2011 BMW 550i GT (Gran Turismo) Review

Don’t think of the 550i GT as a 5 Series wagon replacement, but an alternative to the X5

2011 BMW 550i GT (Gran Turismo) Review

After decades of selling a 5 Series wagon in the U.S., BMW has decided to drop the venerable choice of performance-minded wealthy folks with dogs. In its place comes a new model, combining added luxury, a higher ride height and a unique (if not a little strange) trunk that opens both like a more traditional boot and like a hatchback.


1. BMW offers the new 5 Series Gran Turismo in 535i, 550i and 550i xDrive models.

2. With 400-hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque from a twin-turbo V8, the 550i hits 60-mph in 5.4 seconds.

3. Despite BMW’s focus on Efficient Dynamics, the 550i GT is rated at just 15/21-mpg.

4. Total cargo room of 60 cu.-ft. (seats down) is more than the old 5 Series wagon, but the rear seats don’t fold flat.

5. Almost a crossover, the seating position is 2-inches higher than in the 7 Series and just 4-inches shy of the X3.

Called the 5 Series Gran Turismo, or GT for short, the name conjures up images of driving some Italian coupe along the French Riviera, not transporting your groceries back from Costco. And yet, this GT does offer tremendous luxury, excessive amounts of power and the sort of handling you’d expect from a BMW.


The most notable feature that separates the 5 Series GT from its sedan sibling is the unique trunk layout. Trunk space can be accessed by either flipping up the smaller reverse liftgate portion, or by lifting the entire back hatch (glass included) like a traditional hatchback. Doing so is effortless thanks to two separate trunk latches.

Cargo room is a somewhat average 15.5 cubic feet of space, that expands to a more substantial 60 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded flat. That’s slightly less trunk room than the old 5 Series wagon, but is actually a few cubic feet more than the wagon’s total cargo space. But don’t let that fool you, as the total area isn’t as useable as on the wagon because the rear seats don’t fold flat. Interestingly, the strict cargo space is short of the 5 Series sedan’s 18.3 cu.-ft.


Designed as more of a luxury 2+2, the Gran Turismo does come as a five-seater in standard trim but an optional Luxury Rear Seating Package divides up the rear into two power seats with a wide center consol. Our tester didn’t come with this option and the result was disappointing.

While we still love the option to adjust the seats forward and back, as well as the angle of the seatbacks, the manual operation seemed out of place in a luxury car that costs $63,900. The power option even includes power fold-down seats. On manual-seat models, like our test car, you simply pull one of the two paddles in the trunk and the corresponding seatback slaps forward and hits the seat cushion with a spring-loaded smack.

Regardless, there’s still plenty of luxury to be had in the rear, with seats that move as much as 3.9-inches forward or back and seatbacks that tilt from 15 to 33 degrees. According to BMW, legroom is almost the same as that found in the 7 Series (not surprising as it rides on the same platform), while headroom is close to that of the X5.

Generally, it’s a luxurious oasis and a perfect spot to enjoy the optional DVD system.


The front seat area is no less pampering with soft but well-bolstered chairs that sit at just the perfect height for getting into and out of. You might not guess it, but the 5 Series GT actually has a higher ride height than its sedan sibling. The seats sit 22.6-inches from the ground, compared to 20.8-inches for the 7 Series and 26.6-inches for the X3. As a result you never feel like you’re climbing up into the vehicle, nor do you feel perched on a top-heavy chassis, and yet the GT actually provides an incredibly commanding view of the road.

Aimed at the 5 Series wagon crowd in need of a new ride, we have to suggest more folks in the market for an X5 or other luxury crossover/SUV give the 5 Series GT a shot as we’re certain it will deliver most of what they’re looking for. It doesn’t have the same ground clearance, but BMW does offer an xDrive AWD version of the 550i model.

We have to say we’re seriously impressed with the rest of the cockpit, from the ivory white leather, to the dark Ash Grain wood to the simple yet elegant buttons and controls. Then there are the high-tech touches like the blackscreen dash gauges and the massive 10.2-inch screen perched atop the center stack, an upgrade from the standard 7.0-inch unit when you opt for Navigation. It makes searching through directories easy and allows for plenty of info to be shown at the same time.

We’re also compelled to mention how easy to use the iDrive system is. This latest system, which first debuted on the current 7-series, is a huge leap forward and didn’t provide us with any problems. Also helping are redundant controls for everything else in the cabin, from the radio to the climate control.

Our complaints about the interior are minimal, but worth pointing out. The ventilated seat option seemed to be somewhat of a waste as it wasn’t overly powerful and didn’t do a great job of cooling us down. We also noted the absence of paddle shifters, which stood out on such a fast-shifting car (BMW’s automatics being some of the best in the business). As it stands, BMWs console-mounted gear shifter isn’t very ergonomic.


