SAN DIEGO, California — “This is what this car was made for,” I thought from behind the wheel of the latest addition to our Four Seasons fleet—the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive—while hauling down The Five to the Golden State’s second-most populous city to ring in the new year, a trio of passengers in tow. It’s also made for tackling roads with a few more twists and turns, but we didn’t have time for a detour up Palomar Mountain, and I’m not sure the rear occupants would have appreciated that, anyway.
The M550i emits a muffled, yet pleasantly snarly growl from its 4.4-liter V-8 with any firm press of the go pedal, which is punctuated by a series of soft whomps as the eight-speed automatic rapidly swaps cogs. All 456 twin-turbocharged horses are available at 5,500 rpm, with peak torque of 480 lb-ft reached much earlier, at a mere 1,800 rpm. (Given its 4,372-lb curb weight, the low end twist is welcome and necessary.) It doesn’t thunder wildly down the road like the Mercedes-AMG E63 or the M5, but it moves with a purpose when needed—60 mph comes in just 3.9-seconds—and cruises effortlessly the rest of the time.
Additional attitude can be summoned by shifting the drive mode into Sport at the touch of a button. Those who want a custom mix of settings—say, the tighter and heavier Sport setting steering but the less-aggressive Comfort setting for the transmission—can have it their way via the programmable individual mode. Our Dynamic Handling Package-equipped car ($3,600) also boasts active roll stabilization and the even-more-adjustable Active M Suspension Plus.
Speaking of cruising, BMW’s adaptive cruise control implementation—Active Driving Assistant Plus, a $1,700 option—is particularly smooth when it comes to adjusting speed to maintain following distance. Other tech gadgetry on the car includes the head-up display (also $1,700), the 3D surround view ($700, also adds parking assistant plus), Apple CarPlay that works over Bluetooth instead of via the USB cable ($300), a Wi-Fi hotspot (part of the $1,200 Executive Package, which also adds wireless charging, ceramic controls, and soft-close doors), and gesture control ($190), the last of which seems like a gimmick.
Tire noise is a bit excessive for the class (not that any of my passengers noticed), but it’s easily drowned out. Just twirl your finger clockwise near a sensor just south of the infotainment screen to increase the volume on the premium Bowers and Wilkins audio system ($3,400, and I used the knob to turn it up instead). We may wish we’d opted for the heated and cooled seats instead of the Cold Weather Package ($800) come summer, but the heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel are proving handy on colder mornings.
The roughly 85-mile spread between my apartment and downtown San Diego is covered in less than an hour and a half on a good day, but the M550i feels like it’ll keep you fresh for a solid eight, if not more. That’s plenty for a run up to Lake Tahoe, which we might have to do given SoCal’s recently dry winters. We need to test its all-wheel drive system somehow, right? Besides, the northern end of California’s I-395 is a pretty fun and scenic drive. It’s just the sort of route this sport-touring sedan seems to have been made for—especially when you consider the long and straight road you’ll spend hours on before you get to a single turn.
Our 2018 BMW M550i xDrive
|PRICE||$73,095/$86,685 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||4.4-liter twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8/456 @ 5,500-6,000 rpm, 480 lb-ft @ 1,800-4,750 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan|
|STEERING||Electric power assisted|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.2 ft|
|SUSPENSION, F/R||Control arms/five-link|
|WHEELS, F/R||19-inch, alloy wheels|
|TIRES||Michelin Primacy 3, Front: 245/40R19 98Y, Rear: 275/35R19 100Y|
|L X W X H||186.3 x 76.2 x 65.6 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/62.9 in|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.8/37.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.4/36.5 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.7/55.9 in|
|CARGO CAPACITY||18.7 cu ft|
|WEIGHT DIST F/R||55%/45%|
|EPA MILEAGE||16/25/19 (city/hwy/combined)|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18.0 gal|
|FUEL RANGE||450 miles (est)|
|0-60 MPH||3.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||155 mph|
|Sport exhaust system||Double Spoke Cerium Gray light alloy wheels|
|Active kidney grille||20-way power Multi-contour front seats|
|Brake Energy Regeneration||Dakota Leather upholstery|
|Twin-tube gas-pressure shock absorbers||SensaTec dashboard|
|Adaptive M Suspension with electronically controlled dampers||Harman Kardon® Surround Sound Audio System|
|M Sport Brakes||3-spoke leather-wrapped multi-function M sport steering wheel|
|Servotronic power-steering assist||BMW Navigation system with 10.2″ high-resolution touchscreen|
|xDrive all-wheel-drive system||iDrive 6.0 system with touchscreen|
|Icon Adaptive Full LED Headlights||Expanded Check Control vehicle monitor system|
|Power-folding, heated side mirrors||BMW Ambiance lighting|
|Aerodynamic kit||BMW Remote Services|
|Cold Weather Package||$800|
|Driving Assistance Package||$1,700|
|Driving Assistance Plus Package||$1,700|
|Dynamic Handling Package||$3,600|
|Parking Assistance Package||$700|
|Bowers & Wilkins Audio||$3,400|