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BMWBLOG Drive Review: 550i GT – The Practical Athlete

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Words: Shawn Molnar Photos: Alan Martin / Shawn Molnar “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” growled my librarian as I begrudgingly accepted a novel …

Words: Shawn Molnar
Photos: Alan Martin / Shawn Molnar

“Don’t judge a book by its cover,” growled my librarian as I begrudgingly accepted a novel from her outstretched hand. Many years later and the point is well taken, first appearances can be very misleading.

At first glance BMW’s new 5 Series Gran Turismo appears to be a spacious family mover, a beast of burden if not beauty. With a slant back profile and multi-trunk design, the 5GT looks poised to shuffle errands, kids and groceries. What is the 5GT really all about?

We set out to discover the 5GT’s true character through extensive testing in and around Canada’s largest city of Toronto. In the following article you will find 6 key segments that both objectively and subjectively unravel the 5GT’s DNA. After earning its keep on the racetrack, our 5GT posed for a photo shoot. Once the camera flash was cleared from its eyes, we stretched the 5GT’s legs on a scenic road trip from Toronto to Canada’s capital city of Ottawa. Through our comprehensive testing we have allowed this new BMW’s personality to shine through. To get behind the wheel, read on.

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Impressions as a Daily Driver:

From your very first moment behind the wheel, you’re aware of this BMW’s mandate to carry you in comfort. In typical BMW fashion, the interior is ergonomically laid out; controls and buttons lie exactly where your hands will fall. Beyond the comfort is an impressive array of high tech amenities, all of them make your driving experience more relaxed, informed and pleasurable.

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“This is a practical luxury car with pace… “

Take for example the vivid heads-up display (HUD). Shown in amber, just like a fighter-jet’s, information is accessible without removing your eyes from the road ahead. A projector is located behind the instrument cluster of the dash, and information is reflected off of the windshield and into your eyes. A wide variety of information can be displayed through the HUD, including vehicle speed, direction, fuel warnings, and navigation directions. That’s right, navigation directions! This is a simply technology that really makes a difference, keeping you more aware, and in control.

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Ivory white Dakota leather covers most surfaces; veneered wood, aluminum, and high quality plastics cover the rest.

With a ride height somewhere in between the X5 and the 5 series sedan, ingress and egress from both the front and rear seats is effortless. Not that you’ll want to leave. At midday with the hot sun beating down, automated window screens keep you cool and comfortable. Once day turns to night, ambient cabin lighting creates a very relaxed, high-class atmosphere.

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When it comes to utility, BMW’s 5GT really impresses. With 1,700 Liters of rear storage capacity (with seats folded down), the 5GT can transport an incredible amount of parcels, groceries and goods; consider that this space is only 50 Liters short of the X5’s storage volume, and you can see how practical this vehicle really is. Folding and raising the rear seats is simple and requires little effort.

“… ambient cabin lighting creates a very relaxed, high-class atmosphere.”

When it comes time to open the rear hatch, you are presented with two distinct possibilities: open the entire rear hatch and eavesdrop on your occupants’ conversation, or leave them to their privacy and use the smaller flip-up hatch.

In practice, I found the smaller rear hatch to be less useful, as it required more precision to place large objects through the opening. Either way, one-touch button operation made loading parcels easy – even with your hands full.

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With the slightly elevated ride height, visibility is good; you’re easily able to see down the road ahead and on occasion, over the roof of a small car. Rearward visibility is compromised by the C-pillars, but an excellent rear backup display with park distance control makes maneuvering the 5GT an easy task.

On the busy streets of Toronto, it’s easy to become disillusioned – fatigued by traffic conditions, and a little stressed in general. Thankfully, I did not experience any of the former impositions while driving the 5GT in heavy traffic. The open, stylish interior makes you feel at ease, the navigation system keeps you on course, and the high-fidelity sound system keeps music flowing. Suddenly Toronto traffic doesn’t seem so bad.

“With this much power, you may find yourself braking at the top of that on-ramp.”

Excellent use of sound deadening provides isolation from the hustle and bustle of city traffic. Only with the large, panoramic moon roof open do you hear the honks, sirens, and jackhammers of surrounding city streets. Speaking of the moon roof, it is a real treat for front and rear passengers alike. Spanning almost the entire length of the passenger compartment, it adds to the open, light feeling of the cabin.

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Finally you reach an on-ramp: how does the 5GT respond to your call for power? It answers with 400 hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque derived from an advanced 4.4 Liter twin-turbo V8. With this much power, you may find yourself braking at the top of that on-ramp.

