Mountain Wheels: Temptation looms in the speedy BMW M550i (column)
2018 BMW M550i xDrive Sedan
MSRP: $72,100; as tested: $89,985
Powertrain: 456-HP combo 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 with eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA figures: 19 combined (16 city/25 highway)
Among its many futuristic and tremendously forward-looking attributes, the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive — an all-wheel-drive M car with room for five and a trunk the size of a coffin — does not apparently have radar cloaking, though I may have missed the button. Perhaps it was next to the night vision button, or the Warp Drive Sport Plus button.
Because, as seems to only happen when I am in BMW products, the officer from the town of Morrison picked out my bright yellow New Jersey fleet plates as I drove through town and followed me for a good mile and a half before I did the Regular Stupid Stuff you do in an M car.
He was kind, however, noting that his friend had a similar car and was “always in trouble with it,” and I emerged mostly unscathed, though I cut the Regular Stupid Stuff crap pretty much entirely.
Here’s the deal: When you become a mid-level captain of industry and you want to roll in the biggest and baddest all-wheel-drive family sedan you can, and absolutely beat everyone on the road (Vipers and ’Vettes tend to be in garages at this time of year), the M550i will totally take care of business.
As you can see from the picture, up on scenic Squaw Pass — where Apple Maps has not-so-ironically suggested I drive, rather than hole/fire/chaos-prone I-70 — the M550i doesn’t look like a psychotic Russian mobster getaway vehicle, minus those telltale Jersey plates. It’s an impressive and sleekly styled machine, sure, but by all appearances, just another fancy new BMW, minus the tell-tale brake vents and the dual exhaust.
Those cunning Germans, however, have crammed a twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 under the hood, connected it to a new eight-speed transmission and then grounded the whole thing (I would suggest more winter-worthy tires than the aggressive all-seasons I drove with) through xDrive’s computerized, bias-shifting AWD system and a set of high-performance brakes and beautiful 19-inch wheels.
That comes out to 456 horsepower, 480 lb.-ft. of torque and a wide, relatively heavy chassis (4,372 pounds) that goes like a mother from hell. The idle exhaust note is menacing enough, but when you switch into the sportiest of sport modes, the muffler baffles open up and it roars like something from a Wagner opera.
The funny thing here is that this is actually a middle-of-the-road 5-series M car, as onerous and inviting to personal ruin as the car might be. The full-blown M5 now cranks 600 horsepower and is a kind of crazy I, in retrospect, should probably not be allowed to drive.
The M550i is, then, a superb sleeper; once you get into real M5 territory the bits and pieces start to really give you away. M550i makes due with a beautiful but standard-by-high-end BMW-standards cabin and relatively normal seats.
Displays and technology are all sumptuous and the additional wood trim throughout the cabin refined and beautiful, but not road-crazy carbon-fiber as you’d find in the full-blown monsters of road rock.
Pricing is also reasonable by luxury standards, with the M550i starting at $72,100 (the M5 requires $102,600 just to get you into negotiations), though mine got very, very close to $90,000 with a very long list of options.
Could you be nice and normal and restrained in the M550i? I suppose so. It has an elegant ride and the car’s overall scale and stance are pleasant. A gentle jaunt up a curvy road reveals precise steering and comfortable handling, and with snow tires the thing would be mostly bulletproof in the winter.
But M cars, even slightly lower horsepower M cars, compel you to do bad things, all the time. They’re like that old college buddy your wife hates — every time you go out with them, things go wrong. So there’s that, I guess.
Mileage on mine never got above 23 MPG, even during my tail-between-my-legs highway drives after the visit with the officials. It’s a car that lives for performance, and the kind of self-restraint I apparently don’t have. Maybe it would be different with you.
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