If you want the fastest, brawniest, most powerful BMW 5 Series, buy the M5 Competition – or better yet, the M5 CS. The problem with both of those vehicles, though, is that they are extremely pricey. The M5 Competition starts at $110,000 and the CS will run you about $142,000.
An alternate option is the updated 2021 BMW M550i xDrive, which offers nearly all the power and performance you want in an M5 Competition for a fraction of the price. This version costs just $76,800, has the same torque figure as the M5 Comp, and feels just as capable in the corners. As the lone V8 option in the class, fuel economy isn’t great – its two nearest competitors are six-cylinder mild hybrids. And although the sub-$80,000 MSRP is nice compared to the nearest M5, it's still more expensive than the nearest Audi and Mercedes to start.
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The entire BMW 5 Series range is understated; even the high-output M5 doesn't look all that crazy. And that’s especially true of the M550i. While other newer BMW models – like the 4 Series – have opted for much bolder styling, the M550i keeps things simple. We appreciate the normal-sized kidney grille, sleek LED headlights, and the subtle matte chrome accents surrounding the grille and lower vents.
The 20-inch, double-spoke wheels (a $1,100 option) wear the same finish as the grille and pop alongside the extremely pretty Aventurin Red paint ($1,950). The back of the M550i caps off the clean, cohesive styling with black trim around the taillights, a very subtle spoiler atop the trunk lid, and a black diffuser that surrounds the dual exhaust tips.
Cognac-colored Dakota leather covers the seats and the lower portion of the dash (Nappa leather is an extra $1,000), and tetragon aluminum trim adorns the central portion of the dash. That silvery trim piece looks okay, but one of the available matte wood finishes would better suit this car.
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Without the M5 Competition's optional Silverstone leather buckets that we loved so much or even high-end Nappa leather on this particular car, the M550i feels like a middling option in the comfort department. The standard Dakota leather seats aren’t that soft, nor are they anywhere near as form-fitting or as high-end as what alternatives like the Mercedes-AMG E53 and Audi S6 offer.
Pop the drive mode selector into Comfort or Eco and the suspension’s adaptive dampers soften just enough to make the M550i amenable over most pavement. The 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires don't absorb blows well (opt for the base 19-inch wheels if you want a cushier setup), but the ride never feels back-breaking in either of those two modes.
The 5 Series feels spacious from the driver's seat with 38.8 inches of headroom and 41.4 inches of legroom. Only the Genesis G80 Sport has more headroom (39.4 inches), while the Audi S6 offers slightly less leg space (41.3 inches). The back seat is plenty roomy too, with 37.5 inches of headroom and 36.5 inches of legroom. Ingress and egress are a little trickier than in the E53 or G80 due to the 5 Series' more sloped roof, but it's a minor complaint in the larger scope.
Cargo space is another strong suit of the M550i. The 18.7 cubic feet of space in the trunk are more than any of the alternatives. The Genesis G80 Sport (13.1 cubes), Mercedes-AMG E53 Sedan (13.1 cubes), and Audi S6 (13.7 cubes) are each noticeably worse.
The M550i comes with the same infotainment setup standard across BMW's top-end models: a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 12.3-inch central touchscreen, and a rotary controller in the center console that makes it easy to manage it all. The latest iDrive 7.0 user interface is here too, and it’s as easy to use as ever.
The clean home screen layout and crisp graphics make the setup easy to parse, while the touchscreen reacts with smartphone-like quickness. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come standard as well, and it’s as simple as setting up the connection one time and hopping in the driver’s seat to active any instance after that.
If you want wireless charging, a head-up display, Gesture Control, and a power rear shade (as equipped on this car), they cost an extra $1,900 as part of the Executive package. We used Gesture Control sparingly in our test – doing the hitchhiker thumb movement to change songs just looks silly, but it worked surprisingly well, as did the swirly finger movement for volume controls. And with the $3,400 Bowers And Wilkins Diamond surround sound system, the audio is bumpin'.