In true BMW fashion, technology isn’t reserved for just TV screens, digital menus and climate control systems. No, the 5 Series GT also features the automaker’s Driving Dynamics Control system that allows you to choose three driving modes: Normal, Sport and Sport Plus; each of which comes with corresponding settings for the throttle response, transmission shift characteristics, the level of power-steering assist and shock absorber firmness.

For wide open driving the Sport mode is perfect, giving complete access to the excessive (yet intoxicating) 400-hp and 450 ft-lbs of torque – enough to propel this sizeable sedan to 60 mph in just 5.4 seconds.

For daily commuting purposes, it’s best left in just Normal mode, although we have to report that despite the smooth 8-speed automatic transmission and incredibly linear 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, the 5 Series GT does not deliver a civilized driving experience. And the blame lays squarely on the new Brake Energy Regeneration system.

The 5 Series GT is the first U.S. BMW model to feature this system, which uses an electronically operated clutch to detach the alternator from the engine when it’s not needed to charge the battery, thereby reducing the drag on the engine. The problem, is that when crawling along in rush hour traffic you can really feel the clutch working, often delivering a herky-jerky driving experience.

And the result of this fuel-efficient technology? A paltry rating of 15-mpg city and 21-mpg highway. During our week with the car, AutoGuide staffers recorded an average of 18-mpg. Sure that’s pretty good for a 400-hp car, but with an 8-speed transmission we expect more. After all, the old-tech 5.5-liter V8 in the Mercedes E550 gets 16/24-mpg.


While a more possible success in Europe, BMW has artificially created a market for the 5 Series GT here in North America by eliminating it’s in-house competition, the 5 Series wagon.  It’s larger and more luxurious and with a raised right height is more like a crossover, which should help attract customers.

It’s also a nice alternative to the 7 Series, thanks in part to its luxurious interior and long list of high-tech and luxury options. Plus, it’s slightly smaller and, therefore, not as cumbersome around town.

There are, however, a few problems, like the jerky drive and atrocious fuel economy. And despite added cargo room, it isn’t as functional as the old wagon.

The bigger problem, however, is the lack of an xDrive 535i model. Currently BMW offers a six-cylinder, V8 and V8 AWD model, but no AWD six. This seems particularly strange as decades of selling a 5 Series wagon resulted in BMW narrowing its product offering to one single model: an AWD six-cylinder wagon.

If and when BMW does decide to deliver such a model, it should see a significant up-take in sales. If, however, BMW decides to stick to the higher-end segment and neglect its 5 Series wagon customers, building a customer base for the GT is certain to be a long road.


2010 BMW 5 Series GT: First Drive

2011 BMW 5 Series (535i & 550i) Review – First Drive

2009 BMW 750i

2010 Porsche Panamera S: First Drive 2011 Audi A8 4.2 FSI: First Drive

« Back

AutoGuide.com’s Monthly Overlay Newsletter Signup – By subscribing to our email newsletter, Entrants are eligible to win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (value of $100.00 USD). One (1) winner will be chosen every month at random and contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. *Amazon.com is not a sponsor of this promotion. Except as required by law, Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") cannot be transferred for value or redeemed for cash. GCs may be used only for purchases of eligible goods at Amazon.com or certain of its affiliated websites. For complete terms and conditions, see www.amazon.com/gc-legal. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc., a Washington corporation. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. No expiration date or service fees.


2. PRIZE: One (1) Winner will be randomly selected every month to each receive: one (1) $100.00 Amazon.com Gift Card (the “Prize Supplier”). Total approximate retail value of all prizes is approximately $100.00 USD. Prizes are not transferable and no cash or prize substitution is allowed. Prize package is awarded "as is" with no warranty or guarantee, either express or implied.

3. ELIGIBILITY: From the time of entry through the final date of prize fulfillment, each contest entrant and selected entrant must be a permanent lawful citizen and resident residing in the 50 United States or the District of Columbia or in Canada, and be twenty one (21) years of age or older. VOID IN PUERTO RICO, THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS, IN ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES, AND ALL OTHER U.S. TERRITORIES OR CANADA AND POSSESSIONS AND WHERE PROHIBITED OR RESTRICTED BY LAW. Employees, officers, directors, agents and representatives, of the Sponsor and the Prize Supplier and each of their respective parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, advertising and promotion agencies, promotion partners and any entity involved in the development, production, implementation, administration or fulfillment of this Sweepstakes, and the immediate family members (e.g., spouse, mother, father, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, nephew, niece, grandparent, in-law, daughter and son, regardless of where they live) and persons living in the same household (whether or not related) of such individuals are not eligible to participate or win. Only one selected entrant per household. All decisions of the Sponsor with respect to this sweepstakes are final. The Sponsor shall have the right at any time to require proof of identity and failure to provide such proof may result in disqualification from the Sweepstakes.

4. ENTER BY INTERNET: You may enter this sweepstakes via the Internet by logging onto AutoGuide.com and subscribing to our email newsletter via the pop-up overlay.

