2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo Road Test

2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo Road Test

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2010 BMW 5 Series GT Hatchback

(4.4L V8 Twin-turbo 8-speed Automatic)

Practically Pretty

Don't blame the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo for killing the BMW 5 Series wagon in the U.S.

Oh, you haven't heard? The 5 Series wagon is gone for 2011. Only 878 Americans bought one in 2009 (yeah, nice going, you guys), and the most BMW ever sold was 2,351 back in 2005.

Now BMW is asking us to find room in our hearts for the 2010 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo. This crossover-hatchback-wagon is shaped like a giant root vegetable. But executives in Munich are convinced we'll buy 4,000-5,000 in 2010.

No doubt you're ready to pooh-pooh their moxie. But that rutabaga rump isn't going to make or break the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo.

Keep It Real
Practicality is pretty much the whole point of the 2010 BMW 5 Series GT.

With seating for only five, our 2010 BMW 550i GT isn't a classic, three-row mommy-and-daddy-mobile. It is, however, useful in ways that BMW wagons and crossovers have never been.

The 5 Series GT has the idealized step-in height and narrow rocker panels seen on the Ford Flex and other such family funkmasters as the Toyota Venza and Honda Crosstour. You don't stoop (535i xDrive wagon) or stretch (BMW X5) to enter the 550i Gran Turismo; you slide into its driver seat, arthritic knee and all. The doors open wide, so finagling your kid's car seat into the backseat of the 550i GT isn't really finagling at all.

The rear bench is a broad, comfy plain uninterrupted by bolsters, so said Graco can cinch down nice and secure. The 5 Series Gran Turismo is also the only BMW other than the 7 Series with rear-seat fore/aft adjustment. Scoot the seat back to strap in your darling rugrat; slide it forward to wipe Cheerio snot from his chin on the fly.

Once he has grown into an argumentative teen, you'll be grateful for the full 41.8 inches of rear legroom. That's 6 inches more than in a 2010 BMW 535i Wagon and 5 more than even the X5. Only a 750Li gives you a bigger buffer (44.3 inches).

Headroom is the same as in the X5 (39 inches) despite the fact that the 550i GT is 8.5 inches shorter in height (61.4 inches)

5 Series in Name
Not even BMW is clever enough to find this much extra space in a 5 Series body, though.

Though the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo is marketed as a member of the 2010 5 Series family, its 120.7-inch wheelbase, 63.4-inch front track and 65.1-inch rear track are identical to our long-term BMW 750i. It's true that the 2011 BMW 5 Series sedan shares this platform architecture, but its footprint is still smaller.

The 550i GT and 750i are also the same width (74.8 inches). The Gran Turismo measures 3 inches shorter nose to tail (196.8 inches), though, while standing 3 inches taller (61.4 inches).

Alas, the extra height only translates to 5.7 inches of ground clearance. So you'll still need your shovel and kitty litter when the all-wheel-drive xDrive 550i GT shows up later in the 2010 model year.

7 Series Hatchback in Reality
So we're dealing with a 7 Series hatchback with the profile of an overgrown parsnip. Maybe the payoff in utility will offset that. Maybe.

For this exercise, you'll need a giant schnauzer and a deluxe stroller. If you don't have these items, you can mime them. Walk around the back of the 5 Series Gran Turismo and feel around on the tailgate. Two release latches? Yes.

Grab the one on the right to open the conventional full hatch. Pat your hand on the cargo floor to summon the giant schnauzer. The liftover height is just under 28 inches (little more than the 750i), so he'll nail the jump. At 15 cubic feet, the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo's cargo bay is not big — scarcely more than the 750i (14 cubic feet) and less than the 2010 5 Series wagon (17.7) and X5 (35.8).

The roof line is sloped, too. The available height within the cargo bay fluctuates between 13 and 27 inches, so if your schnauzer isn't pretend, fold down one section of the rear seat to give your dog room to walk about. Maximum capacity is 60 cubic feet — more than in the 5 Series wagon (58.3) and the Accord Crosstour (51.3), but less than the X5 (75.2) and Toyota Venza (70.1).

Now grab the second latch in the center of the tailgate. It opens a trapdoor that's about 16 inches high by 37 inches wide. Pointless? No. That stroller will slide right in. And not only have you spared yourself the exercise of opening the whole hatch, the separate rear bulkhead behind the backseat prevents the gooey toddler from hearing or feeling the howling winter wind while you go through the loading exercise.

Keep It Real, Part 2
We love babies and puppies, but midway through our week with the 5 Series GT, we are so in the mood for something less cute. Our staff therapist orders a massive burnout.

And since BMW's twin-turbocharged and direct-injected 4.4-liter V8 delivers 450 pound-feet of torque at just 1,750 rpm (plus 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm), smoking our Sport package 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo's 275/35R20 102Y rear meats is as easy as loading the stroller.

However, the new ZF-built eight-speed automatic transmission in our preproduction 550i GT gets pretty steamed at us afterward and temporarily shuts down. We have to shift into Park, turn off the engine and restart it before we can continue up the road.

We hate to piss off the transmission, because this eight-speed is excellent as automatics go. It has 5,000 clutches (OK, five clutches), and the upshot is that it can skip gears (straight from 8th gear to 2nd if necessary) to ensure rapid response to changing throttle demands. Gearchanges are noticeably quicker and smoother than with the ZF six-speed automatic in our 750i.