At the heart of the M550i is BMW's sublime twin-turbo 4.4-liter V8, and it’s similar to the engine you get in the M5. Only here that engine produces 523 horsepower (94 less than the M5 Comp) and 553 pound-feet (the same as the M5), routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Whereas the M5 is supercar fast, the M550i is like a slightly less powerful supercar.
Power delivery in Sport and Sport Plus drive modes is instant and brutal, propelling the M550i to 60 miles per hour in a mere 3.6 seconds, says BMW. That's noticeably quicker than the six-cylinder-powered E53 and S6 and just three-tenths of a second slower than the M5 Competition. And even at higher speeds the M550i still has plenty of pull, delivering peak torque from 1,800 to 4,600 rpm and max horsepower between 5,500 and 6,000.
The lone transmission option is an eight-speed automatic that will rip off exceptionally quick, crisp shifts. A dual-clutch might be a touch faster, but most casual drivers won't notice the difference. And all-wheel drive comes standard, even though the M550i's rear bias is obvious, and the pinpoint accurate steering feel makes it plenty fun to fling around.
The optional Dynamic Handling package is $3,600 and adds a lowered Adaptive M Suspension, active roll stabilization, and rear-wheel steering. That high-end suspension tech yields a flat, composed cornering feel. For such a large vehicle – tipping the scales at 4,537 pounds – the M550i is very nimble.
Things like forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive high-beam headlights come standard on the M550i. But you will have to pay extra if you want the good stuff; the $1,700 Driving Assistance Plus package adds adaptive cruise control with lane-centering and lane-keep assist, while the $800 Parking Assistance package tacks on a 360-degree camera and a smart parallel parking assistant.
We welcome that Parking Assistance option as the M550i is on the bigger side of the class. The overhead camera and additional sensors make pulling into tight spots relatively easy. The Driving Assistant Plus is a must too, as BMW’s advanced active safety suite is one of the best in the business. The lane-centering tech keeps the car straight in the lane, and both acceleration and braking are smooth all the way down to zero.
Achieving just 17 miles per gallon city, 25 highway, and 20 combined, the BMW M550i is the least fuel-efficient option in the class. The Audi S6 (22 combined) and Mercedes-AMG E53 (24 combined) sip less fuel than the Bimmer.
To BMW’s credit, though, the M550i is also the only V8 option in the class – both the Audi and Mercedes have mild-hybrid six-cylinders, which puts them down on power but up on efficiency. And like all BMW products with the brand’s twin-turbo V8, the M550i only drinks premium fuel – but so do the Audi and Mercedes, too.
The BMW M550i xDrive is the priciest segment option at $77,795, including the $995 in destination charge. The Audi S6 costs $75,445 (including $1,045) and the Mercedes-AMG E53 Sedan starts at $74,950 (with $1,050). Our tester tops out at $93,735 after options, which is a bit pricey – but a similarly spec’d Audi S6 can nearly touch $100,000, while the E53 AMG we tested last year sat at just under $102,000.
The priciest add-on atop this car is the $3,600 Dynamic Handling package, followed by the $2,150 Executive package, the $1,950 paint job, and the $1,700 Driving Assistance package. The fancy 20-inch bronze wheels are another $1,100 as well, and adding the Parking Assistance option is an additional $800.
Dropping the high-gloss paint and sticking with the base wheels will save you more than $3,000, which we recommend. Though, if we had to pick one over the other, the bronze wheels would stay. Beyond that, nearly every optional package feels like a necessity; the active safety equipment on this car is sublime, the parking assistant makes navigating parking lots much easier, and the Dynamic Handling package makes the M550i feel like an M5 light.
M550i Competitor Reviews:
- Audi S6: Not Rated
- Cadillac CT5-V: 6.9/10
- Genesis G80 Sport: Not Rated
- Mercedes-AMG E53 Sedan: 8.9/10
Gallery: 2021 BMW M550i xDrive: Review
2021 BMW M550i xDrive