It’s midnight and I’m Interstate 94 driving heading west. I’ve just finished the 24 Hours of LeMons (finishing 17th with a 24 year old Toyota MR2) and I’m quickly making my way back from western Michigan to Chicago. But it’s what I’m currently driving that is currently fascinating me. It’s hard to pin down what the GT is. The name Gran Turismo conjures up notions of large two door coupes effortlessly transporting rich playboys across a golden 60′s era European countryside. The BMW 550 GT challenges the notion of what a GT should be with 5,000 lbs and a multi-stage hatchback. The GT is inspired more by a first class aircraft cabin than the sex on wheels its forebears were drawn from. It’s at this moment that I realize I’m literally driving the future as I leave the past at the Gingerman Roadcourse.
The 550 GT was born both from tireless consumer research and what BMW felt was a new and soon to be burgeoning segment. The thinking is that a segment of the car buying public will slowly grow tired of the downsides of the SUV and even the crossover. The vulgarity of the SUV and the inherent tradeoffs of the crossover would slowly become obvious and consumers would look to something more refined and better performing. If it sounds like I’m talking about a traditional wagon, I might as well be. But BMW has built wagons for 30 years and while some argue that’s truly the answer, the strategists and designers in Munich had something else in mind.
Why not create a vehicle that combined the performance and efficiency benefits of a wagon with higher ride height that consumers have become accustom to? But the GT is more than that. Behind it all is a design dedicated to transporting people and things as elegantly as possible. From the perfectly judged step-in to the individual rear seats (a three seat configuration is optional) BMW has created a car that exudes ease as well as opulence. It offers the versatility of a hatchback while giving a buyer the look of something more sleek and sophisticated.
But lets get the cards on the table. This is not a 5 Series wagon. The notion of buying a vehicle that can handle like a sport sedan while hauling the kids and the dog is simply lost on the GT. To put it simply it stops, goes and handles like a slightly smaller F01 7 Series. And in turn the driving experience is slightly different than any BMW wagon from the past 30 years. It truly is a new vehicle. A niche within a niche that takes luxurious versatility to the extreme and delivers a level o comfort and technology far above what E60 5 Series wagon owners would know.
The 550 GT comes equipped with the familiar twin turbo V8 seen in everything from the new F10 5 Series to the F01 7 Series. Pumping out 400 hp and 450 lb. of torque, it moves the 5,000 lb. GT from 0-60 in 5.4 seconds. Yet where the 750i we tested last year averaged 24 mpg on the highway we struggled to get 21 in the GT in the real world. Officially the figures are hardly different with the 7 rated at 22 mpg and the GT at 21 mpg. Our guess is the weight of the 5er GT (at 5000 lbs it’s 500 lbs heavier than the 750i) is the culprit.
As mentioned the driving experience of the 550 GT is quite similar to the new 7. There is a lack of feel prevalent in the steering that would alarm an E46 3 Series owner. Is it wrong for the intended market? Likely not. The amount of isolation allows for a feeling of gliding over pavement and expansion joints that you typically cannot achieve in a performance sedan. The important thing is that there is still feedback and the GT can easily out-handle almost any crossover on the road.
But because of the isolation the GT simply devours miles on the highway and is as good at long distance cruising as the 7 Series. In fact we could go one better and call this the ultimate long distance cruiser currently in BMW’s fleet. With the higher seating position and increased versatility it’s an ideal way to go cross continent in style and ease.
Adding to this is the way that speed seems almost irrelevant. The GT doesn’t seem to know triple digit drama. It does high speeds with nothing more than slightly increased wind noise.
Handling is surprisingly good with the sport package. While steering feel is lacking there is still plenty of grip. Yes BMW tuned in isolation but they didn’t tune out the performance. Body roll around corners is much more sedan like than what you’d feel in an X5. In fact performance in general was surprisingly good considering the mass and the ride height. While it’s not quite in par with the 7 Series sedan, it’s close enough that most buyers won’t detect a trade-off.
Inside there’s little question that this car (yes according to BMW it is a car and not an SAV) is entirely based on the 7 Series. Switch gear, steering wheels and buttons are carried over from the ultimate BMW. All the technology offering in the 7 (you can read about it in detail in our F01 7 Series review) is either standard or optional on the GT.
It all begs the question, is this a tall 7 Series or a bigger 5 Series wagon? Based on what we know about the construction of the car (from both BMW and our own experiences crawling around the thing) it seems that the GT is as much F01 7 than F10 5 Series. Yes the new 5er also shares the 7 Series platform and technology but based on what we know it would seem not nearly as much as the GT.
Is this a bad thing? For the intended market not at all. In fact what BMW has created in the 550 GT competes well against the 7 Series. You could call it the 7 Series wagon we’ve never had. And at $83,400 as tested it’s certainly priced that way.
We’d love to tear apart the GT for being overwrought, overweight and something no one asked for. But if you look at the car, drive it and critically think about what BMW is trying to do with it, you can’t help but appreciate the result. BMW has created a car that defies categorization while making you completely rethink what we know a car to be. In the end we can’t help but look at the GT as the future of versatile transpiration. Yes it’s expensive and yes it’s as far removed from the 2002tii as BMW has ever been (X6 aside). But the world is a different place. BMW as a brand is trying to remain focused on it’s core competencies while branching out into what it feels are future markets. After spending a week with the GT it’s clear that this is the future. It doesn’t signal an end to BMW creating incredible products that cater to enthusiasts. But it does signify a brand and a company that are increasingly being bold about new markets and new products.
As I wrap-up my drive from Gingerman raceway and pass into Chicago and the GT settles into the urban crawl and I pull up to a light on Lake Shore drive overlooking the city. Turning my head to the right to look out at a dark Lake Michigan I notice a the driver of the Porsche Cayenne giving me a thumbs up. Yes the world has changed and BMW seems to have seen it coming.
+ Build Your Own 550 GT / BMWUSA.com