Mark Takahashi , Associate Editor
It's hard to argue with the adage, "You can't make all the people happy all of the time." But it seems that the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo tries to do just that by attempting to be everything to everybody. Its description alone supports this idea -- a luxury sedan, only taller, with a sportier suspension and, oh yeah, a hatchback for added utility. This odd automotive cocktail results in an impressive vehicle in the end, but we're not so sure the buying public will embrace the GT.
First and foremost is the 2010 BMW 550i GT's appearance. It's as if BMW's 7 Series was involved in some sort of inbreeding experiment to inject some of the X6's quirky DNA. There's no denying the Gran Turismo resembles the 7 Series -- it is, after all, based on the same chassis -- but the GT sits about 3 inches taller and sports a rather ungainly sloping hatch instead of a trunk. Unlike the X6, though, the 550i GT can seat three full-size adults in the rear seats and can hold virtually the same amount of cargo.
Appearances aside, the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo is a genuinely good car. Styling is subjective, but the prodigious V8 power, surprisingly capable handling and luxurious interior are indisputable. Considering it is based on the flagship 7 Series and is available with many of the same creature comforts, the smart money is on the GT, as it will leave an additional $18,000 in your pocket.
Of course, the GT isn't really an alternative to flagship luxury sedans. Its impressive utility and passenger space make it more akin to wagons like the Audi A6 Avant and Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon, or crossovers/SUVs like the Acura MDX and BMW X5, which offer many of the same features and can be had for significantly less. Still, a wagon or an SUV isn't for everyone. Perhaps an alternative like the 2010 BMW 550i GT is in order: a truly luxurious vehicle with some utilitarian capabilities that indeed manages to offer a little something for just about everyone.
Powering the 2010 BMW 550i GT is the same 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 found in the 7 Series and new 5 Series. This engine produces a prodigious 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque; equally impressive is the fact that all of this torque is available from 1,800-4,500 rpm. Power is channeled through an eight-speed automatic transmission on its way to drive the rear wheels. The GT also incorporates BMW's Efficient Dynamics system, which charges the battery via regenerative braking (rather than the alternator), much like a hybrid powertrain. Unlike a hybrid, this system does not provide propulsion -- it merely reduces the engine load whenever possible.
Despite our test vehicle's rather portly 4,865-pound curb weight, the GT managed to turn in some fairly impressive numbers. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration took only 5.3 seconds, while braking from that speed required only 112 feet with just a slight amount of brake fade after five punishing runs. Handling was equally noteworthy, the GT weaving through our slalom at 65 mph and pulling 0.85g on the skid pad. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 17 mpg combined.
In fact, the GT's performance numbers are almost dead even with its 7 Series cousin. Similarities between the two begin to wane out on the open road, though. The Gran Turismo's ride quality is noticeably stiffer than the 7's, a likely combination of sportier suspension tuning and low-profile tires. On the upside, the eight-speed transmission also executes shifts a bit quicker and smoother than the 7 Series' six-speed gearbox.
Despite the 2010 BMW 550i GT's large proportions, it feels delightfully tossable on winding back roads. The combination of sporty grip and an elevated ride height is a little strange at first, but impressive nonetheless. Our GT test vehicle also came equipped with BMW's Active Steering, which varies the steering ratio based on driving conditions. In regular driving, as well as on serpentine roads, this steering system is precise and well-weighted. At parking lot speeds, effort is reduced considerably for easy maneuvering.
Passengers are treated to a quiet and isolated cabin, where wind and road noise are hushed to near silence. Even though the ride lacks some of the 7 Series' floating-on-air feel, it is by no means jittery. In this regard, the Gran Turismo seems more at home under the 5 Series banner, where road bumps are felt, but are not at all harsh.
Since the seat height of the 2010 BMW 550i GT resides somewhere between that of a sedan and an SUV, passengers are able to slide in and out of the cabin — rather than having to drop down or climb up. Once seated, front-seat occupants are treated to a cockpit that is spacious in every dimension. Drivers may choose a traditional reclined position or a more upright position, typical of an SUV. We preferred the more upright seating for a more expansive outward view. The seats themselves are typical of a BMW — exceptionally comfortable, supportive and with a wide range of adjustments.
The rear seats are palatial and boast the ability to slide and recline — something those in the X6 cannot do. Taller adults will have ample head- and legroom thanks to an indentation in the roof between the expansive sunroof and rear hatch. As expected with any rear seat, the narrow center position is much less comfortable because of its flat shape, but we're inclined to believe most will have this seatback folded down to function as the center armrest.
As we've come to expect from BMW, the 550i Gran Turismo blends functional engineering with expert craftsmanship. The elevated ride height provides a more commanding forward view than a sedan, without feeling trucklike. We did, however, find the thick A-pillar base had a tendency to obstruct our sight lines through some curves. Rear visibility, on the other hand, was severely hampered by thick rear roof pillars and a tall trunk lid -- parking sensors and a back-up camera are a must for buyers.
From the driver seat, all controls and buttons are logically placed and within easy reach. The GT features numerous adjustments and settings, but thankfully, operation is simplified with the latest iDrive control system. The center-mounted screen was legible in every lighting condition we experienced, as were the gauges in the instrument panel. The 12-speaker sound system didn't disappoint either, delivering clear tones across a wide range.
Of course, the Gran Turismo's main draw is its rear hatch and the added utility that accompanies it. With the rear seats in place, the conventional trunk measures 15 cubic feet -- 1 more than in the 7 Series. With the seats folded (something the 7 Series can't offer), maximum cargo capacity increases to 60 cubes -- comparable to some crossover SUVs. Also noteworthy is the dual-articulated hatch that can be opened as a regular trunk or a full hatch. A rear folding bulkhead and substantial removable package shelf isolate passengers from the elements when the trunk section is opened.
Elsewhere, storage is at a bit of a premium. Front passengers are limited to the glovebox, center armrest bin and small door pockets to stash their essentials. Cupholders can hold a large beverage, but its placement directly in front of the center stack, under a flimsy cover, is not optimal. Rear passengers are similarly limited with seatback and door pockets and a center armrest with cupholders. Thankfully, those traveling with little ones will be well served, as the backseats easily accept a rear-facing infant carrier, while the sliding seat function furthers convenience.
Design/Fit and Finish
On outward appearances, the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo seems to straddle the line between BMW's 7 Series and X6 crossover. Reactions from casual observers range from indifferent acceptance to revulsion. Most agree that it looks most like a 7 Series that needs to go on a diet. On the inside, the cabin shares a clear relationship with the 7 Series and new 5 Series -- which is to say, luxurious, with top-notch materials and workmanship. As with most any other BMW being made today, we'd gladly spend hours touring in grand style in the 550i GT.
Who should consider this vehicle
If you're in the market for a full-size luxury sedan with a bit more utility, the 2010 BMW 550i GT should be on your short list. And even if you have your heart set on a BMW 7 Series, the $18,000 savings should at least pique your interest.
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