Perfect ride and handling balance, highly communicative steering, quiet highway ride, ample interior space, everyone-friendly front seats, peerless fit and finish.
Overly complicated iDrive interface, hefty price tag, not particularly superior to the cheaper 535i.
"This might be the perfect car," exclaimed one of our road test editors after putting the 2008 BMW 550i through its paces at our test track. "It's the perfect size, looks great, it's fast, it handles. Does everything well." You could throw in supremely comfortable, quiet on the highway, luxuriously appointed and beautifully built. We would never go so far as to declare it "the perfect car" — there are always going to be a few areas of contention — but the BMW 550i would most certainly be among the nominees with Vegas odds in its favor.
However, let's get this out of the way quickly: Our 550i test car was expensive. With $10,545 worth of options, this ultra-5 Series hit the register at a whopping $69,820. And other than the $500 HD Radio (still not sure what the point is), we'd be hard-pressed to remove anything.
So the 550i is expensive, but so are Brioni suits, a night at the Bellagio and a 65-inch plasma television. They're all pricey purchases, but they're usually worth it. Therefore, the question should be: Is this midsize luxury sedan that's oh-so-good in oh-so-many ways too expensive?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. A similarly equipped 750i costs almost $10,000 more than its supposed "lesser" cousin, but the 550i is the all-around better car, giving up little in the way of luxury and interior space while trouncing the 750i in the fun-to-drive department. On the other hand, the twin-turbo 535i offers nearly the same performance as the V8-powered 550i and, when equally equipped, costs about $7,000 less. Hmm, maybe that's a more perfect car.
So the 2008 BMW 550i may be too expensive for some, but as with the Brioni and Bellagio, it's hard not to toss out that old adage, "You get what you pay for." And in this case, you get one of the few nominees for the perfect car.
Despite its 550i designation, the engine underhood is actually a 4.8-liter V8. This strong power plant is good for 360 horsepower and 360 pound-feet of torque, and it's an ideal engine both for blasts away from traffic lights and driving out on the open road. In testing, we recorded an impressively quick 0-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds.
Though the vast majority of 5 Series models are sold with the automatic transmission, our test car was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission. It's one of BMW's best, with just-right throws and an easily modulated clutch that's friendly in heavy traffic. Rarely was a downshift to 5th gear needed for highway passing — just leave it in 6th and away you go to very illegal speeds, until the speedometer reminds you that you're on an interstate, not the autobahn.
The rest of the 550's performance resumé is similarly impressive, with superb braking distances (111 feet from 60 mph) and tremendous grip (0.89g on our skid pad) that put it in the same territory as smaller sport sedans or even sport coupes. The same could be said for its handling in general, which is in a league above the other sedans in its class. That would probably be true without the Sport package, but the package's active roll stabilization sets the bar even higher by increasing roll stiffness through corners, improving grip and control. The steering is sublime, with perfect weighting and a near-telepathic feel. This car does exactly what you tell it to do and reports back with equal aplomb. Unlike the steering racks used for the 1 Series and X5, which can be heavy at parking speeds, the 550i's steering is thankfully light.
However, all the superlatives heaped upon the 2008 BMW 550i can essentially be carbon copied over to the cheaper 535i. In our objective instrumented testing, braking distance, skid pad and slalom speed were all equal or pretty darn close between the two cars. From zero to 60 mph, the twin-turbo six-cylinder 535i was only 0.4 second "slower." In our subjective seat-of-the-pants testing, the outcome was more of the same. In other words, unless you have to have that beautiful V8 growl (or a high-numbered 5 Series to show off to your neighbors), it seems the choice is pretty clear regardless of how good the 550i is.
There's a good chance you're either an NBA forward or a Lollipop Guild representative if you can't find a comfortable driving position with our 550's 20-way power seats. The seat bottom's front and back rise to ridiculous heights, the extending thigh support could probably reach your ankles and the elbowlike two-tier reclining seatback is a design of pure genius. The head restraints even pop out at the sides like first-class airplane seats. Throw in the fact that these seats provide endless hours of comfort and support, and it's easy to nominate the 550i for the perfect seat award, too.