While the overall tempo of the 5GT is relaxed, it can certainly adapt to any driving demand. Perhaps you’re in a hurry to get through traffic, or you feel the urge to carve a few corners. The 5GT will reward you with crisp, precise handling. Adaptive suspension control can stiffen up the dampers and help the 5GT thread through traffic. Cornering is flat and completely free of drama.

“The versatile nature of this car shows one more facet: incredible performance.”

Advanced technologies allow for a mix of power and efficiency. The 550i GT achieves city/highway fuel consumption values of 14.4 / 9.1 L/100km respectively. We were able to match these figures during our time with the 550i GT.

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All round, it was a pleasure to rely on the 5GT as a daily driver. Even the most menial errands became enjoyable outings – or at least the trip there-and-back.

More Than the Sum of its Parts?

BMW’s 5GT has a special ability to remove you from whatever roadway you’re on and place you in a pleasant frame of mind. Every feature and surface of the 5GT is purposeful, convenient, and calming.

Certain cars love to be driven in certain ways. Ferraris must be unleashed, head-banging off their redline. Rolls-Royce motorcars (excluding the Ghost) must be driven smoothly, with poise and finesse. BMW’s 5GT loves to be savored. It will coax you to find a curvy mountain road – but then encourage you to drive it slowly, soaking in the surrounding beauty, making every moment count.

“It will coax you to find a curvy mountain road – but then encourage you to drive it slowly… “

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After several days with the 5GT, its true personality came to light. This is a car that wants to please you. It is your loyal companion, always trying to make you more comfortable, more relaxed, and more at home – like a hospitable dinner host.

Heavy package in your arms? It will lift its gate for you. In the mood for some music? 16 speakers and 2 subwoofers take the stage. Feel up to some fresh, open air motoring? The panoramic sunroof opens to the big blue sky above. Time to tango? The 5GT will “dance” with its sharp handling and perfect balance.

“This is a practical luxury car with pace… “

Is it possible to drive quickly while totally relaxed? You’ll find the answer to this question in the following segment.

A Lap of Mosport:

Of course, at the end of the day, the 5GT is a BMW. The versatile nature of this car shows one more facet: incredible performance. Built into every BMW is the performance, power and dynamic ability of a sports car.

The 5GT’s practicality and utility can fool you into believing that the designers have compromised on performance. You may think that this is a “family car” and you’d be right – if you think that this car is owned by the Schumacher family.

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“Speed builds very quickly as the speedometer swings from left to right across the dash.”

We brought BMW’s 550i GT to one of Canada’s premier racetracks, Mosport International Raceway. Highly acclaimed as one of the fastest racetracks in North America, and in fact, one of the world’s fastest circuits, it was once the home of the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

Setting out, we change the adaptive suspension to its “sport plus” setting. A tangible difference is noticed immediately, the dampers become firm and the road surface is felt more clearly through the seat.

We earlier stated that the 5GT has perfect balance, and this was not an exaggeration. Weight is distributed across the front and rear axles in a flawless 50.2 : 49.8 ratio. While the 5GT has a relatively heavy curb weight of 2,240 kg (4,938 lb), it hides its weight very well.

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Approaching the first corner, the 5GT displays impressive braking performance, and continues to do so lap after lap. Brake assist, Brake fade compensation, Brake pre-drying, Corner Brake Control (CBC), Dynamic Braking Control (DBC) and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) are a few brake technologies employed on the 5GT, all of them combine to provide consistent, powerful braking force.

Corner entry is accomplished with quick turn in; steering inputs are felt immediately as the aluminum double-wishbone front suspension swings the nose toward the apex. Mid-corner, the 5GT feels balanced and neutral, ready to power out to the exit. Only when pushed to its limits does the 5GT exhibit any understeer, this balanced handling is impressive from such a large car.

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“… it is solid as though hewn from a boulder.”

Corner exit is explosive with 400 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque ready to be released. Wide to the curbing and the Grand Tourismo straightens out, squatting slightly on its rear wheels. Speed builds very quickly as the speedometer swings from left to right across the dash. From a standstill, 100 km/h (62 mph) arrives in 5.7 seconds and eventually the speedometer will point to 240 km/h (149 mph) at top speed. As speed builds you’re able to feel the stability of the 5GT’s suspension at work – it is solid as though hewn from a boulder. There is no nervousness present at high speed, only the reassuring poise common to cars bred on the autobahn.

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“… the 5GT is a flattering tribute to the fast and comfortable Italian cars that defined this segment many decades ago.”

