2010 BMW 5 Series GT: First Drive

BMW’s new 550i Gran Turismo takes the road less traveled

2010 BMW 5 Series GT: First Drive

The name conjures up images of fast, intimate, luxury motoring across Europe, perhaps on the Italian or French Riviera, the Stelvio Pass or through the Austrian Alps. The car in question is no doubt a premium vehicle, likely a two-door coupe with seating for four and ample luggage space, one that’s powered by a stout engine with handling to match.

FAST FACTS

1. Currently the BMW 5 Series GT is available exclusively in 550i form with a twin-turbo 4.4L V8 that makes 400-hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Despite the car’s 5 Series name, it rides on a shortened 7 Series platform, offering much of that cars high-luxury goods, with the 5 Series’ more dynamic driving feel.

4. Standard features included Xenon adaptive headlights, parking distance, Dynamic cruise control and 20-way front seats with Active Ventilation and Active Support (a massage function designed to keep the driver and occupant alert).

5. Pricing for the 550i GT starts at $67,000 with the 535i GT due out next Spring.

However, BMW thinks, that Gran Turismo is appropriate for this, its new, large, car/crossover thingy. When we first heard of the 5 Series GT, we were a little skeptical. Here was yet another vehicle in search of a market, one that tries to make a connection to the great GTs of old, but doesn’t quite fit the mold. But then we got to actually see it and drive it.

5 SERIES, OR 7 SERIES?

In all honesty, it seems perhaps a little baffling at first, why BMW elected to call this car the 5 Series Gran Turismo, because it’s got more in common with the just launched 7-Series than the 5. It’s built on the 7 Series chassis (albeit one that’s three inches shorter). It uses the same 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 and 8-speed ZF transmission. It also adopts the 7’s front suspension arrangement as well as an optional active steering system. And when you sit inside the thing, everything smacks of 7 Series too – from the layout of the dash, to the center console with its storage bin that features a divided opening lid, plus the buttons to the left of the shifter, for the standard Driving Dynamics Control.

From a styling aspect, the 5 Series Gran Turismo looks like a car at the front, but more like a crossover at the rear, yet somehow it all blends together fairly well – a lot more so than some of Munich’s offerings over the last several years. Our only criticisms are the somewhat awkward looking rear light clusters and ‘double’ rocker panel creases. As you’d expect from BMW, fit and finish is excellent, with nice detailing, especially around the front fascia. Frameless doors are also a nice touch.

Although it bears a very strong resemblance to the current 7 Series, when you get behind the wheel, the cabin is one of the GT’s major party tricks. Yes you’ve got the familiar dash and console design, the fairly large steering wheel, de-rigueur BMW ‘intelligent’ shifter and obligatory iDrive rotary knob, but the seats are different. You sit about two inches higher than in the regular 7 or 5 Series. For this humble scribe, they’ve also got a unique feel to them, with better adjustment and bolstering, making them a comfortable place to be, even after a couple of hours driving. Even operating the 4th generation iDrive has more or less second nature – could it be it’s improved that much over the last few years, or that we’ve just become more accustomed to it? Probably both.

SPACE AND FUNCTIONALITY FOR PASSENGERS AND CARGO

In the back however, is where the Gran Turismo stands apart from just about every other car currently on the market. The standard second row seating, consists of a three-place bench with rake adjustment as well as fore and aft; much like the front chairs on most mainstream passenger vehicles.

As part of the Luxury Rear Seating package, an optional center console turns the car into a true Grand Touring style four-place interior, with the rear seats getting power adjustment controls and a maximum 40-degree rake. Head room is somewhat compromised in back for taller persons, due to the rakish roof profile, but nobody can really complain about leg room, given the fore and aft configuration available.

The cargo space is very unique. For starters, there’s a partition behind the rear seats. In the up position, it forms a barrier between the interior and the trunk, much like you’d find in a regular sedan. However, a removable parcel shelf, which can be stored under the trunk floor, allows this partition to fold with the rear seats, opening up load carrying capacity from 15.5 to a substantial 60 cubic feet. The trunk opening is also rather unique, being a double access unit. However, unlike most SUVs, the bottom part opens on its own, or you can lift up the whole rear window and deck ensemble, for loading in bigger items. Clever stuff.

