Awhile back, there was a bit of an intra-BMWBLOG discussion about the BMW X5 M Competition. Yours truly felt that the full-beans X5 M Competition lacked purpose, as it was barely distinguishable from its X5 M50i sibling on the road, yet significantly more money. Our own Horatiu and other disagreed. Since I’m a New Jersey Italian, my stubbornness wouldn’t allow a concession and we agreed to disagree and I still stand by my statement. So when it came time for me to drive the newly refreshed BMW M550i xDrive, we sort of grinned at each other, knowing that it would likely cause yet another discussion. However, I’m happy to say that it doesn’t.
My biggest criticism with the BMW X5 M was that it had no other purpose than to sell customers a more expensive SUV with a flashier badge. The differences between the M Performance version of the X5 — the X5 M50i — and the full-beans M Division car were marginal at best on the road. After driving the new BMW M550i, though, I can say with confidence that it, and its proper BMW M5 sibling, have no such issue.
M Performance with Added Comfort
There’s no denying that the BMW M550i truly has M-performance. Thanks to its 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8, making a very healthy 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, the M550i can rocket from 0-60 mph in about three and a half seconds. The exact numbers will very based on tire choice and temperature but my test car was running winter Michelin Alpin tires and they likely held it back from its true potential. Still, the M550i is bullet train-fast in a straight line and will simply erase vast sections of tarmac with alarming immediacy. Drive an M550i everyday and you’ll be ten minutes early, wherever you go.
So the M550i certainly delivers on the “M Performance” it claims to have. Yet, despite that, it never feels like a true M car and that’s a good thing. There already is an M5, so BMW rightly gave its lesser sibling a flavor all of its own. While fast, yes, the BMW M550i is calm, comfortable and relaxed. It’s able to eat hundreds of miles in a single trip without ever fatiguing its passengers. The suspension soaks up bumps that would make an M car bounce and it insulates its occupants from almost all of the world around it, all while cosseting them in rich leather and bank vault build quality.
Even the engine, with all of its fury, is refined and smooth in its delivery. Where the proper M5 rips and snorts, the M550i purs. Stomp the go-pedal and it will roar to life but the roar is a dull one and its response is softened with a layer of cream. It’s a more elegant way to embarrass sports cars.
All the while, the eight-speed auto swaps cogs with a precision that borders on telepathy. BMW gets its share of fair criticism at the moment but one thing that cannot be faulted is the brand’s ability to calibrate and engine and transmission. The eight-speed ZF unit in the M550i is evidence of calibration perfection. Not only is it always in the correct gear but it changes gears with the immediacy of a dual-clutch, yet with not of the violent jolts. It’s as if the gears are coated in a layer of marshmallow; zero vibration makes it through. In fact, it’s so good when left on its own, I never once used the paddles.
New Isn’t Always Better
For 2021, the BMW M550i has received a facelift, just like the rest of the 5 Series lineup. With that facelift came quite a few new changes to both the exterior and the interior. Some of the changes were good but some of them weren’t so good.
Most noticeably, BMW updated the 5er’s mug, giving it new headlights and a revised grille. The former look great and are really slick. They’re more rectangular, which makes them more modern and aggressive looking, as do the hockey stick-esque light elements inside. While it’s not a massive new update, it’s enough to keep the M550i looking sharp and, even against it’s much never competition, enough to make it one of the best looking sedans in its class.
Outside of those few exterior changes, it’s mostly the same as the pre-facelift 5er and that’s a good thing. With BMWs seemingly getting more and more garish with each new generation, the subtle, sophisticated look of the BMW M550i is a breath of fresh air.
However, not every change is an improvement and that’s evident inside the 5er. While it’s always welcome to get new tech, such as BMW’s latest iDrive system, the new digital gauges — which BMW calls “Live Cockpit Professional” — is a downgrade over the pre-facelift gauges. The old gauges were analog-ish, with physical trim pieces surrounding digital dials and the digital screens mimicked the look of analog gauges and they looked far better then the new all-digital setup.
Sure, the new Live Cockpit Professional has more functionality and can display more information but, in reality, it’s not that much more and the little bit of extra info isn’t worth the messy looking gauges. While I liked Live Cockpit Professional when it first debuted, as it looked cool and was different from anything BMW had ever done before, its look has grown tired very quickly and it seriously lacks functionality compared to its rivals from Audi and Mercedes-Benz. So if it’s not going to be as good as its competitors, BMW might as well have stuck with great looking analog gauges.
Also, BMW’s virtual assistant, which automatically wakes up after hearing you say “Hey, BMW” is infuriating. BMW’s Siri is not only hyperactive, waking up even if you just say “BMW”, but it’s also slow to respond to any actual commands and seemed to never quite understand what I was saying. While I was shooting my video review, it awoke mistakenly several times because I just said the word “BMW” — which was so much more frequent than you might think — and then when I would say “cancel” it would tell me it couldn’t find the address in “Cranford” I was asking for…
Of course, you can change settings for the virtual assistant, having it awake with a different command or have it turn off altogether. But it’s a half-baked technology that pales in comparison to its rivals’ systems.
What Stays the Same is Great
What made the G30 5 Series great before the facelift is still great, which is good to see. Ride quality and handling capability are still great and give it the ability to be comfy and luxurious most of the time, but fun enough that, should a twisty road present itself, you can exploit its handling skills. Steering is still mostly numb and lacks any sense of straight-ahead but that’s forgivable in the M550i, as it’s not designed to be a proper M car.
The interior, aside from some annoying new technology, is fabulous. Material quality is top notch and everything is beautifully crafted. I even really liked my test car’s odd dark grey aluminum trim, which featured an odd rhomboid pattern. Typically that sort of trim isn’t my bag but I liked it for some reason. The cognac leather interior was also lovely and matched the Aventurine Red exterior color well. Admittedly, I’m not particularly fond of Aventurine Red but I know that a lot of BMW fans are, so I’ll leave it at that.
It’s Own Unique Flavor
After having driven the BMW M550i xDrive, I’m happy that BMW didn’t try and make it a budget M5. When the facelifted M550i first launched, the internet was awash with reviews, claiming it to potentially be a better buy than the M5, due to its similar power for a lower price. However, that claim misses the mark because the BMW M550i and full-blown M5 are two different machines with two different, unique flavors.
The BMW M5 is a much sharper, far more engaging car. It has a stiffer ride, a more raucous engine, significantly more precise handling and a leather-line hooligan attitude that makes it special. Conversely, the BMW M550i is much softer, more relaxing, quieter and feels more like a budget 7 Series than a budget M5. It just so happens to pack a punch like a freight train.
Compared to many of BMW’s other M Performance cars, the BMW M550i stands out as a car that truly has a purpose; a place in the Bavarian lineup that isn’t occupied by anything else. It’s supercar fast, with rock-solid high-speed stability, and yet it sports the luxury and refinement of a more premium machine. A budget-M5 the M550i is not. Instead, it proves its worth with its own special flavor.
2021 BMW M550i xDrive
Exterior Appeal - 9
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 6
Performance - 10
Handling - 8
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 7
Price Point - 7
The BMW M550i xDrive LCI Facelift stands on its own as a comfortable yet brutally fast luxury cruiser, giving it a distinct flavor that's unlike its proper M Division sibling's.