Hard on the brakes and it’s already time for another lap! Car after car is blue-flagged and passed by this large, practical “family car” – including several BMW sports cars lapping the track!

Could it be that the general opinion of this car is wrong? After several laps of Mosport’s old Grand Prix track, one thing becomes very clear: this is a driver’s car.

Even when scorching the racetrack with speed and handling, a certain level of calm pervades the cabin. As the scenery blurs, you still feel relaxed. The same supportive seats are still holding you, the same sound deadening mutes the cabin, the same panoramic moon roof lends an open, airy feeling. This is a practical luxury car with pace, a performance car that is more than happy to run errands – it is “The Practical Athlete.”

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A Two Hour Tour:

As a “Gran Turismo” by definition, the 5GT quickly caught its stride on the open road. The Italians defined the Gran Turismo as a high-performance luxury car capable of covering long distances in comfort, at high speed. Early examples of a Gran Turismo would include Ferrari’s 166 Inter of 1948.

Was it presumptuous of BMW to label this slant-back 5 series with a nameplate synonymous with exotic four-seat sports cars of old? Not at all, in fact – the 5GT is a flattering tribute to the fast and comfortable Italian cars that defined this segment many decades ago.

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“Cruising along the highway is effortless as you are carried in quiet isolation.”

Cruising along the highway is effortless as you are carried in quiet isolation. Tire, wind, and engine noise is nearly muted from inside the cabin. A slippery drag co-efficient of 0.32 helps the 5GT quietly cut through the air with efficiency. Great visibility keeps all occupants entertained as trees, fields, farms and houses fly by.

BMW’s ZF built 8-speed automatic transmission maintains low engine speeds while cruising in top gear. Whenever called upon, the engine and transmission can launch this Gran Turismo down the road with ferocity – all 400 horsepower responding to your call for momentum. Passing maneuvers are completed quickly and safely.

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When the road gets twisty, the 5GT is more than game to play. Showing its athletic side, it can quickly step into its sporting role and delight all passengers with agile moves and BMW power. Simply switch the dynamic suspension control into sport mode and enjoy. Who needs rollercoasters? Your children will prod you to find another curvy road.

For most of the trip we kept the dynamic suspension control in its comfort setting. This soaked up road irregularities and along with the HUD, made us feel like we were piloting a jet through the sky, not a car on bumpy roads.

On the left side of the steering wheel is a thumb-button for adjusting the cruise control. This multi-function button toggles up and down to increase or decrease your cruising speed. If tapped lightly, you can alter your cruising speed in increments of 1 km/h. If you push the button further, you can either call upon the engine to accelerate harder, or lightly brake the car if necessary; this proves invaluable for long distance driving, as you can let your feet relax while all driving inputs are made from the steering wheel.

“we were piloting a jet through the sky, not a car on bumpy roads.”

Those in the rear seats are treated to a first class experience. The rear of this car rivals the front for comfort, luxury and space. The rear seats can be manually adjusted fore and aft, or reclined to an ideal napping position. Rear headroom is excellent, even for passengers over 6 ft, and the panoramic moon roof really adds to the touring experience. Dual rear climate control keeps everyone well tempered and rear seat DVD screens will keep even the youngest passengers occupied on long journeys.

As we navigated the roads from Toronto to Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, the touring prowess of BMW’s 5GT became clear. We arrived at our destination refreshed, energized and ready to explore. This BMW proudly wears its badge: Gran Turismo.

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Where’s the Beef? Qualms and Quibbles:

After driving nearly two thousand kilometers behind the wheel, we could only muster two small complaints.

First of all, we found that the pop-up wind deflector on BMW’s panoramic moon-roof produces a high-pitched whistle at speeds over 50 km/h (31 mph) as air passes through its mesh-screen. We presume the mesh-screen is in place to prevent bugs or debris from finding their way between the two large sheets of glass, layered one above the other when open. Of note, BMW’s standard size moon-roof features a serrated plastic deflector that successfully mutes wind noise and prevents buffeting, even at high speeds.

Next, we were somewhat disappointed to find a button actuated electric handbrake between the seats. The James Bond in us wonders what we will do when pressed to perform a 180 while fleeing the bad guys. The rest of the time we found it very convenient and simple to use. We just wish they left the ‘hand’ in ‘hand-brake.’

“This BMW proudly wears its badge: Gran Turismo.”

These are two very minor complaints found after we combed across BMW’s 5GT with our exceedingly critical eyes. The insignificance of our quibbles show how well thought-out the 5GT really is.

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Conclusion:

BMW’s 5GT has proven itself a brilliant car with many diverse talents. Whether braving a busy parking lot, cruising the highway or circling your nearest racetrack, the 5GT maintains an air of confidence and relaxed comfort.

