REVIEWS: 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo

January 26, 2010
When you're seated in the back of the BMW 5-series Gran Turismo, it's not hard to imagine that you're in a car from the future. Your surroundings are very swoopy, the confines cozy but very open-feeling, thanks in large part to the glass all around you. If you need a break from the future, watching a movie or reclining a heated/ventilated rear chair for a nap is simple.
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Your chauffeur might have a hard time letting you sleep, however, since he or she has 400 beefy hp underfoot and a lively steering wheel in hand. Even if your chauffeur is restrained, he or she will still have plenty of reason to enjoy driving the new 5-series GT: good visibility, a superadjustable driving position, gorgeous flat-finished wood trim, and lots of features pulled straight out of the 7-series flagship (appropriate, given this car's shocking $91K price tag), such as a heated steering wheel, an infrared night-vision camera, and a plethora of parking sensors.
Once you and your partner exit the car, you might feel like time has sped forward, too, since the 5GT has a unique look that'll take some getting used to.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
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I'm with Rusty that the 5 GT could very well be the car of the future. I think we're in the minority, though - I've heard more "what the..." reactions than "wow, that's cool." Still, I think the concept of the GT is a sound one - it gives nearly all of the benefits of an SUV (height, cargo capacity) without the drawbacks inherent in an off-roader (poor handling and space utilization, etc.)
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The inside of the 5 GT feels just like our Four Seasons BMW 750Li. That's a good thing because the $91k price is pretty outrageous. Almost a hunned grand for a mid-size SUV without even all-wheel drive? Ouch. Of course, our test car is optioned to the extreme with cool tech gizmos and features, many of which are unnecessary.
So, while this is all sounding pretty good, I'm actually very disappointed with the 5 GT, and it all comes down to the suspension. Our 550i GT Sport Package (with twenty-inch rims, by the way) suffers from the worst suspension tuning I think I've ever encountered in a BMW. The ride quality is adjustable via the center-console mounted button, but each setting is worse than the last: Comfort results in horrible wallow, especially in the rear, reminiscent of 1980s Lincolns. Normal is only slightly better in rebound control, but the GT still bounds around unacceptably. Sport stiffens up the dampers, so impact harshness increases to an annoying level, while Sport Plus is unnecessary in a vehicle like this.
And it's not just the suspension tuning that's off. The rear seems to suffer from a distinct lack of travel - the front wheels will absorb a bump well (say, a speed bump) that bottoms out the rear wheels jarringly. The lack of rebound control (the huge wallow that results) is just the sour icing on the stale cake.
The Integral Active Steering varies the steering ratio for easier maneuverability at low speeds, and as usual, I'd prefer the car without this. Sure, I'd get used to the sometimes unexpected and nonintuitive changes in steering ratio and effort, but the loss in steering feel isn't worth the tradeoff to me.
There are some ergonomic niggles we've all found thus far, but I'm not yet convinced they're not user error, so I'll withhold judgment until I read the manual. (The electronic manual, which is presented in the iDrive screen, isn't available - even to the passenger - while moving, so it proved of little use.) Since the 5 GT is the first car based on the new F10-chassis 5-series, I'm a little worried. After all, I once purchased a new 5-series, and that car was my favorite daily driver of all time. Let's hope the GT's rear suspension problem is unique to the GT.
Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor
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Jason Cammisa has done a spectacular job explaining the shortcomings of the BMW 550i Gran Turismo's ride, so I'll just add that I'd rather have one suspension/chassis setting that works than four that don't. I also found the active steering to be unnatural, so I'd forego this option in favor of traditional steering.
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I disagree with Jason about the lack of drawbacks found in the Gran Turismo. If I'm going to be driving something that sort of looks like an SUV, sort of hauls cargo like an SUV, and pretty much drinks premium fuel like an SUV, I'd like the ability to tow a trailer or go off road. If we're after the space of an SUV and the driving dynamics of a sedan, why not get a 5-series wagon? Not to mention the fact that the 550i Gran Turismo weighs 2.5 tons.
I continue to be amazed by the fact that BMW can engineer such big, heavy vehicles to drive as well as the 550i Gran Turismo and X6 do, but I'd rather see that ingenuity used to make cars and SUVs meet the upcoming safety requirements without gaining a few hundred pounds.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
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At the Detroit auto show, a BMW official claimed that it wasn't gas prices that killed SUV sales, but boredom. The BMW X6 was their answer for that. Now, the 5-series GT, according to this person, is the company's solution for bored car buyers. BMW also isn't shy to describe it with the well worn "utility of an SUV, comfort and size of a car" phrase.
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Having driven the GT, I'm not so sure BMW has delivered the right mix of truck and car characteristics. The seating position is noticeably taller than in a car, but any real advantage in perspective is eliminated by the high dash and belt line that mar visibility. The result is your view is more similar to that from a tank, rather than a sporty car.
