You could spend days trying to figure out where the 550i GT fits in BMW’s lineup and whether or not there’s a need for it. It’s not a wagon, nor is it a crossover SUV. It’s called a 5 Series but it’s based on the 7’s longer chassis. If you must, and BMW would rather you didn’t, you can group it with newcomers like Toyota’s Venza and Honda’s Crosstour, wagon-esque cars with higher rooflines and hatches. And, after you’ve exhausted yourself trying to pin it down, only one question remains: Does it drive like a BMW, because, if it does, then many of those questions become irrelevant.
With 8,037 miles on the odometer, we took the 550i GT up to Laguna Seca for the Global Tuner Grand Prix this last October. And, in true BMW, big-sedan style, it ate up Interstate 5 and Highways 101 and 46. Loaded up with three occupants, our weekend bags and photo gear, the 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 never felt strained as the eight-speed transmission always seemed to be in the right gear for passing or cruising. It was, however, thirsty. We averaged in the high teens for the 700-mile round trip, which included Interstates, two-lane B-roads and restaurant hunting in Monterey.
When not loaded up with passengers, the GT weighs in at a porky 4,938 pounds. And the weight and higher center of gravity might make one think it would be sloppy around the corners. While the heft is noticeable and undeniable, roll and squat are minimal. Fast, sweeping bends are consumed with fluid ease. The optional 20-inch wheels and run flat tires provide that familiar firm-but-not-hard ride of most BMWs; however, on stretches of high-frequency road imperfections, you can sense the suspension is having a hard time keeping the giant wheels planted. The steering (and tires) could be more informative in the turns but seem otherwise direct and linear. The brakes never felt overwhelmed.
When you’re just along for the ride, the GT is one of the most comfortable places to kill time. The front passenger seat adjusts to any body type and the rear seats recline to make snoozing easy. Legroom is rarely an issue and the high roofline creates and airy environment. There are also flatscreen TVs to keep the kids medicated.
On the way home, we suffered a blowout of the left front tire when, after cresting a rise on the freeway, we hit a pothole on the down slope. It was unavoidable as it appeared immediately after the crest. Plus, cars on both sides surrounded us, so a quick avoidance maneuver would’ve been difficult.
The tire suffered an inch-and-a-half gash to the sidewall but the wheel looked to be fine. The center console screen informed us that it was possible to drive up to 155 miles in a lightly loaded car on the run flats. For a fully-loaded car, we were informed that the tire would be good for 35 miles. Rather than risk it, we called BMW Roadside Assistance. They had the car flat-bedded to the nearest dealership and sent a taxi to pick us up.
This incident causes one to question the viability of run flats. In this case, the gash to the sidewall was so big, chances are the tire would’ve fallen apart before we made it back home, which would’ve really necessitated a call to Roadside Assistance.
Run flats can get you off a busy freeway and to gas station, or you can make it home if you’re close enough. But in this case, at 9 p.m. on a Sunday night with a next-to-fully-loaded car, they proved to be a liability. A temporary spare would’ve been a simpler solution, especially if the car is being used for grand touring, as the name implies.
Run flat liabilities won’t stop us from taking the GT on long trips. It’s been a workhorse for everything from photo shoots in the desert and mountains, to taking the kids to soccer practice. At 7,734 miles, Editor Bidrawn saw the need to add a quart of oil. Other than that, there haven’t been any problems.
The 550i GT might be the BMW for people who aren’t concerned with extracting the most performance out of a platform. And maybe that’s where BMW has to go to expand its market. It still drives like a BMW; well-balanced, direct steering, great brakes, and when you really hammer it, the engine sings the song of creamy precision mixed with muted aggression. You just have to peel through the layers of techno gadgetry and sound insulation to get to it.
Huge interior space, huge power
Run flat tires left us hanging