In preparation for its fourth-quarter U.S. launch, BMW has released the first official photos of the new 550i Gran Turismo model. Previewed at Geneva in March as the GT Concept, this handsome fastback hatch will become the range-topping 5 Series. The Gran Turismo's styling combines a mix of elements borrowed from existing BMWs with several unique visual touches, including its own take on the marque's signature "Hofmeister Kink" C-pillar treatment. Other highlights include aluminum doors with frameless windows, panoramic moonroof and a bi-modal hatchback.

Underhood, the new GT will carry a 400-horsepower twin-turbocharged version of BMW's 4.4-liter V8 backed by a new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, both of which are shared with the new 2009 7 Series. The Gran Turismo also will be the first Ameri-spec 5 Series to offer the firm's Driving Dynamics Control. This stepless, multi-mode adaptive suspension is the centerpiece of its comprehensive array of chassis/brake enhancements that also includes an electronically controlled limited-slip rear differential and optional Adaptive Drive (Dynamic Damping Control with Active Roll Stabilization).

Spacious, flexible and well-appointed, the Gran Turismo's leather-lined and wood-accented cabin features standard seating for five with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear bench that can be dropped to raise the cargo capacity from 15.5 cu ft to 66.0 cu ft. The entire main gauge cluster and center stack readouts are rendered in high-resolution Black Panel electronic instrument displays and the GT's latest Gen IV incarnation of BMW's iDrive multifunction controller provides the driver with various function menus on a 7.0-inch full-color screen in basic form or a huge 10.2-inch high-definition upgrade on vehicles fitted with the optional navigation package that also include real-time traffic info.

Pricing for the 550i is projected to start in the $66,000-$69,000 range. BMW sources here have confirmed that a 535i Gran Turismo variant powered by a turbocharged 3.5-liter inline-six will be added to the mix by the middle of next year. Although based on the force-fed N54 3.0-liter, this new N55 variant will use a single, rather than a twin-turbo setup, in Europe, and likely here, as well. Expect an all-wheel-drive Gran Tursimo option for the U.S. by the end of 2010, as well. Although European buyers will be able to order a 530d GT fitted with the firm's super-torquey 265-horse straight-six twin-turbo diesel, there are no current plans to offer that engine here.

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