Having been denied the V8-powered M550i since the G30 5-series’ launch a few years ago, it’s finally here in the UK. There’s a catch, though – it’s only here because BMW has quietly binned off another model. The inline-six-powered 540i saloon is no longer a thing on our shores, and BMW UK has decided that this makes room for the much more expensive and vastly more powerful M550i.
The Good Lord BMW hath given and also taken away, but my word, what a brilliant car we’ve ended up with in the process. Behind the 5-series LCI’s larger kidney grilles lives a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, producing 523bhp, making for a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds. This isn’t a full M Division model, remember – it’s one of those reduced-fat M Performance jobbies.
It feels every bit as fast as the numbers suggest, with even a slight prod of the accelerator causing an alarming increase in speed. Foot flat to the floor, you’ll need to be backing off again awfully quickly. It sounds good, too – it makes a rumbly, more conventional V8 noise than the almost flat-plane-like din from the M5.
Ah yes, the M5, which we’re going to end up name-dropping quite a bit in this review since the M550i is best considered an ‘M5 lite’. As it happens, we were able to drive both at the same event, and although there is a little more drama when it comes to straight-line performance with the full M car, it feels as though there’s very little between the two IRL.
When it comes to handling, there’s a much greater divide. Mirroring our experiences with the M850i and M8 Gran Coupes, the M550i has noticeably softer damping than the M5 in all modes. The M5 isn’t as firm as the M8, thankfully, but I’d still take the extra comfort and compliance of its ‘lesser’ sibling.
The M550i flows with the road surface with far less fuss, and it’s not like it rolls around excessively due to its more comfortable setup. The body stays very tidy even during committed cornering, in fact. You’re rarely left wanting for traction from the all-wheel drive system, either – the most you’ll get is a brief sidestep at the rear, and that takes some doing.
Its front end may not be as sharp, but the M550i will still change direction very quickly when you need it to. We’ve no complaints about the speed and efficiency of the eight-speed automatic gearbox, either.
Although – grilles aside – you’ll struggle to tell the tweaked 5-series apart from the old one, there are some more noticeable changes on the inside. The infotainment system is now a 12.3-inch unit by default (previously a 10.25-inch display), and it has a new, noticeably faster operating system. And yes, you do still get the deeply satisfying rotary I-Drive controller.
It’s probably the best infotainment setup around right now, but as for the rest of the cabin, it looks dated compared to what a lot of rivals are working with now. The 5er’s interior does feel the most solid, though, and the M550i gets seatbelts with the M colours stitched in – you’ll hate yourself for liking them, trust me.
If you’re expecting the M550i to be a bit of a bargain, though, we’re going to have to disappoint you. Yes, the starting price is a lot lower than the £98,095 charged for the least expensive M5 Competition, but you still need to part with £71,365. Plus, the test car we borrowed was optioned to £89,445.
Then again, ‘our’ M850i Gran Coupe topped an absurd £118,000, so in relative terms, it is great value. Especially considering the M550i is not just better than an M5 – it’s probably the best all-round car BMW makes right now.