Yeah, but what’s it like to live with? BMW 550i xDrive M-Sport

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This is yet another installment in my series where I compare used car choices that cost somewhere around the price of a new fully equipped Miata.  The idea is to see what else that amount of money buys.  Are there options for faster or better cars?  How do they stack up?

I usually stick to later model cars that could be reasonably expected to provide reliable daily service.  I will also not review anything that gets above the 30’s in fair market price.  All fun type cars. No boring cars.

 

I will share what they are like to live with in daily use.  The good stuff and the annoyances.  Hopefully, this will help those who are considering purchasing one.  Don’t look for performance data, specs, and such.  You can find all that elsewhere.  These are all strictly my opinions and experiences.  Your mileage may vary.  Owners are welcome to chime in with their experiences.

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This month I am driving a 2011 BMW 550i xDrive M-Sport with just over 50k miles on the clock.  This version is the performance peg just below the M5.  400hp twin turbo V8, AWD, adjustable M-Sport suspension.  The miles on this example bring pricing to around the mid 30’s.  Finding lower mileage used BMWs can be a challenge.  People who buy them tend to drive them – a lot.  Browse some ads and you will see what I mean.

 

I owned a BMW e39 5-series for many years and 176K miles. Loved it.  The reason I didn’t replace it with another 5-series can be summed up in one word: Bangle.  The new Bangle styled 5-series were butt ugly and included other poor ideas like iDrive.  For 2011, the body style went back to acceptable and the iDrive has been substantially improved.  So let’s check out this newer, better looking version.

 

Just like me, the car has gained some weight with age.  A lot of it as a matter of fact.  My earlier 528i was Honda Accord size.  Just right in my opinion.  The same is still true except that the new Accord is also much bigger.  In fact, this five series is the same size and weight as the old e38 7-series.  It’s even longer, wider, and heavier than a similar year MB E class.  Four hundred pounds heavier!   Big, heavy, and sporty don’t usually exist in the same sentence.  The 3-series is now the size of the older Accord and 5-series.

 

However, the V8 does provide plenty urge to move the car smartly.  Some turbo lag is evident, especially at low speeds.  The transmission’s eagerness to quickly shift out of the lower gears combined with the soft throttle response makes smooth starts challenging.  Overall, performance is quiet, and effortless.  Multiple personalities are available at the flick of the M-Sport switch.  The chassis goes from Buick up to reasonably firm.  The sport mode also holds gears longer making starts smoother but reducing economy.  Regardless of the setting, grip is high and understeer is prevalent in the AWD chassis.  The car is outstanding in inclement weather where the AWD shines.

 

It is a very solid and comfortable car.  Overall gas mileage is about 18mpg which is OK for a twin turbo V8.  This is also a very complex car.  Lots of features and  gizmos.  Best to read the owner’s manual.  Some are welcome, such as selectable fan speeds while in the “auto’ climate mode or the fold out of the way third seat belt clicker. Right rear seat passengers can buckle up easier now.  Others are junk.  Complicated, cheap plastic cup holders are a German car trait.  iDrive may be improved but is still far too complicated to drive and use it.  The plastics used for the dash material and door trim look cheap for such an expensive car.  The seats have memory function for both front passengers and multiple adjustments.  You can get very comfortable for a long trip.  However, the seats are wide and offer almost no lateral support.  What’s the point of all this M-Sport stuff if you are sliding all over?  This is a big miss that you won’t find lacking in a Lexus or Mercedes.

 

I really wanted to like this car.  My wife really wanted to like this car.  It isn’t a bad car.  In fact, it’s a very good car. It just has too many annoyances and missed opportunities to be a great car.  Stuff like the annoying BMW, pull twice to get out, door handles are still here.  The “bump stick” shifter is overly complicated and not intuitive.  The car is more gimmicky luxury car than sport sedan.  With this version of the 5-series, BMW has built a really good 7-series.  I miss the 5-series.