2011 BMW 550i long-term update: The Bavarian Beast

As one of the roving reporters for Bike Rhythms and former owner of a BMW 5 Series, I was tasked to take Automotive Rhythms’ long-term BMW 550i Sedan on a journey to some of the most visible bike events along the east coast including Atlantic Beach Week, WPGC/DC Bike Fest, and Crossroads PowerSports open house featuring Hollywood stunt rider Jason Britton.  This seemed fitting given the performance-oriented enthusiasts who attend these events. Yet, would they appreciate the new Bimmer’s understated looks and shrug it off as just another 5 series?  Wow, was I in for a surprise.

The 2011 550i may not immediately command the same attention as a Porsche Panamera or even an M5 for that matter.  But don’t let the quiet appearance of the performance sedan mislead you, for this 400 hp twin-turbo V8 wolf in sheep’s clothing is ready to devour its prey with the style, grace and sophistication of a precision instrument.  Hinting of the power that lurks within is the aggressive dual exhaust that fits squarely within the rear lower body and growls with sinister intentions.

My first realization of the passion associated with this model came while filling up at a local gas station.  “Great car isn’t it,” a voice across from me noted.  “Yeah, it is,” I answered.  And that’s all it took to begin a 30-minute conversation with an owner of a previous model year that is still avidly in love with it.  He continued, “I’ve owned American muscle cars as well as other import performance vehicles, none of which compare to the 550i with its seat gripping performance, especially when factoring in the quality you also get from Bimmers.”  With such an enthusiastic testimony directly from a performance purist, I couldn’t wait to the hit road with our German Wolf.

My first destination — Atlantic Beach Week in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  This leg of my journey was to provide ample opportunity to get acquainted with said Wolf.  However, with so many technical advancements — many of which are borrowed from the 7 series — from the radar controlled cruise control, the multiple cameras that provide a panoramic safety view, to the much improved iDrive and integrated, digital owners manual, my 5-five hour drive was simply not enough. The aforementioned features not only add to a positive driving experience, but also greatly improve one’s safety and confidence with the vehicle. While on journey, a subtle warning light indicated oil pressure was low. As I continued he indicator became more apparent through the onboard diagnostics highlighting the area in need of attention. I quickly pulled into the next available service station where the onboard manual succinctly stepped me through the process of resolving the situation with the recommended oil. This level of intuitiveness was invaluable as the occurrence took place well after midnight in an unfamiliar little town and while still getting acclimated to the bevy of features and capabilities our ride offers.  Oh, and let’s not forget how well the Bavarian Beast was embraced from the attendees of the event.  Comments rang out from “is that a 550i” with disbelief as if it were folklore, to others that flat out recognized with “you don’t know?  That right there is a beast.”

Next up, Crossroads Powersports.  Parked prominently in front, our long-term Bimmer quickly drew a crowd of performance freaks and gear heads.  Some knew of the Beast’s prowess including a former race enthusiast who emphatically stated, “This car has the perfect combination of luxury, performance and power, I’d gladly park this in my garage!”  Others gawked at the fat 18” rear tires indicating this was not your normal 5 Series while others hovered around rambling out stats as if it were superstar athlete such as its 8-speed sport automatic transmission with paddle shifters, active blind spot detection, head up display, and night vision pedestrian and obstacle detector.

By my third stop at our radio station’s WPGC Bike Fest at Maryland International Raceway, which set a record with 6,000 attendees, the tale of the Beast’s appearance had rapidly spread.  Throughout the day there was a steady crowd gathering around.  Some even posed the question of getting behind the wheel and going down the strip against all-time dragster great Rickey Gadson who was also running on the track this day.  That of course didn’t happen, but it would make for an interesting exhibition race. But maybe in an M5!  Rickey, you up for it?

So what did I learn from my journey? The BMW 5 series has a cult-like following.  It may not scream out for attention, but it does scream and that’s just the way we like it; subtle, sophisticated speed.  BMW calls this Efficient Dynamics. Stay tuned for our technical analysis and accessory upgrades in the next update of our long-term coverage.

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