While the rear seat doesn't move about in the same contortionist ways, it, too, provides lots of comfort and support. Headroom in particular is better than what the Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6 offer, while legroom is ample even if that NBA forward's up front.
Considering the 550's sporting intent and resulting 19-inch wheels, ride comfort and road noise are surprisingly well-managed. Although it hardly offers the same serenely supple isolation of a Mercedes E550, the BMW nevertheless quietly swallows road imperfections with a reassuring, well-damped thump. Wind noise is also kept to an absolute minimum — even at 90 mph, the cabin could host a James Lipton interview.
In addition to its spacious cabin, the 550i boasts a large trunk capable of holding at least two golf bags and a decent-size suitcase. Plus, with its gaping-wide opening, no finagling is needed to make the trunk swallow those golf bags — just lift over and lower in. Interior storage is limited, however, with the center console in particular compromised by a strange bin within a bin.
The sizable backseat and large door openings make fitting a child seat a relatively easy proposition. With a rear-facing child seat, the front seats need to be pushed fairly far forward, but their 20-way adjustment at least gives the front occupants a better chance of attaining a comfortable position without touching the child seat.
Like all 5 Series cars, the 2008 BMW 550i comes with the iDrive electronics interface system that controls myriad vehicle functions, from simple radio presets to the navigation system and in-depth climate settings. BMW has streamlined this design since its introduction several years ago and added six dash-mounted preset buttons; however, iDrive is still needlessly complicated. For instance, going from a satellite radio preset to an FM preset takes two upward mouse pushes, two mouse turns, two downward mouse pulls and then a few additional turns. You get used to it, but people get used to cleaning bathrooms, too. If the 550 has an Achilles' heel, iDrive is most definitely it. (Half-way through model year 2009, BMW added a revised iDrive control knob with dedicated menu buttons, which improved access to its functionality).
Design/Fit and Finish
Fit and finish is a big reason why the BMW 550i's price can almost be justified. Materials quality is surpassed only by what you'll find in Audi's cars, and everything is put together beautifully. While iDrive may be a pain to use, it frees the dash from copious amounts of buttons to create a clean-looking design.
Our 550i came with the Sport package's aerodynamic package that includes a revised rear bumper and an M5-like front airdam that nicely complements the 5 Series' dramatic headlights. With accompanying lower-side sills and double-spoke wheels, this is the snazziest-looking regular 5 Series you can buy.
Who should consider this vehicle
Although some may buy this car because it's the highest number available on the 5 Series, that's a shortsighted way to go about it. The 2008 BMW 550i's mix of superior back-road driving dynamics, autobahn-blazing long-distance comfort and ample interior space make it the right choice for someone looking for a quintessential luxury sport sedan.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
2008 BMW 5 Series Overview Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2008 BMW 5 Series and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2008 5 Series featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
Our Review Process This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.
We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.
Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2008 BMW 5 Series and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2008 5 Series 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2008 5 Series.
Vehicle 535xi 4dr Wagon AWD (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 6M)
Review I bought this car used with a clean car fax in 2010 with less than 15000 miles. I bought an extended warranty just in case. I spent 8 month researching vehicles i would like to own and keep for 10 years. I have made a very poor decision. The maintenance cost on this vehicle will exceed its worth. It's been fun to drive, a very comfortable car with decent gas mileage. However, when I've taken it in for service, it's like sleeping with the devil. Goodbye emergency fund and hello credit card debt. It's the most disappointing feeling to love a car so much and be saddled with such repair bills. Fuel injectors replaced, water pump, thermostat, numerous hoses and vacuum hoses, and now replacing turbos and catalytic converters all before 90,000 miles. Not good resale either!!!
