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Grant Presents: 2011 BMW 550i Review

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2011 BMW 5 Series



Model: 2011 BMW 550i
Engine: 4.4-liter twin turbo V8
Horsepower/Torque: 400 hp @ 5,500 rpm/450 lb.-ft. @ 1,800-4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 116.8 in.
Length/Width/Height: 193.1 x 73.2 x 5736 in.
Tires: P245/45R18
Cargo volume: 14 cu. ft.
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway/17.6 mpg test
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gal.
Curb weight: 4,343 lbs.
Sticker: $59,700 (base)

The Bottom Line: Everything you would expect and want in a 5-Series is here in the 550i; power, handling, comfort, luxury. Plus, there's a ton of technology that at the least will entertain you if you tire of the sound system.

The 2011 BMW 5-Series is the sixth generation of the vehicle that leads its segment in the United States with about 25 percent of the market. So BMW isn't going to rock the boat with the new one, maybe just vibrate the steering wheel a bit (more on that later).

The 550i is new to the line this year. Powered by a twin turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 that delivers a potent 400 horsepower through an 8-speed automatic transmission. I could stop here and you'd probably have enough information to justify the $60,000-plus investment in one of these when it becomes available later this year. But as they say in the infomercials, wait, there's more.

To begin with, the new 5-Series is two inches longer overall on a 3-inch longer wheelbase, meaning the overhangs are shorter. The height is the same, but it appears lower because of a wider track. As usual, the styling is evolutionary.

What is most appealing about the 550i though is its road manners. sure, here's a car that can get up to its limited maximum speed of around 155 mph in short time, but it's also a car that will chug around town at 25 mph without complaining. And whether you're at 155 or 25, you're in great comfort.

For example, the front seats offer good side support and thigh extensions to make longer trips even more comfortable. The rear seats also offer great comfort and, surprisingly, better side support than the fronts.. My one complaint is that the cup holders are too small for larger bottles, but German cars are meant to be driven and not to be used as cup holders.

A feature of the 5-Series (and others) that has been annoying is the iDrive, BMW's master controller for audio, HVAC, navigation and other functions. In the 2011 car, the fourth generation iDrive has been improved and it's much more intuitive than the original. In navigation mode it was much easier to switch map scales for more precise driving, for example.

In addition, our tester had a heads-up display that made it much easier to monitor our speed. In our longest trip, we kept the car in cruise control, but it was still convenient to know what our speed was just in case. Besides speed, the HUD also has navigation instructions or audio settings if you want them.

Other technology innovations include LDW, or lane departure warning. This camera-based system vibrates the steering wheel if the car senses that you're changing lanes without using the turn signal, or if you're just inattentive.

Adaptive cruise control can be surprising if you're not aware of it. This not only maintains a constant speed, but if you're approaching the car in front by closer than a set distance, it will slow your car to prevent rear-ending the other car. There are lights on the dash and HUD to warn you of both ASC and LDW.

Park distance Control uses the navigation screen to help you park more precisely. It gives you a virtual view from the top of the car covering all four sides. I recommend relying on it only after practice.

Blind spot protection warns the driver of vehicles in the left or right blind spot by lighting a triangular orange light in the outside rearview mirror mount.

As part of BMW's Efficient Dynamics, there is brake energy regeneration to keep the battery charged.

You expect smoothness, quiet riding, power and comfort from a BMW 5-Series. The 2011 550i delivers all that and more. While it won't challenge the bigger 7-Series in the comfort department, it will challenge many or most of its competitors.

© 2010 The Auto Page Syndicate