Like Jason, I noticed an unacceptable wallow in comfort mode. The car was also susceptible to uncertain motions from even mild crosswinds. Handling is marred by the porky weight and active steering option. Arguably, the 5-series GT feels less athletic than the larger and heavier X6. As Rusty suggests, perhaps this is a car for owners who ride in the back seat.
Options on this particular 5-series GT are obscene. Take a look at the $25,000 list and you'll realize that you may be in the most expensive seat your butt has ever touched. First, we'll assume BMW was generous enough to include some form of front seats in the base car, and they're probably not milk crates since the price starts at $65,725. The first option rings in at $950 to heat the chairs. Then there's a $1950 charge for ventilated front seats with a massaging feature. The black and ivory nappa leather adds $1000, but admittedly also alters materials on the dash and doors. Finally, BMW has thrown in multi-contour seats. In our tester, they're part of a $4200 sport package, but they're also available as a $1300 standalone option.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
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The 550i Gran Turismo is indeed a strange beast. I find it at once compelling and puzzling. The compelling part? A sumptuously elegant, beautifully crafted, and opulently equipped interior, as one would expect what with the incredible array of expensive options our tester was larded with. A fabulously comfortable rear-seat compartment that makes first class seem second-rate. I chauffeured 3 adults to a New Year's Day open house and everyone was delighted by the accommodations both in the front passenger's seat but especially in the rear seat. Interestingly enough, there were three 3-series owners at the party, all of whom found the 5 GT to be quite interesting, but all of whom also were puzzled by its height and mass and absolutely appalled by its price.
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Other likes: the unique dual-tailgate configuration, wherein you can open either a smaller trunk lid, thereby keeping the passenger compartment completely sealed off from the elements; or wherein you can press a different button and the entire rear section of the roof lifts up as a huge tailgate, thus exposing the passenger compartment but also enabling you to lower the rear captain's chairs electrically to create a nearly flat, quite large load area (to create a completely open cargo area you also can stash the removable hat shelf under the cargo floor). So, we have reasonable versatility in the ability to load people and cargo (although passenger capacity is limited to four).
A friend and I made a 300-mile round trip in a single day in the 550i GT and found it to be supremely comfortable in the front seats. Later, I was chauffeured from Ann Arbor to Detroit in the back seat and found it to, as others have explained, suffer from some unexpected ride harshness for such a premium vehicle. Then again, those of us in Michigan would probably skip the 20-inch wheels and stick with the stock 19-inchers, which might improve matters.
The puzzling parts? Why does BMW build yet another extremely expensive, extremely heavy utility vehicle that doesn't even seat that many people? The answer: this vehicle isn't really intended for the American market. It's for Europe, where SUVs and crossovers suffer from much great social stigma than they do here in the States. The GT allows someone who, say, used to drive an X5 to retain much of the utility but in a package that doesn't scream, "I'm driving a gas-guzzling, 5000-lb SUV that's killing the earth." The irony, of course, is that drivers of the 5-series GT are driving a gas-guzzling, 5000-lb vehicle, too!
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
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2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo
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Base price (with destination and gas guzzler tax): $65,725
Price as tested: $90,875
Standard Equipment:
Regenerative braking
Xenon adaptive headlights
Rain-sensing windshield wipers
Panoramic moonroof
Dual-access tailgate
Front and rear parking sensors
iDrive
Side and side-curtain airbags
Adaptive brake lights
Bluetooth connectivity
Options on this vehicle:
Ivory white/black nappa leather - $1000
Active front ventilated seats - $1950
Rearview and sideview camera - $750
Convenience package - $1900
- Power tailgate
- Keyless entry
- Soft-close automatic doors
Cold weather package - $950
- Heated front seats
- Heated steering wheel
Luxury rear seating package - $3650
- 4-zone climate control
- Rear sunshades
- Heated and ventilated rear seats
Premium sound package - $1400 - iPod and USB connector
- Premium hi-fi sound system
Sport package - $4200
- 20-inch wheels with performance tires - $1000
- Leather sport steering wheel
- Multi-contour seats
- Shadowline exterior trim
Active steering - $1750
Rear seat entertainment - $2200
Smartphone integration - $150
Nightvision - $2600
Heads-up display - $1300
Satellite radio with 1-year subscription - $350
Key options not on vehicle:
Driver assistance package - $1350
- Blind spot detection
- Lane departure warning
- Automatic high beams
Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
15 / 21 / 17 mpg
Engine:
Size: 4.4L twin-turbo DI V-8
Horsepower: 400 hp @ 5500-6400 rpm
Torque: 450 lb-ft @ 1750-4500 rpm
Drive:
Rear-wheel
Transmission:
8-speed automatic
Weight: 4938 lb
Wheels/tires:
20-inch double-spoke wheels

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