 and rear 275/30R19 performance tires with 19-inch, "W Spoke" wheels and clinging to the ground has never been so fashionable. 

Behind the wheel, I personally found it quite challenging to achieve the estimated fuel economy results of 12.8L/100km in the city and 7.9L/100km on the highway, especially with the new 4.4L, twin turbocharged, V8, "reverse-flow" engine with direct injection. Amid an impressive output of 400 horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque, it almost felt as though the 550i had "speeding ticket" written all over it. Needless to say, no traffic (or parking) tickets were issued in my care of the 5 Series.
Helping achieve the 550i's "speeding ticket" worthy designation was the optional 8-speed sport automatic transmission with shift paddles. The newly deployed gearbox in the 5 Series (the last gen had a 6-speed automatic) not only allows for efficient and impressive shifting but the wider spread of ratios allows the engine to run at lower speeds -- reducing emissions and improving quietness along the way. Not to mention a 0-100km/hr acceleration time of 5.3 seconds. And in keeping with driving excellence tradition, the 550i (and 535i) will be available with a 6-speed manual transmission; the only cars to do so in its class.

Shifting from speed to safety, the 550i sedan comes well-equipped with adaptive Xenon headlights; Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), which also includes Dynamic Brake Control (DBC) and Dynamic Traction Control (DTC); disc brakes with ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and much more. All safety features are standard across the board on all 5 Series with the exception of the optional Park Distance Control. 

Where the 5 Series falls short is in the rear legroom department. With the front seats pushed all the way back, there is minimal room for people with even average length legs to work with. With the longest wheelbase in its class, I was a little surprised that there wasn't more room. Even for someone of average height, like myself, I still found it too cramped to enjoy sitting in the rear, especially if I had to be there for an extended time even with the optional rear entertainment system ($3,000) to keep me occupied. 

Price-wise, the base MSRP of the 2011 550i sedan is $73,300. With the optional features on this particular model, including the Executive Package ($5,500), Technology Package ($3,500), Dynamic Handling Package ($3,900) and the stand-alone features ($3,382), the price as tested came to $89,582 excluding destination charges.

Describing my overall experience with the 550i sedan would best be done via my "perma-grin" and my stream of endless giggling. Call me childish but it was awfully hard to contain my excitement about this vehicle. Evoking emotion from a driver, for better or for worse, is what manufacturers aspire for. BMW did it for me. It truly is a vehicle that brings out joyous emotions whether the sedan is being put to the test in acceleration or handling, or while taking a stylish drive down the street for some ice cream. Either way, it is, literally, all good.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Sport Sedan, Luxury Sedan, BMW, 2011, 5 Series, 535i, 550i, $50,000 - $74,999, $75,000 - $99,999,

Organizations: BMW

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