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2018 BMW M550i xDrive and 530e First Review

By Matt Degen on May 3, 2017 12:00 PM
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Earlier this year BMW introduced the latest generation of its 5 Series midsize luxury sedan, and with it some of the German automaker's most sophisticated technology to date. The initial rollout of the 7th generation 5 Series began with 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder variants, dubbed the 530i and 540i, respectively. In our First Review of the 2017 BMW 5 Series, we concluded: "If you're looking for a midsize luxury sedan that boasts some of the finest driver engagement around with no detriment to the driver, the new BMW 5 Series continues to be the one to beat."

Now, a few months later, the 5 Series lineup has filled out with two more models: a V8 version and a plug-in hybrid motivated by a 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor. Dubbed the M550i xDrive and 530e, these two additions essentially book end the lineup, with the V8 representing the most powerful 5 Series to date, and the 530e the most efficient. Both are being introduced as 2018 models. 

M550i xDrive

The 2018 M550i xDrive isn't just the latest V8 5 Series. It's the first BMW M Performance version of the venerable midsize sport sedan. As such, it is the most powerful 5 Series in the current lineup, and ostensibly would slot one notch below a next-gen M5. 

In this role, it packs loads of power from two twin-scroll turbochargers , 456 ponies in all.  Yet it still boasts the comfort and everyday drivability of any other 5 Series. The specs alone are captivating, and show just how much performance has been baked into this V8 5 Series. With a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds, it actually matches the figures of the last M5. 

We experienced that blast of acceleration ourselves getting up to speed and beyond on the autobahn as we made our way through southern Bavaria near the Austrian border.  With its M-specific lowered ride height, aerodynamic tweaks, specially tuned chassis and the glorious beat of that 4.4-liter V8, the M550i is indeed a beast. Yet it still has a genteel spirit. Just as impressive as the M550i xDrive's blistering straight-line performance and the way it hugs corners is its comfort and drivability in both high-velocity cruising and low-speed city slogs. We experienced much of both in our time with the new M550i, and it performed dutifully. Likewise, its 8-speed automatic transmission was game to play along. In sportier driving it shifted quickly and crisply via the paddles, while in comfort mode it was so smooth we barely noticed it performing the task at hand. 

Standard all-wheel drive 

The M550i's X-factor is its standard all-wheel drive, which BMW calls xDrive. BMW's AWD system is not only a benefit for helping put its 456 horsepower to the ground via all four wheels, but it's also an advantage in inclement weather.  

As it would happen, we faced exactly that. During our days in Germany, spring suddenly reverted to winter, bringing with it rain and even some snow. The V8 5 Series' grip and composure were good, though given the slick conditions and surprising lack of guard rails we didn't push it in corners. 

This we can we say: For those awaiting the return of a V8 in the latest-gen 5 Series, this one packs some of the best performance to date while remaining an extremely competent cruiser. 

530e iPerformance plug-in hybrid

On the opposite end of the M550i xDrive is the 530e iPerformance, the first ever plug-in hybrid 5 Series and the latest member of BMW's iPerformance line of electrified vehicles. The 530e uses a similar setup as the 330e 3 Series plug-in hybrid, pairing a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric-propulsion system consisting of an AC synchronous motor and lithium-ion battery pack. Like the 330e, the 530e can run in various eDrive modes: Auto, Max (which drives on battery power alone) and Battery Control (which keeps the battery juiced).

Unlike the 330e, which is only available in rear-wheel drive, the 530e can be had in that form or all-wheel drive. That makes it a very rare bird: An all-wheel-drive midsize luxury sport sedan that happens to be a plug-in hybrid. Official EPA figures are still TBD on the 530e, but the miles per gallon equivalent (mpge) is estimated to be 72, while the combined gas rating is marked at 29 mpg. Also unknown just yet is its electric-only driving range. For reference, though, the 330e is tallied at up to 14 miles. 

All this makes the 530e among the most efficient 5 Series to date, and the obvious choice for buyers looking for green cred in their luxury sedan. Perhaps not surprisingly, our driving impressions were also on the opposite end compared with the M550i. Our biggest nit wasn't power. With a combined 248 horsepower, 310 lb-ft of peak torque and 0-60 mph time of 6 seconds flat, the 530e can scoot. And like other 5 Series, the 530e uses a polished 8-speed automatic transmission. 

What can take getting used to is the way that power is delivered, especially when simply left in the default Auto eDrive mode. Because it's motivated by both gasoline and electrons, you may feel transitions between the gas engine and battery-fed electric motor. And to our foot, throttle response didn't feel as linear, likely for the same reasons. Our advice is to get a feel for it yourself and make sure you're comfortable with BMW's otherwise innovative power delivery system.

Wireless charging  coming soon 

More innovation is to come, and one particular highlight that will make ownership easier is wireless charging. This isn't wireless charging for a phone , though the new 5 Series offers that, too. This is charging for the car, and just like with a wireless-charge phone, it means no more physically plugging in a cable. Such systems have been in development for years, but BMW says it will be the first to implement one on a car for the masses. 

We tried an early working model and found it all remarkably easy. So easy, in fact, that we hit the target on the first attempt. That "target" was the charging station that essentially beams electricity to a receiving plate on the bottom of the car. To help you line up the two plates, 530e models have a bird's-eye camera system with a specialized graphic interface that displays two circles. One represents the charging state, the other the charge point underneath the car. Line them up and you're in business. BMW officials said the system will be available in 2018, with more details will be announced later. 

Both of these new 5 Series variants are already heading to dealer lots. The  M550i has a starting price of $73,095, including destination charge, while the 530e retails at $52,395. That latter price is laudably only $200 more than a base 530i, and may be eligible for thousands in electric vehicle credits. 


 

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