Slick BMW sedan oozes pure appeal

·5-min read

If it's possible for a car costing almost $150,000 to be 'a steal', this might be the one.

Meet BMW's 'stealth bomber' - the M550i Pure Edition - which reached Australian shores late last year to surprisingly little fanfare. Funny the things that happen during a global pandemic.

Despite its quiet arrival, the M550i is likely to make a bit of noise in the battle to win the hearts, and dollars, of Australia's corporate sector.

There was a time, not so long ago, when this was "where it's at" in terms of luxury motoring.

The 5 Series - and its arch-rival Mercedes-Benz E-Class - fought tooth and nail for spots in the executive car-park. Cars that reflect not just the achievements of the two marques, but also the achievements of those fortunate enough to drive them.

Now in its seventh generation, the 5 Series has cast a long shadow over this coveted market segment since 1972.

Yet lately, the people who were once perennial buyers of these high-priced European sedans are far more likely to turn up at the wheel of a fancy SUV with a BMW, Benz or Audi badge, or perhaps even one built by Jaguar, Porsche or Maserati. Times surely have changed.

The SUV craze might have stripped sales volumes from the executive sedan market, but it doesn't mean the Germans are throwing in the towel. To the contrary.

This current, seventh-generation 5 Series (designated the G30) has undergone a fairly comprehensive restyling and retooling after almost five years on the market.

As a result, we got the chance to test two distinct variants of the 5 Series. In one corner the sensible, practical, diesel-powered 530d, and in the other corner a surprising, petrol-powered, twin-turbocharged V8 M550i.

The pair are poles apart in terms of typical buyer profile, and also in terms of performance. But almost identical in appearance and, surprisingly, in terms of price. Which is where our 'bargain' theory comes into play.

The 530d, the only diesel in the current 5 Series crop (and an impressive one at that) will set you back $125,990 plus on-road fees and the inevitable options. A very desirable machine it is.

But spend barely 10 per cent more and you could get into the M550i - the fastest 5 Series ever to wear the badge (not counting the legendary M5, of course).

Despite its fairly mild-mannered appearance, its performance numbers are gaudy, if a little unexpected in a car with this kind of refinement.

Consider that the 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8 pumps out 390 kilowatts and 750Nm which is a preposterous amount of power in a car that, on first impressions at least, looks pretty much like your garden-variety German sedan.

Its acceleration dwarfs just about anything not wearing the badge of one of the premium European supercar marques - and will reach the speed limit in a blurry 3.8 seconds. It's frighteningly quick.

Yet its price tag of $137,900 is barely $10-grand more than the 530d and, more to the point, fully $100k less expensive than the full-blown M5. While that car brings substantially more performance (70 more kW) and bling, it's highly unlikely you'll ever get to use it to full advantage on Australia's speed-restricted roads.

By comparison the M550i looks like butter wouldn't melt in its mouth.

OK this car probably still won't steal the heart of too many M5 buyers, despite the value equation. They'll buy the M5 because they can.

But it might turn the head of a few people who arrived at the BMW showroom planning to pick up a nice 530d. This is vintage schnapps on a beer budget. Imported German beer, of course.

Fortunately, the 5 series is a pretty decent place to put all that power, with its sure-footed handling, its supple yet firm ride and its impeccable behaviour under braking.

But just in case there was any doubt, the M550i also enjoys the same "X-Drive" all-wheel-drive system you'll find in the brand's SUV models, including the X5 and X6, with which this car shares its underpinnings.

The net result is a car that can be driven like a luxury limousine, but convert instantly into a beastly device with a decent prod of the right foot.

The Pure version loses a couple of luxury items, not that it wants for much. Standard kit ranges from 20-inch alloys, M-Sport brakes, adaptive M-Suspension, aerodynamics package, fine wood interior trim, heated electric sports seats and BMW's Live Cockpit infotainment and cabin management system. Head-up display, driving assistant technology and a lovely Harman Kardon audio system fills out the list.

Opt for the higher-spec model and you'll add adaptive M-Sport suspension system with anti-roll stabilisation and integral active steering; soft-close doors, laser-light headlights and ambient air, including ionisation.

It also allows you options such as the Indulgence Package, which brings rear-seat entertainment, front massage seats and a TV function, for a cool $7500.

Very posh.

For the price, it just might be Australia's best-value high-performance offering, delivering outrageous performance at a not-too-outrageous price.

Proving that, while times might have changed, these contemporary sedans are still worth a long, lingering look.

BMW M550i X-DRIVE PURE

* HOW BIG? BMW's 5 Series and rival Benz's E-Class are the family cars of choice in their native Germany (where they're also used as taxis) meaning there's plenty of space for five adults, plus a generous boot.

* HOW FAST? Outrageously so. The 550i will start costing you demerit points after 3.8 seconds of thunderous acceleration.

* HOW THIRSTY? Not bad, in fact. The twin-turbo V8 has an average thirst of 10.6L/100km. Remarkable considering the performance.

* HOW MUCH: M550i Pure edition costs $137,900 before on-road costs.