The BMW 550i has always seemed like a great alternative to the M5 since it's cheaper and delivers many of the same thrills that the M5 does barring its ultimate track superiority. But for daily driving on normal roads, the 2014 550i comes closer to the M5 than it did with the previous generation.
Recently, a friend of mine, who co-founded the Longhorn Racing Academy (LRA), purchased this as his daily driver. He spends a lot of time driving and so the 550i is what he calls his "mobile" office. As I found out, there is no better car to do work in than this one.
I can't say that I find the looks of the 550i all that appealing. I do like the aggressive front end and the quad exhaust but overall it looks boring. But it didn't take me long to get over it as soon as I got behind the wheel of the car.
As much as I enjoyed driving the car, what I discovered is that the best thing about the 550i is all the technology that BMW has packed into this hefty sedan. There is so much to tinker with in this car and so many features to investigate that it could keep you busy all day. I didn't get a chance to play with everything but before I go into all of that, allow me to tell you a bit about what it's like to drive.
Driving The 550i
The 550i comes deliberately de-tuned from the factory to differentiate it from the M5, but with a simple tuning chip, 50 hp or so becomes instantly available. That puts this particular 550i in the 500 hp+ territory. The stock version is plenty fast enough but with this simple power upgrade I found myself breaking the rear end loose quite often.
All I had to do was just tap the gas pedal down ever so slightly and I'd immediately find myself going sideways. Luckily, traction control kicked in preventing me from wrecking the car. An accident would have been disastrous because that would mean that I would never be allowed to touch all the awesome cars that LRA has like the GTR, GT3, R8, F430...and many others that I find myself lusting after.
All The Modes
There were 5 different modes to choose from: Eco Pro, Comfort +, Comfort, Sport, Sport +. But I was really only interested in Sport +.
Eco Pro??? No thanks.
The comfort modes really were terrible. The car is already so insulated and quiet that you would have no idea that there is a 4.4L twin turbo under the hood. Everything felt so lazy and slow in the comfort modes that there was nothing exciting about driving around in those modes.
"Sport +" on the other hand brought the car to life. The rpms stayed high, the 8-speed automatic shifted aggressively and the throttle response improved greatly. I'm sure other parameters changed as well - all I knew was that "Sport +" was the mode to be in.
The 550i was a big car but it didn't feel all that large when driving it; BMW did a good job maintaining the agility of the grand tourer.
Ok, enough about driving it. Let me now dive into some of the features this car has.
Heads Up Display
Take a close look at the picture above. Do you see "0 mph" above in red letters? There is also a box next to it. Any idea what that's for?
The box to the left of the speed display is actually the speed limit of the road you're on!
This is one of the most useful features that the car has because how many times have you found yourself driving around at 50 mph wondering if the speed limit is 45 or 35 mph? That 10 mph gap can mean the difference between paying hundreds of dollars if you were to get pulled over.
It's so easy to speed in the 550i that both these numbers are very useful to have in your HUD.
Launch control helps you experience all the power that the 550i has to offer and takes the guesswork out of launching. After activating this, floor both the brake and the gas pedal simultaneously and then as soon as you see the notification flag, release the brake.
Boom! You're now at the mercy of 550+ lb-ft of torque as you hurl forward. The acceleration is tremendous and you get to see a side of 550i that you never knew existed!
Because it's so hard on the transmission we had to give the car a break and let it rest a few minutes before trying again. But we did this a few times because it was just that much fun.
Adaptive Cruise Control & Lane Detection
It was an eery feeling to be in a car that was sort of capable of driving itself. The 550i can detect other cars and objects in front of it, apply brakes and even accelerate as needed. If you're at a stoplight, the 550i will even start picking up speed and accelerate with just a tap of the gas pedal (you can remove your foot off the pedal after that).
I'm not sure if I can fully trust this just yet. What if the software crashes because of a bug no one detected and just when I think the car has got it under control, I look up from playing "Angry Birds" on my phone only to find out that I'm half a second away from death.
Nope, I would not want to play Angry Birds on the phone while driving - I'd rather check Facebook instead.
Lane detection is something which I was unaware of when driving the car. I felt a weird vibration a few times and thought - oh great, what did I break while driving this? Turns out that it was only a lane departure warning!
Clearly, I couldn't stay in my lane when driving since I felt quite a few of those vibrations.
Internet in the car! Woohoo! The 550i has 3G connectivity which means you can now read Donald Trump's latest tweet about how his hair is real and look at the 100th picture of what your best friend ate for dinner on the giant media display.
You can do google searches, go to google maps and seamlessly sync your phone. All of the latest features of BMW connectivity actually work quite well.
With all the sensors and cameras in this car, you can only imagine how much more expensive cars in the near future will be to fix.
You think maintenance work on your BMW is expensive now? Wait till you have to take your self-driving car to the shop.
Never mind - it can take itself there!
The car warns you to not rely only on the camera images displaying on the screen. But I found it tough to look away. I was hypnotized by the images on the screen in the dark and so when I was backing up I was meticulously analyzing the display to make sure there weren't any obstacles when all I really had to do was look up and turn my head around.
The cameras are extremely useful in fact. For example, if you have to make a turn and you have a giant SUV blocking your view, just inch up a little bit so you can see on the display if you're clear to take the turn. This way you don't have to do what I usually do - take a guess, make the turn and floor it. As soon as you pull out, you find out that you cut off a car at which point they follow you to your final destination to make sure they walk up to your car to let you know what you did to them.
Yes, I really need these cameras.
Now this was my first time to experience a car parking itself.
Let's face it – parallel parking is a pain. If you don't get things right the first time, trying to correct your parking and redo the whole thing can quickly turn into a gigantic mess at which point you become so frustrated that you start taking it out on your passengers in the car.
The 550i solves the problem for you. Watch the Bimmer park itself in the clip below.
There you have it - a car that can almost do everything for you.
If this is an indication of what the future of automobiles will look like, then we need to make sure we hold onto cars where humans are actually required - because driving might actually be a "thing of the past" not too long from now.