This BMW’s blend of impressive utility and sports car performance earns its title of, “The Practical Athlete.”

Just don’t judge this book by its cover.

The Numbers:

Base Price (MSRP in Canadian Dollars): $79,600
Weight: Curb weight 2240 kg (4,938 lbs), Weight distribution 50.2% Front / 49.8% Rear
Engine Specification: 4.4 Liter Reverse-Flow Twin-Turbo V-8 (N63) 400 hp @ 5,500 rpm / 450 ft-lbs @ 1,750 rpm 91 hp/L
Body / Suspension / Drivetrain Layout: Length Width Height (4999 / 1901 / 1559 mm), Front Aluminum Double Wishbone / Rear Aluminum Multi Link Suspension, Front Engine / RWD
Performance: 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) 5.7 sec, Top Speed 240 km/h (149 mph) electronically limited, Power to Weight Ratio 12.3 lb/hp
Fuel Consumption: City / Highway mileage of 14.4 / 9.1 L/100 km (16.3 / 25.8 mpg), Drag co-efficient 0.32 (Cd)

Credits:

We would like to offer a special thanks to BMW Canada for providing the 550i Gran Turismo for testing.

We would like to extend our special thanks to Classic BMW Ohio, Motor Werks Barrington and JMK BMW, who’s sponsorship made this BMWBLOG Drive Review possible.

We would also like to thank Alan Martin for his partial contribution to the photography found in this article. Alan’s diverse portfolio can be seen at www.refractionarts.ca

Photo Gallery:

  • http://asdf.com asdf

    just what we need. another crossover priced at a heavy premium shoved down our throats by Madison Avenue

    • Hamilton

      True

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  • Giom

    Thanks Shawn, what a great read! I guess you’ve lived the intended life for this cars target market. And that is why it’s such a hit.

    I’m particularly impressed by its track performance… go BMW!

    But most of all, the photographs are simply stunning! I’m still looking for the ‘ugly’ everybody is talking about, I’m seeing pure beauty!

  • Kenee

    The 5 GT is the best BMW out there currently in its top of the range models. This review and the many others which are now coming out are realising the BMW’s acheivement. This is truly a car which has already made its place in the history of this great car maker’s record of pushing bounderies to new levels.

    I would just add that the 5 GT is the dream machine what we used to call the ultimate driving machine.

    A great car by a great car maker. Above all a great idea for the ones who value greatness

  • viper

    this gt is one fat f..k.

  • http://ebrake.blogpsot.com Andrew Murphy

    I loved the 5 GT when I drove one last Nov. and was taken back by how wrong I was about the car. It’s surprisingly fun for its size and can hold its own with other BMW’s.

  • efoza

    The GT is the best 5 series at the moment

    • kcsnyud

      If u can afford it

      • Lv

        wait four years, buy it used with 45,000 miles on it, and save yourself $50,000.

  • Kenee

    The GT is aimed at the top of the range market and thus those who aim to have these cars generally can afford the price.

    Also despite its high price, if you compare it with other top of the range luxury cars such as the S class, the GT rides a lot better and my god the legroom and comfort on the back seat is a lot better that tne Benz S class.

    I hear Benz has taken note and they will be bringing out their own GT version of the S class in 2013.

  • http://www.esteemtrucks.com/ Jack

    550i GT Amazing one….. Good at everything…. performance….design….. interior….this one really gonna rock soon….. best one i can seen amongs the competitions…..

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  • Danielradcliff

    JUST F***ING AWESOME!

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  • Stan

    It is a Head-up Display – No S

  • TRON

    own one and it is closer to super car than anything else…perfect, not too low not too high perfect for crossing long stretches of road with elegance and performance.

  • Ric

    Just received my 550gt. This car is both misunderstood and under appreciated. BMW created a fantastic vehicle that may not be loved by the masses but is adored by the few who have purchased this car. It’s a 7 series trapped in a unique 5 series body. It’s one of kind, limited production, distinctive and strong. Not your ordinary car, no even your ordinary BMW. It is a blast!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GRB7XK4N73IFI4N64U2XTP6ATA TheLip

    This thing is fugly, no amount of spin can fix the looks. the proportions or something is just way out of whack.
    BMW goofed give the wagon people back their wagon before they go elsewhere.

    • Lv

      no kidding.  if it had any other emblem on it besides BMW’s, we’d all be talking about how ugly it is.

  • Saakey

    i can’t even look at this car… no appeal what-so-ever. aka = fUggly

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