400 HORSEPOWER OF MOTIVATION, PLUS ADAPTIVE DRIVE SETTINGS TO SUIT YOUR MOOD

At launch in North America, the 5 Series Gran Turismo, comes exclusively in 550i form, signifying the twin turbo 4.4-liter V8, shared with the 750. Rated at 400 horsepower and 450 ft-lbs of torque; it features direct fuel injection and single scroll turbines, makings the car a serious mover, yet the V8 is turbine smooth, the boost barely noticeable, helped by BMW’s Double VANOS variable valve timing.

The 8-speed automatic, although also shared with the 7, is actually calibrated a bit differently. Three modes are offered on this transmission, Normal, Sport and Sport + and, if you order the Adaptive Drive option, an extra one – dubbed comfort mode – is also included.

In normal, the powertrain combination is plenty zesty. Stomp on the pedal and the V8 gets down to business – acceleration is brisk, but not over powering, yet glance at the speedometer and before you can blink, you’re on the verge of breaking the Interstate speed limit. The shifts in the ZF slushbox also come fast.

Switch to sport mode and you get a more aggressive calibration, sport + takes it a step further. Almost like a shift kit was installed, step on the gas with force while in second gear and you feel the Gran Turismo scurry, third gear comes with a bang, as does fourth. Naturally fuel economy suffers, but it’s fun. The shifter, although a bit fussy for first time users (especially the park to reverse function) is very fun and very quick in manual mode – flick, flick and you’re mostly in control – we say mostly because sometimes the computer gets a bit clever and you can find yourself lunging into first gear during deceleration.

ACTIVE STEERING AND ADAPTIVE SUSPENSION MAKE THIS BIG CAR A DREAM TO DRIVE

The optional Integral Active Steering, despite being a stand-alone option, is in our opinion, a must have on this car. It electronically adjusts the steering ratio as well as the direction of both the front and rear wheels, much like some existing four-wheel steering systems. At low speeds, the front and rear tires turn in opposite direction to each other to deliver a tight turning circle – it’s amazing how quick and sharp this 4,700 lb car turns corners on city streets. As you speed up, the steering gets firmer and through sharp, fast corners, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts, to ensure a tight, tidy cornering line. The result is rock solid stability; much as you’d expect from a premium Teutonic carriage, without being in the face wrenching, grip overkill category of something like say; a Mitsubishi EVO or Nissan GT-R. Mind you, would you really want that when you’re looking for a civilized driving experience? Probably not.

Although the all-independent multi-pivot front and mutli-link rear suspension with stamped aluminum control arms is very similar to the 7-Series, somehow the Gran Turismo feels more aggressive and sporty, when you start chucking it about. 19-inch wheels and tires are standard, with 20s coming as part of the Sport package.

Damping, much like the transmission shift points, is adaptive via the available Driving Dynamics Control System with four different settings available at the touch of a console mounted button or the iDrive menu- comfort, normal, sport and sport +. The differences between them are fairly subtle when cruising around town, but find a twisty stretch of rode and the sport settings come into their own, especially combined with the larger wheels and tires.

In conjunction with the active steering, the result is one fun to drive machine, more aggressive than either the 7 or BMW X6 (even in M form). During our test, throwing this thing about never got old, quite a contrast with some other, so-called ‘sporting’ vehicles currently on sale. At the rear, sensor activated self-leveling is also featured to maintain composure when carrying heavier loads.

With the interior being party piece number one, number two concerns the Gran Turismo’s regenerative braking system. Under coasting or deceleration a special clutch transfers energy from the alternator back to the battery (unlike most other cars, where the alternator is constantly charging the battery). You can barely feel it, but on the dash a little indicator signals when it’s working. According to BMW engineers, this new braking system is said to reduce fuel consumption by around 2 percent, but with the 550i Gran Turismo averaging between 14 and 20 mpg in city/highway operating conditions during our test, fuel economy is not a major calling card and most people buying one aren’t likely to rate gas mileage as a prime factor in the purchase decision. The all-disc braking system (with composite front rotors), delivers exceptional arresting ability and good feedback.

THE VERDICT

Next April, BMW North America will expand the Gran Turismo range in our market, by launching a 535i model in the U.S., powered by BMW’s new and highly rated 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six, plus AWD drive models are also in the works. Pricing for the 535 is said to be around $57,000 when it goes on sale. For now, we have to contend with the $67,000 550i version, but in all honesty, despite the GT’s somewhat unusual configuration and (currently) unique segment busting persona, once you’ve driven this car (even in V8 form) you’ll probably wonder why you ever considered a premium crossover in the first place.

RELATED READING

2009 BMW X6 2009 BMW 750i 2010 Porsche Panamera S: First Drive

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