5. SELECTION OF WINNER: One (1) Entrant will be selected by random selection who have subscribed to our email newsletter. The winner may be announced publicly on AutoGuide.com and will be contacted by VerticalScope Inc.’s staff. The winner will be required to provide a mailing address (that is not a P.O. box) to receive the prize which will be shipped free of charge.

6. ODDS OF WINNING: Odds of winning a prize are determined by the total number of eligible entries received.

7. RESTRICTIONS: The prize package consists of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card with an approximate value of $100.00 USD. If prize cannot be awarded due to circumstances beyond the control of the Sponsor or Prize Supplier, no substitute prize will be awarded due to the unique nature of the prize. Sponsor and Prize Supplier shall not be liable to the winner or any person claiming through winner for failure to supply the prize or any part thereof, by reason of any acts of God, any action(s), regulation(s), order(s) or request(s) by any governmental or quasi-governmental entity (whether or not the action(s), regulations(s), order(s) or request(s) prove(s) to be invalid), equipment failure, utility failure, internet failure, terrorist acts, threatened terrorist acts, air raid, blackout, act of public enemy, earthquake, war (declared or undeclared), fire, flood, epidemic, explosion, unusually severe weather, hurricane, embargo, labor dispute or strike (whether legal or illegal) labor or material shortage, transportation interruption of any kind, work slow-down, civil disturbance, insurrection, riot, or any other cause beyond Sponsor's or Prize Supplier's control (collectively, "Force Majeure Event"). Sponsor shall not be responsible for any cancellations, delays, diversions or substitutions or any act or omissions whatsoever by the performers/events, other transportation companies or any other persons providing any of these services and accommodations to passengers including any results thereof such as changes in services or accommodations necessitated by same.

8. CONDITIONS: By entering the Sweepstakes, entrants agree to be bound by the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions and that Sponsor has the irrevocable right to use in perpetuity entrants' names, user names, likenesses, photographs, voices, home mailing address, biographical and prize information, and entry materials, without notice to entrants and without compensation or obligation, in any and all media now or hereafter known throughout the world, in any manner whatsoever, to advertise and promote Sponsor, its products and services, the Sweepstakes, and for any other purpose except where prohibited by law. Entrant waives the right to assert as a cost of winning a prize any and all costs of verification and redemption or travel to redeem said prize and any liability which might arise from redeeming or seeking to redeem said prize. Sponsor is not responsible for fraudulent calls or emails made to entrants not by the Sponsor. If the Sweepstakes is not capable of running as planned by reason of damage by computer viruses, worms or bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical limitations or failures, any Force Majeure Event or any other cause which, in the sole opinion of Sponsor, could corrupt, compromise, undermine or otherwise affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, viability or proper conduct of the Sweepstakes, Sponsor reserves the right, in its sole and absolute discretion, to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend all or any part of the Sweepstakes, and to select a winner from among all eligible entries received by Sponsor up until the time of such cancellation, termination, modification or suspension, as applicable. Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual that (i) tampers or attempts to tamper with the entry process or the operations of this Sweepstakes in any manner, (ii) violates the Official Rules, Terms and Conditions or (iii) acts in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person. CAUTION: ANY ATTEMPT BY AN ENTRANT OR ANY OTHER INDIVIDUAL TO DELIBERATELY DAMAGE OR UNDERMINE THE LEGITIMATE OPERATION OF THIS SWEEPSTAKES IS A VIOLATION OF CRIMINAL AND CIVIL LAWS. SHOULD SUCH AN ATTEMPT BE MADE, SPONSOR RESERVES THE RIGHT TO SEEK CIVIL AND/OR CRIMINAL PROSECUTION AND/OR DAMAGES FROM ANY SUCH PERSON TO THE FULLEST EXTENT PERMITTED BY LAW. Any expenses and receipt and use of the prize and federal, state and local taxes and fees applicable in connection with the prize awarded are the sole responsibility of the winner. An IRS Form 1099 will be issued in the name of the winner for the actual value of the prize received. This Sweepstakes is subject to all federal, state and local laws of the United States. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sponsor, Prize Supplier, and their respective officers, directors, parent companies, affiliates, subsidiaries and advertising and promotion agencies, employees, representatives and agents are not responsible for and shall not be liable for (i) any injuries, losses or damages of any kind caused by a prize resulting from acceptance, possession or usage of the prize, or (ii) printing, distribution or production errors. Sponsor or its affiliates may rescind any promotion found to contain such errors without liability at its or their sole discretion.

9. SPONSOR: The Sponsor of this contest is VerticalScope Inc. (the owner and operator of AutoGuide.com), 111 Peter Street, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2H1.

Subscribe to our email newsletter and automatically be entered to win.
*Restrictions apply. See offer for details

Get Breaking Automotive News, Reviews and Video in your Facebook Feed!

Already Liked