x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

2011 BMW 550i GT

BMW has come out with something that creates a new niche of vehicle you never thought you would want.

The 550i GT is downright limousine-like.
The 550i GT is downright limousine-like.

BMW has, as of late, been very good at answering the questions that no one seems to ask. First, it came out with the X6. This cross between an SUV and a car befuddled journalists and public alike. What was it for? Why not just get an SUV? Who would want to buy this so-called "sport-activity vehicle"? Well, people did buy the X6, and it's gone on to be a success, especially here in the Middle East. And now, BMW has come out with something else that creates a new niche of vehicle you never thought you would want. But after spending a few days in BMW's latest offering, I found that the 5 Series GT, like the X6, is sure to be a surprise hit.

The 550i GT is definitely not like any other car in BMW's lineup; in fact, it's quite different from most other vehicles on the road. Taller than a wagon but smaller than an SUV (or SAV, if you prefer) or even a crossover, the fact that it's part of the 5 Series family is rather misleading: it's based on the 7 Series platform and is about as large. And with the sloping, hatchback-styled rear, its overall appearance has created quite a bit of controversy. Only Audi's A7 is similar in design, but that German offering has a more sporty, sloping look to it. A classic beauty the GT may not be, but the more time you spend with it, the more appealing the car becomes. In fact, this is one car that I struggled to find fault with.

The taller stance means seating is more upright and comfortable like an SUV, though passengers still sit lower. This GT has the optional dual bucket seats in the rear instead of a bench for three passengers; each seat can be adjusted front to back and reclined. Indeed, overall comfort and luxury inside the cabin is excellent. Everything, from the feel of the leather on the steering wheel to the overall precision of the switches and knobs, gives this the opulence you would expect from a high-end car. Of course, it's loaded with convenience features such as heated and cooled leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, multiple power sockets, a USB port and hidden ambient lighting. The iDrive infotainment system is, once you get the hang of it, fairly easy to use. I especially like that an mp3 player can be controlled from the system, with song information displayed on the dash screen.

Another hint at this model's luxury? On the road, even at speed, the cabin stays so eerily quiet that passengers can easily carry on a conversation. It's as silent as a bank vault, with almost no wind or tyre noise to drown out your thoughts. That rear hatch some people might find aesthetically challenged covers a large cargo area and also offers up a surprise: you can either use the entire hatch (which is power operated), or you can use a smaller, hidden door for little things like groceries. Very convenient.

As a typical BMW, you'd expect this to have a dynamic driving experience, and you wouldn't be disappointed. Its tall stance and heavy weight (at 2,015kg, it's 110kg more portly than the regular 5 Series) mean it won't take on the company's more nimble vehicles, but with active roll stabilisation, automatically adjusted dampers, adaptive steering and other electronic nannies, it will pleasantly surprise you in the corners.

Another surprise will come when the driver pushes down the throttle. The twin-turbo V8 under the hood is good for 407hp, but what really gets this car moving is the 600Nm of torque available at just 1,750rpm. Acceleration to 100kph of 5.5 seconds puts this in the realm of sports cars. The engine is combined with BMW's EfficientDynamics system, which includes regenerative braking and an alternator that comes on only when needed or under braking, but make no mistake, this will be one thirsty car on the motorway. I couldn't even get it near its estimated fuel economy.

But along with the power and handling, the ride is downright limousine-like. In fact, combined with the silent cabin and taller seating position, this car would be the ideal ferry for anyone worthy of being chauffered between business meetings. The only downfall I could find is that, no matter how slow I took a speed bump, the rear end seemed to hop viciously, jarring anyone in the back seats. On my final day with the GT, I received a call from Abu Dhabi Motors asking if I could bring the car back a little earlier than planned. I found out why when I got to the dealership - the car had already been sold. I expect that will be a harbinger of things to come. nvorano@thenational.ae