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Available BMW 5 Series 2008 Submodel Types: Sedan, Hybrid, Diesel, Wagon, M550i xDrive
Exterior Colors: Jet Black, Alpine White, Black Sapphire Metallic, Dark Graphite Metallic, Titanium Silver Metallic, Space Gray Metallic, Imperial Blue Metallic, Glacier Silver Metallic, Monaco Blue Metallic, Carbon Black Metallic, Mineral White Metallic, Callisto Grey Metallic, Platinum Gray Metallic, Deep Sea Blue Metallic, Bluestone Metallic, Cashmere Silver Metallic, Dark Graphite Metallic II, Amethyst Gray Metallic, Jatoba Brown Metallic, Orient Blue Metallic, Mediterranean Blue Metallic, Titanium Gray Metallic, Champagne Quartz Metallic, Silver Gray Metallic, Citrin Black Metallic, Deep Green Metallic, Jatoba Metallic, Mineral Grey Metallic, Milano Beige Metallic, Mojave Metallic, Atlas Cedar Metallic, Glacier Green Metallic, Montreal Blue Metallic, Olivin Green Metallic, Oxford Green Metallic, Platinum Bronze Metallic (Late Availability), Pyrite Brown Metallic, Steel Blue Metallic, Sterling Grey Metallic, Tasman Green Metallic, Aspen Silver Metallic, Blue Water Metallic, Cashmere Beige Metallic, Mystic Blue Metallic, Platinum Bronze Metallic, Sterling Gray Metallic
Interior Colors: Black Dakota leather, Black premium leather, Cinnamon Brown Dakota leather, Black Nappa premium leather, Black Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Beige leatherette, Black SensaTec leatherette, Black leatherette, Venetian Beige Dakota leather, Cognac Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Gray premium leather, Black Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching leather, Black Dakota w/Blue Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Amaro Brown Extended Merino premium leather, Canberra Beige/Black Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Black, Cinnamon Brown leather, Everest Gray leather, Venetian Beige leather, Ivory White/Black Nappa premium leather, Mocha w/Black Nappa premium leather, Natural Brown premium leather, Cream Beige premium leather, Beige, Black Nappa w/Contrast Stitching/Piping premium leather, Canberra Beige/Black SensaTec leatherette, Gray, Mocha Nappa w/Black premium leather, Venetian Beige/Black Dakota leather, Everest Gray Dakota leather, Night Blue Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Oyster and Black Nappa premium leather, Oyster/Black leather, Venetian Beige Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching leather, Veneto Beige leatherette, Black leather, Oyster and Black Dakota leather, Venetian Beige SensaTec leatherette, Ivory White w/Oyster Nappa premium leather, Ivory White Nappa w/Black premium leather, Ivory White Nappa w/Contrast Stitching/Piping premium leather, Auburn premium leather, Beige premium leather, Ivory White Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping leather, Mocha Nappa w/Contrast Stitching/Piping premium leather, Sand, Silk Gray/Black Extended Merino premium leather, Venetian Beige/Black SensaTec leatherette, Individual Platinum Extended Merino premium leather, Ivory White Dakota w/Contrast Stitching/Piping and Dark Coffee Dashboard leather, Ivory White Nappa w/Contrast Stitching/Piping and Dark Coffee Dashboard premium leather, Nutmeg Extended Merino premium leather, Sand Beige, Venetian Beige/Black Dakota w/Exclusive Stitching leather
Popular Features: Alarm, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Power Driver Seat, Rear Bench Seats, Trip Computer, Auto Climate Control, Multi-Zone Climate Control, Stability Control, Sunroof/Moonroof, Tire Pressure Warning, Bluetooth, Automatic Emergency Braking, Aux Audio Inputs, Post-collision safety system, Upgraded Headlights, AWD/4WD, USB Inputs, Fold Flat Rear Seats, Navigation, Leather Seats, Back-up camera, Parking sensors, Heated seats, Electronic Folding Mirrors, Power Liftgate/Trunk, Pre-collision safety system, Heads up display, Keyless Entry/Start, Upgraded Stereo, Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, Mobile Internet, Apple Carplay/Android Auto, 360-degree camera, Adaptive Cruise Control, Cooled Seats, Rear Entertainment System