2018 BMW M550i xDrive: Is It Any Good On a Race Track?
2018 BMW M550i offers 75% of the M5 experience…for 75% of the price.
It’s an odd time for BMW as a brand. As the company continues to diversify it’s portfolio in an attempt to cater to every single market, it seems to alienate just as many people as it brings in. BMW purists and brand loyalists balk at what the company has become, and the 2018 BMW M550i xDrive may just be the epitome of all that they loathe.
This not-quite-an-M-car-but-still-has-an-M-badge BMW has a lot going for it, but, again, just as many things that the purists will despise. First off, the name: It’s too long, and too convoluted. The M550i is not a BMW M5 with a clerical error, it’s a standard 550i that has been tarted up with the the BMW M garnish as part of the brand’s M Performance line. As is the way with modern BMW models, the M550i (xDrive) is packing a turbocharged engine. To be specific, it’s a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 engine that produces a healthy 456 horsepower, and 480 lb-ft of torque. Paired with that engine is a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission, and, of course, BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Perhaps it’s something in the water, but German horses always seem to be bigger, and more stout than, say, Italian ones. This is easily a nearer-to 500 horsepower engine. So, with all of that power motivating this 4,372-lb luxury sled, what better place to see what it can really do than an unrestricted race track?
M550i vs. Willow Springs
Hopping into the M550i, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the interior. Then I remembered that this car has a base MSRP of $73,900. And, as is the way with German cars, sneeze too hard when checking those options boxes and the price tag jumps dramatically. This was a $90,000 car as tested, dangerously bridging the fiscal gap between it and the real-deal M5. From the driver’s seat, as nice as it is, the M550i does not offer an $80,000+ level of interior refinement, or excitement. It’s nice, but not that nice.
Firing up that big, boosted V8 engine again results in another surprise. This BMW mill doesn’t sound like a conventional V8 on start up, or at idle. In fact, even perceptive car enthusiasts could initially confuse the exhaust note for one of the brand’s straight-six engines. Hmm.
A third surprise awaited me as I pulled the M550i out of the paddock, and into the pit lane: a soft brake pedal. Boiled over brake fluid, from previous drivers behind the wheel, meant that this big Bimmer was in less than ideal condition. Despite featuring massive, vented brake rotors, and a 6-piston front brake caliper, it’s hard to control all that mass, and all of that power.
This was not exactly confidence inspiring as I began my challenge against Big Willow. Brake failure, or driver error have resulted in some truly horrifying accidents over the years at this historic track. Big Willow doesn’t tolerate fools, and turns 8 and 9 alone have caused many drivers to give up racing altogether. This is not the track to tackle with spotty brakes. Let’s take it easy out there, for the sake of the car, and my well-being.