2006 BMW 550i Review
Model: BMW 550i
Engine: 4.8-liter V8
Horsepower/Torque: 360 hp @ 7750 rpm/360 lb.-ft. @ 6100 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 113.7 in.
Length x Width x Height: 191.1 x 72.7 x 57.8 in.
Cargo volume: 14.0 cu. ft.
Economy: 16 mpg city/ 23 mpg highway/20.6 mpg test
Price: $64,545 (includes $695 destination charge, $2,800 sport package, $1,800 premium sound package, $750 cold weather package)
Assets Exceptional power, smoothness and comfort
Debits I'm still not thrilled with iDrive, and the cost makes it prohibitive for most people to enjoy
The 5-Series is BMW's second best-selling car behind the 3-Series, and it's understandable why. While we had the super-powerful 550i as our test car this week, the 5-Series is also available as the 525i, starting at $43,500, through the even-more-powerful M5 that begins at $81,200.
As a mid-size, the 5 is practical and useful. We were fortunate to have it for one of our standard over-the-hills-to-Grandma's-house excursions, except in our case it's Grandma and Grandpa over the hills to the youngsters'houses. So our 5 was loaded, as usual, with food and packages we were bringing south, and an almost equal number of stuff for the return trip.
Therefore, one of our main considerations (to be honest, it was more of my wife's consideration) was cargo capacity. Unlike many of its competitors (in size anyway) the rear seat backs of the BMW don't fold down to increase cargo volume. However, there's a big 14-cubic foot trunk in the back that was fine for the majority of what we were carrying. Overflow fit neatly in the rear seat and rear floor area. Had we been carrying more than two people this might have been a problem, but if we had more passengers, we probably would have had less extraneous cargo as well.
Under the hood is a double overhead cam 4.8-liter V8 that's rated at 360 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque. From the time we got on the Interstate until our first rest stop, nearly 90 miles, we never shifted out of sixth in the 6-speed manual gearbox. Granted, we were lucky with a couple of traffic lights, but the engine had so much torque that it pulled us through even when we had to slow down occasionally. In fact, when we did finally slow down for a rest, I had almost forgotten that I had a manual gearbox and not an automatic. Shifting was effortless most of the time, although a few times I had problems finding the right rear.
Even with all the power, we averaged more than 20 mpg for our trip. Granted, there was considerable highway mileage included, but there was enough local and around-town driving to pull the numbers down. I was impressed. Comfort was the byword with the 550i. Our tester had the optional Sport Package that included 20-way power multicontour front seats with adjustable thigh and side support, heat, and adjustable head restraints. There was a portion of the front seat that would move forward for additional thigh support on long drives. The side bolsters could be adjusted to give almost race-car tightness if you wanted it. Of course, there was a lumbar support as well to help our aching backs ache less.
Rear seat comfort was exceptional, even with a standard wheelbase. Legroom and headroom was better than most other mid-size cars. All the seats were leather, and the car exuded a great smell when you opened the doors. I'm still not pleased with iDrive, BMW's joystick that controls audio, navigation, HVAC and vehicle readouts. I'm getting better at using it, and made far fewer mistakes than I have in the past, but it still seems to me that there are too many functions in one controller. With a co-driver who's involved in working with iDrive, though (my wife isn't one of those), you can precisely use it to its maximum.
The instrument panel had two large round gauges of the tachometer and speedometer. There was a fuel gauge at the base of the tach and an instant mpg gauge at the base of the speedometer. All other readouts could be found by using the iDrive.
Our tester had one cupholder for the passenger and none for the driver (unless I couldn't find it, and I looked). There was a tray in the dash by the iDrive readout that was excellent for holding cell phones.
BMW is among the many manufacturers that have gone to the use of "Start/Stop" buttons to get the engine going. With the 550i you still must insert a key into a slot locate don the steering column. There were times when I had problems either getting everything on or off.
Under the hood, it was nearly impossible to find the oil dipstick. Yes, even BMW owners have to check their oil occasionally.
I loved the BMW 550i. Sadly, I know I can't afford one and there are a lot more who can't, and it's a loss, because this is one of the premium automobiles around and it would be great if more people could enjoy it.© 2006 The Auto Page Syndicate