As automakers respond to people downsizing from their SUVs, some odd new vehicle designs are emerging. The 2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo marks the second effort from BMW in this direction, following the oddly shaped X6.
After driving the car for a week, we reached a few conclusions about this new 5-series. Even though it sports a unique design, it remains somehow subtle, blending in with the everyday stream of traffic. The double-jointed back hatch, though an interesting tech achievement, seems a little over-designed, like using an aircraft carrier to launch homing pigeons.
As a new model in BMW's lineup, the 550i Gran Turismo sports all the latest technology, even surpassing the 550i sedan. The most notable change comes under the hood, with the new turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8. BMW refers to its turbo technology as TwinPower, which used to mean twin turbochargers but is evolving across the board to a single twin scroll turbocharger.
The back of the Gran Turismo opens like a standard hatchback, or you can just open a smaller hatch.
BMW mounts the turbo in the V, between the two banks of cylinders, making for a compact design. Injectors are incorporated into the cylinder heads, right between the valves, for direct injection. BMW's new engine tech results in 407 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque, getting the car to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds.
As an unlikely addition to the tubby 550i Gran Turismo is BMW's sport setting technology, which lets you switch the engine response and suspension between Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus settings. We've seen this feature in other BMWs and like it, but can't imagine anyone who would buy what is essentially a taller 5-series with a hatchback wanting to drop it into Sport Plus, which stiffens the ride and turns off traction control.
After enjoying the 550i Gran Turismo's very refined ride on the freeway, we took it onto a series of winding mountain roads to see if it could justify its sport gear. On the freeway, it was very nice, and we could see driving for many hours on a road trip in perfect comfort, except the poor gas mileage would rapidly drain our wallets. EPA fuel economy figures are 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, but we came in at 17.6 mpg after driving a mix of roads.
The map gets crowded with 3D renderings of buildings in downtown San Francisco.
But getting up into the fun roads, the 3D map on the navigation system detailed every mountain and contour with shaded textures. We had previously seen the cluster of buildings in downtown San Francisco rendered with video game quality. In each environment, the 3D features helped navigation, with landmark buildings easily recognizable in the city and the image of falling or rising terrain proving useful in the mountains.
With the car and transmission both set into their respective sport modes, we began tackling the turns. BMW performance is clearly present in the 550i Gran Turismo, with plenty of power coming on quickly as we stabbed the gas pedal. The suspension and car felt taut as we crammed it around the first turn, but the transmission wasn't giving us a whole lot of power for the exit.
Looking at the tach, the engine speed was barely over 3,000rpm. Turn after turn, the transmission's Sport mode refused to get aggressive, keeping the gears in midrange. It was quite a disappointment.
We should mention that this is a new transmission for BMW, an eight-speed automatic. Yes, eight gears. The only other car we've seen with that many is the Lexus LS 460, although that car launched four years ago.
With no paddles on the steering wheel, you'll need to tap the shifter for manual gear changes.
Switching the transmission over to manual mode, the car gave more satisfying performance. Letting the engine speed run up to 6,000rpms, we got to use all of the turbocharged engine's available power. Strangely, BMW doesn't include paddle shifters, so we were left pushing the stick back and forth for gear changes.
Whereas the suspension's sport mode tightened up the ride, the 550i Gran Turismo didn't feel as settled in the curves as the 5-series sedan. The Gran Turismo's body is about half an inch longer than the sedan's, and 4 inches taller. Worse, the 5-series gained 500 pounds in the Gran Turismo version. For a sports car, there are better choices in the BMW stable.
But as a cruiser, the 550i Gran Turismo is very comfortable. BMW throws a ton of tech into the cabin so passengers can enjoy the ride. We mentioned the 3D maps in the navigation system. Zoom out past the mile scale and the maps turn into satellite imagery, all visible on a 10-inch-wide LCD in the dashboard. The maps also show traffic information and dynamically route around jams if you have a destination programmed.
Our car came equipped with the optional head-up display, which projects vehicle speed on the windshield in front of the driver. With a destination programmed into the navigation system, the head-up display also shows route guidance information.
The head-up display shows vehicle speed and route guidance on the windshield.
There are quite a few other driver aid features available for the 550i Gran Turismo, which we didn't have on our car, the most exotic being night vision. We've seen BMW night vision on the 750Li, which puts the display on the center LCD. This placement is not as convenient as the Mercedes-Benz S-class, which puts its night vision display on the instrument cluster, closer to the driver's eye-line.
BMW also offers adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, and two camera systems. At the most basic, a backup camera is optional, and is a good choice for the 550i Gran Turismo, as its high back end hampers rear visibility. BMW also offers an around-view camera system, helpful for maneuvering through tight parking spaces.
The premium audio system in our car, which uses 13 speakers, was very good, but didn't reach audiophile standards. We were generally pleased with the well-staged sound, and this system had more refinement than previous BMW systems we've heard. Logic7 digital processing emulates surround sound in the car, especially important since we had the rear seat entertainment system, consisting of headrest-mounted LCDs and a DVD player in the rear of the console.
The premium audio system in the 550i Gran Turismo also brought in an iPod port, a music source complementing the onboard hard-drive storage afforded by the navigation system. Beyond treble and bass controls, we were able to fine-tune the sound with the seven-band graphic equalizer, a feature not found in many other cars.
With the rear seat luxury package, the side sunshades go up and down at the touch of a button.
The 550i Gran Turismo had a few other features worth mentioning. An optional luxury rear seat package added power adjustment to the rear seats and power side sunshades. The Sport package added power-adjustable side bolsters to the front seats.
But we were most impressed by having the owner's manual available on the car's LCD, with full search capabilities. When we couldn't figure out how to work the back hatch, it was an easy matter of looking through a couple of entries using the iDrive interface, as opposed to digging a big paper manual out of the glovebox.
As one of the leading tech car companies, BMW doesn't skimp on the gadgets, but we could wish more were included standard. The navigation system is very advanced, with rich maps and excellent guidance functions. The audio system includes a decent selection of sources and sounds very good. And the available driver aids, such as night vision and around-view cameras, put it over the top.
And not surprising for BMW, the 2010 550i Gran Turismo gets very advanced performance tech, such as the turbocharged V-8, eight-speed automatic transmission, and adaptive suspension. But we didn't find that these feature fully delivered on their promise, especially in terms of mileage and sport driving capabilities.
For design, the rear hatch, able to open as a trunk or hatchback, is very clever, providing flexibility for cargo. But we are more impressed that the car retains a subtle look, despite its weird body style.
|Model||2010 BMW 550i Gran Turismo|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct injection 4.4-liter V-8|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/21 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single disc|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Onboard hard drive, USB drive, satellite radio, HD radio|
|Audio system||13-speaker surround sound system|
|Driver aids||Head-up display, back-up camera, around view camera, side view camera, night vision system, blind spot warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control|
|Price as tested||$86,525|