Our BMW 550i Gran Turismo is also very quick. This 4,900-pounder hauls itself up to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.3 seconds (5.1 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and blazes through the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds at 105.7 mph. That's scarcely slower than the 750i and a full 2 seconds faster than the X5 xDrive48i (7.0 seconds to 60 mph; quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at 91.3 mph).

Of course, the X5 M blows the homely 550i GT away with its 12.8-second quarter-mile.

But you'll be hard-pressed to get into the Motorsport-tuned X5 — or a 750i sedan — for less than $90,000. The 2010 BMW 550i GT has a base price of just $64,725, and our lightly optioned test vehicle costs $74,025, which is about what you'd pay for the regular-strength X5 with the same equipment.

Keep It Real, Part 3
Also, it just so happens that our 5 Series Gran Turismo tester stops shorter and slaloms faster than the X5 M. It stops from 60 mph in 112 feet (versus 116 feet) and goes through the cones at 65 mph (versus 63.5 mph).

Most of the time, though, you're hardly aware of the 550i GT's abilities. It feels big and heavy, because it is big and heavy. Amidst all that, you notice that the brake pedal is pleasantly firm with a short stroke. There's some initial weirdness, because the big hatchback has a regenerative braking feature that engages the alternator to recharge the battery during deceleration (otherwise the alternator freewheels).

Slowly, it dawns on you how well the BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo handles, too. You keep adding speed through corners, and the big lug never gets out of sorts. You're not going to wake up early on a Saturday to hustle it down some obscure road, but if an interstate closure forces you onto an obscure road, you'll have some fun.

Our 550i GT tester has the active steering option, which supplements the standard hydraulic power steering pump with electric hardware that varies the steering ratio while also providing a mild rear-wheel-steer feature (to make for tidier parking). Effort is fairly light at low speeds, and the wheel weights up nicely as you steer into turns.

Unfortunately, the active steering isn't well calibrated for driving on the limit in our instrumented testing, as the continual and often overzealous ratio adjustments can throw off the vehicle's attitude during rapid directional changes. As if sensing our disapproval, the steering unit on our 2010 550i GT malfunctioned, delivering a binding sensation as we yanked the wheel to exit the slalom.

We'd skip the active steering on the 550i Gran Turismo. Ditto for the 20-inch wheels and tires, which fill out the wheelwells but ruin the ride.

Tough Turnips
Ride quality really does matter on the 2010 BMW 550i GT, you see, because this isn't the sort of BMW you buy when you're single.

It's as close as BMW will ever get to building a minivan. The X5 can haul more stuff, but unless you insist on having a third row, the 5 Series Gran Turismo is better for hauling kids. Also, until the non-Motorsport X5 gets the twin-turbo V8, the 550i GT is better for hauling ass, too. (The 535i GT arrives later in 2010 if this isn't your priority.)

Apart from its quickness, though, the 550i Gran Turismo isn't really about the drive. No need to pull out the tired "Ultimate Driving Machine" tagline; the 5 Series GT stops and handles well, but it doesn't feel ultimate.

Instead, the 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo is just useful. At the same time, we think it has to be useful to find its buyer, because style isn't its message. Ah, well — minivan substitutes shouldn't ever look too stylish anyway. If they did, maybe you'd feel embarrassed getting into them in your stained sweats and house slippers.

Second Opinions

Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
It's seems like such a good idea. Really, why shouldn't a BMW carry around a child seat every once in a while? Let's finally get beyond the usual stereotype of a black BMW, a suitcase full of money and a tall white male.

There's a lot to like about the 5 Series GT. And since it's so much like a 7 Series, what's not to like? It rides well, corners well, gets after it when you press the gas pedal, and the new eight-speed automatic transmission is magic compared to the preternaturally confused six-speed in the current 7 Series. The GT is also a great people package when it comes to comfort, as there's enough room for adults to stretch out in the backseat. Plus it's way cheaper than a 7 Series.

But the more you look around at the 5 Series GT, the more you find the sacrifices that have been made. When you're in the driver seat, you're looking out through a windshield that's a bit too far away to offer the panoramic view you want for safety in a family vehicle. There's still no place to put stuff inside the cabin. When you're loading the trunk, you discover that the space is smaller and harder to pack than a sedan trunk. And the 5 Series GT is heavy, as if it were carrying depleted uranium slugs in its chassis rails.

There's no mystery about what the 5 Series GT is meant to be. It's the other side of the equation from the X6; it's a kind of a sedan-style utility rather than a coupe-style utility.

Maybe this is why the styling of the 5 Series GT is such a mess. There was a lot I found really interesting about the Bangle-era cars and I'm more disappointed than anyone that BMW has retreated to designing sedans as if they were simply different lengths of the same sausage. Even so, the unique look of the 5 Series GT represents an art test that I cannot pass. The wonder of it is, there are so many misshapen BMWs these days that it's hard to decide if the 5 Series GT is really the ugliest. Perhaps we should organize a contest.

But perhaps the strange style is what tells us that this BMW really is a utility vehicle, reminding us that a family vehicle is meant to be about what it does, not what it looks like.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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