2010 BMW 550 GT
Date Posted: March 31, 2010
By Zack Spencer
Based on the BMW 7 Series platform but sold as a 5 Series, the new GT has crossover practicality with full sized luxury
Okay, the first question. Why would BMW produce a hatchback based on the 7 Series platform and then call it a 550? I've asked every BMW executive I've had a chance to talk with and the same response is a blank stare and mumbling something about....''I don't know''. The second question is why produce a full-sized hatchback 7 Series? Well, the answer to that one is more obvious, the Porsche Panamera. The Panamera is also a full sized luxury performance car with seating over two rows, plus a useful hatchback design for buyers who want the best things in life and a useful cargo space for daily use. The BMW 550 GT is positioned well against the Panamera because it has similar features and does everything well and for less money. The Panamera starts at $115,000 and the BMW 550GT starts at $79,600.
Most people that have seen the hatchback design of the 550 GT have not been kind to the design. ''Ugly, humpback whale, awkward'' is the feedback I have received. To that I say rubbish. I think the 550GT along with the Panamera are pioneering vehicles with a design we will see more often the automotive world. I predict that the conservative sedan design will fade into the rearview mirror as car companies continue to combine the best of utility vehicles onto sedan platforms. Why not have a big beautiful touring car with a more useful hatch instead of a traditional trunk? Makes sense to me. The hatch can open like a regular trunk or fully extend to gain access to the useful cargo area. The biggest advantage is the ability to fold the back seats for optimal capacity. BMW has finally improved their exterior designs, after the dark days under former head designer Chris Bangle, and embraced the athletic and sophisticated designs of years gone by.
I'm a huge fan of big BMW's, in fact I have owned two 7 Series and both have been some of the most rewarding vehicles that I have driven. The large dimensions provide a luxurious interior but the engine and suspension make the car feel much smaller when driving. The 550GT is very roomy due to the high roofline. The hatchback design allowed the designers the ability to recline the back seats for optimal comfort in the back seat. All the seats are wonderfully supportive and coddle your back and legs, making long journeys easy to handle. The interior is church quiet, letting the passengers enjoy the wonderful stereo or rear entertainment system. Thankfully the BMW iDrive computer interface system has been improved to the point that it is a joy to use and simple to understand. The dash is uncluttered and wide, once again giving the sense of space and luxury. This really is a first rate interior.
The 550 GT's 4.0L turbo charged V8 matches the output of the Porsche Panamera S with 400hp. The Porsche has a 7-speed transmission and the 550 GT has an all-new 8-speed unit that provides a startling array of choices for the competent engine. When driven with a light touch, the feeling is like floating along with seamless smooth acceleration. When switched into the sport or sport plus settings this big car takes on a sports car attitude. The power is addictive, the steering is very responsive and the suspension settings can be set to take advantage of the capable chassis. The Porsche Panamera is a better flat-out performance sedan but the 550 GT might be a better all rounder for day-to-day activities. If doesn't exhibit some of the skittishness of the Panamera, more an effortless experience even when driven hard. The view out the hatchback window is limited due to the slope of the glass; this also proves to be exaggerated when it is raining because there is no rear wiper.
As I mentioned earlier I have a soft spot for large BMW sedans and this 550 GT is perfect for someone like me who wants a classy, smooth, powerful and sophisticated car but can now add the utility of a hatchback. The 400hp BMW X6 SUV has a similar starting price ($80,900) but comes standard with all wheel drive, where this car is only available, at this time, with rear wheel drive. On the other hand it is vastly cheaper than the 7 Series or Porsche Panamera. Which one to get? Some buyers might automatically go for the X6 utility because of AWD but my experience has been that if a BMW is equipped with proper winter tires it can be very useful for most winter driving situations. For city dwellers that only require their large sedan for day-to-day duties, this 550 GT is a relative bargain. It is easier to drive in stop and go traffic than the Panamera and might just be the answer to the question why?
The Good, The Bad
This 550 GT is a bargain if you are in the market for a 7 Series sedan. It runs on the same platform, yet it is more practical and is over $25,000 cheaper!
As slick as the new 8-speed automatic is at delivering power under normal driving conditions, my vehicle stumbled and then jerked between 1st and 2nd gears when in the sport mode. These types of problems are often fixed with computer upgrades.
Power: 4.0L turbo V8 with 400p
Fill-up: 14.4L/9.1L/100km (city/highway)
Sticker price: $70,600