BMW M550i xDrive: Pushing the Top-Level 5 Series on the Racetrack
How does the BMW M550i xDrive stack up to the F10 M5 when we take it to the limit on the racetrack?
The new G30 chassis 5 Series is here and the M550i xDrive is the top dog…because BMW has not yet released a new M5.
The improved performance comes from a 4.4L twin-turbo V8, which punches out 456 horsepower and 480 ft-lbs of torque. The M550i xDrive has a host of new technology over the outgoing 5 Series. The biggest being what BMW calls an ‘intelligent xDrive all-wheel-drive system.’ The new system is rear-wheel-drive-based, and only sends power to the front wheels when slip is detected. Of course, when you launch the car off the line it will end up sending the power forward. So, the xDrive is proudly responsible for the blistering 3.9-second, 0-60 mph time.
The M-Sport package on the 550i is a mildly aggressive appearance package, with bumpers, side skirts, and a shadowline black window trim. It also sits 10mm lower, thanks to the M-Sport suspension. Speaking of the suspension, the M550i’s Dynamic Damper Control allows the shocks to adjust on the fly for optimal ride comfort and performance. The M550i also has a new integral active steering. Around low speed corners, the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction of the front tires. This effectively shortens the wheelbase of the car, allowing it to turn tighter. In high speed corners, the rear wheels steer in the same direction as the front tires. This adds high-speed stability to the car and increases your confidence behind the wheel. So, how does all this tech translate on a racetrack?
We wanted to find out what the latest and fastest 5 Series could do in an extreme performance environment. So, we headed out to Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, CA to find out. We chose to test the twin-turbo V8 on the high-speed monster known as Big Willow. Before we got on the track, we turned on the ventilated seats, because luxury. After following the YouTube tutorial, we had the car set up in Sport+. Just kidding! We did it all by ourselves and the process was very simple.
Heading out of pit lane was a blast, as the M550i’s all-wheel drive launched it off the line. The redline on the gauges says 7,000 rpm, but the car always shifted at 6,500. Although, we found you don’t need to rev out the motor as the turbos kick in at 1,800 rpms with a punch of torque.
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Around the tighter corners we could feel the rear of the car rotating from the rear-wheel steering. When getting on the throttle early on corner exit, the xDrive system would send power to the front wheels. This had the nasty side effect of creating understeer, and would push the car toward the outside of the corner. In a rear-wheel-drive BMW, the tail would come sliding around instead, which would be fun. But it would also be slower, which is why these cars have moved to all-wheel drive. The ride in the M550i was a bit softer than we would like for the track. It had great compliance, yet allowed the chassis to work around the corners. Of course, the M5 is really the motorsports car, so we can forgive the softer suspension.
On the main straightaway, the M550i xDrive was hitting close to 150 mph before entering turn one. The speed was effortless and quiet as the car accelerated. The M-Sport brakes offer more stopping power over the standard 5 Series brakes. On the track they never faded throughout an entire day of hot laps. Although the feel of the pedal was a bit odd, but they always stopped the stout sedan. For a car that is meant to handle the daily commute and shuttle executives, it did very well. Is it fun to track it? Yes, but we would not buy one to take to the track. The overall package of the M550i xDrive is very impressive, and we all would gladly own one… until the next M5 is available.
Images via Manuel Carrillo III