Even through the dark economic downturn, and the auto industry subsequently floundering as a whole, it's sort of amazing the variety of vehicle species we continue to enjoy. And they seem to just keep coming.
Enter the 550i Gran Turismo, a seemingly whole new automotive genus-visually at least. What is it exactly, what does it do? Haul you, three of your best friends, and your things for a weekend or week-long getaway? Yes. Haul kids, groceries, IKEA, ass? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Is it an SUV? No. Is it a crossover, sport sedan, or both? Sort of, sort of, and most likely, yes-it's a crossover sport sedan. Or something like that.
Confused? Don't be. At its core the 550i GT remains distinctly a BMW automobile-not a BMW SAV. It's based on the new 7 Series platform, as will be the new 5 Series sedan.
Even so, it seems something entirely different from either the 5 Series or the line of BMW SAVs-and a rather distinctive, and when you come down to it, rather deft grafting of the two. You might not like the way it looks at first-I have to admit I still think it looks kind of weird-but in the words of that old cliché, it really seems to offer the best of both those worlds.
Granted, it's probably not quite as utilitarian as the X5, but seems at least as good as an X6. And in fact, it's said that the GT actually has more headroom than an X5-and headroom can be an issue in the X6. And the seating positions are lower and more sports-car-like than either of those two vehicles.
And it drives like a car, because, well, it basically is, just one with a generous ceiling profile and a big, hatch-like rear end.
The GT may be had with a bench-style rear seat in traditional 5 Series fashion, or you can opt for a Luxury Rear Seating Package that imparts two lucky rear-seat passengers their own personal bucket seat. Those two people will ride in unmitigated comfort, as the seats are completely adjustable and feature lateral support not afforded by a bench-type layout. (The package also includes heated and ventilated seats and four-zone climate control.) And in case you need the extra stowage, the back seats and median console can fold flat to augment rear cargo space.
The rear tailgate is a pretty inventive design that features two-stage actuation. Opening the small compartment lid beneath the rear window allows you to open up the rear similar to the way you would in a regular sedan (without exposing inside occupants to any unpleasant noise or uncomfortable draughts, according to the press kit). To load larger, bulkier items, the whole rear portion of the hatch can be lifted skyward much like your typical SAV.
Power comes from the torque-rich dual turbo V8 as seen in the X6 and 7 Series, putting out 400 horsepower and a thundering peak 443 lb-ft of twist just under 2000 rpm. All that power is transmitted through a silky smooth new eight-speed automatic transmission with Steptronic shift capability.
The GT also features smart new technologies as showcased originally in the new 7 Series, including Dynamic Drive Control with its four-stage driving programs (Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+), which adjusts steering, suspension, and drivetrain settings from maximum comfort to maximum sportiness. Sport+ also reduces Dynamic Stability Control intervention for the most sport-minded drivers. That system comes as standard equipment.
If you'd like, the GT can also come with active rear-wheel steering as an option, which helps improve maneuverability at low speeds and stability at high speeds, along with optional safety equipment like lane change and lane departure warning systems, side view, top view, and backup cameras, BMW Night Vision, a panoramic glass roof, and the dash-mounted Head Up Display we've come to know and love.
Loading all this electronic equipment, even just the standard stuff, into the chassis makes the 550i GT an understandably hefty beast, some 4,500 pounds and change. But the turbo V8 and its exploding slug of torque-stretching from 1750 to 4500 rpm-makes a valiant effort at moving it with authority, both off the line and at speed. The transmission, with its silently meshing octet of forward gears, makes acceleration, deceleration, and whatever else in between a pretty undramatic affair-a good thing. And in typical BMW fashion, a superbly confident chassis and fairly clairvoyant DSC harness the vehicle's mass and serve to shrink its virtual footprint on any but the tightest switchback roads. Another very good thing.
It really drives like a typical BMW, so the biggest complaint with the GT, from the automotive press if nowhere else, will be its progressive styling-which, no matter how you feel about that, functionally serves its fairly unique, boundary-bursting purpose in life.
4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, turbocharged
Double wishbone aluminum front axle, integral-V multilink aluminum rear
Single-piston swing calipers with 374mm rotors (f), single-piston swing calipers with 370mm rotors (r)
Length/Width/Height (in.): 196.8/74.8/61.4
Wheelbase: 120.9 in
Curb Weight: 4,542 lb
Peak Power: 402 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.5 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)