The Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is the back door to the pleasure center of the brain. It turns out that certain daily stimuli – the sound of rain, the atmosphere of airplane cockpits, the noise of spectators – have a calming and euphoric effect on people. During the pandemic I enjoyed watching ASMR car repair videos on YouTube. My new hero is Sreten (M539 Restorations), a Zen master who only works on incredibly complicated used BMWs in a cramped warehouse in Frankfurt, Germany. You watch and listen to the sound of rattles, keys, hammers, torque wrenches and a man working hard, Sreten promises.
You bet your ass I am. The seven-part restoration of the 2000 750iL, the company’s flagship at the time, is particularly fascinating. It is powered by a 5.4-litre, 48-valve V12 – a car with more than 100 sensors, each of which can activate a code for the engine’s indicator light. On the way, Sreten kindly overhauled the brakes, the suspension, the ignition, the injectors, the air conditioning, the brake system, the flexible washer and the centre support bearing. It also provides the ZF transmission and tears the top and bottom of the V12’s aluminium block, seeking leaks and trying to bypass German emission regulations. His transfer is impeccable. What a stallion!
The speed of the M550i is breathtaking. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds to pick up speed.
In the midst of this vicious drama, I became the owner of a BMW M550i xDrive 2021 ($93,735 test), a performance version of the company’s 5-Series sedan, powered by a 4.4-litre DOHC 32-valve V8. I’m the one who looks ascetic. This engine stands for decades of development of the internal combustion engine and is a digitally controlled miracle engine with a large, billion rpm turbocharger, dual scroll turbocharger, direct high pressure injection, electronic throttle valves and variable valves/wings. The maximum rated power is 523 hp at 5,500-6,000 rpm and 553 lb-ft at almost all times (1,800-4,600 rpm).
Smooth, floating, incredibly sophisticated and spinning like hell, this hyperbaric reaction hum is as good as internal combustion engines will ever be. But I certainly wouldn’t try to replace the cylinder head gaskets after 20 years. With any luck, I’ll die.
The complications don’t stop there. Under the V8 is an eight-speed automatic gearbox with the latest Sport Shift algorithms that is softer than hand cleaner; then (on the M-setting xDrive models), a multiple plate clutch transmission and AWD rear-wheel drive. A mechanical rear differential lock is standard. According to BMW, the rotating masses of the transmission are controlled by a new generation of torsional vibration dampers; in addition, double dampers are integrated into the clutch of the lock-up torque converter to eliminate stiffness. It’s very damp.
Our test vehicle was equipped with optional rear wheel steering and active roll stabilization. All these systems are neutrally connected so that, for example, the transmission can proactively adjust the switch points based on navigation topographical data or anticipate future delays through active cruise control. A variety of chips on board ensures that everything is in order.
People think that because I like electric cars, I’m immune to the charms of oil. Oh, no. The fiery turbos of the M550i are intoxicating: microfine and discreet in times of low demand, cheeky and cheeky near the red line. V8 is so masculine, I think I’m pregnant.
But my concern is this: how long will Sretenow be there to keep these high-pressure gas men on the road, 10 years and 100,000 miles away? Certainly not enough. One of the powerful advantages to be checked is the fact that EVs are much simpler mechanisms than ICE vehicles, with few moving parts and little maintenance.
BMW’s seventh-generation mid-size sedan will receive several environmental improvements in 2021, including a 48-volt mild hybrid system for the 3.0-litre (335 hp) six-cylinder turbo and a plug-in hybrid version of the 2.0-litre (288 hp) four-cylinder turbo. Much of the news about the M550i revolves around its own existence, given the intense pressure on German car manufacturers to reduce emissions. Launched in 2016, the M550i, with its many upgrades and clever details, can be seen as a last resort before real drug addicts buy the 600bhp M5 megasedan.
The next of kin can expect to lose their driver’s license first. The starting speed of the M550i is breathtaking (0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds) and then starts to be fast. On a remote spot in the middle of nowhere I could keep the button pressed longer than normal mississippis. Oh, my God. The car picked up speed without any visible friction or effort thanks to three computer-generated gradients, with the sonic glow effortlessly darkening and widening. I thought that thing made a beautiful sound. I wonder which farm I’m assigned to?
Pay attention: European regulators have introduced strict new limits for car noise. Even at its highest volume, the M550i is quite discreet on the outside. But since it’s safe to assume that hard-core V8 buyers want more of what they want, the engineers put the sound of the engine first. The resonating drums and clear tones of the cabin have been carefully preserved for emotional manipulation. I agree.
The dynamics of these cars are also refined to say the least. The M550i is equipped with a sporty adaptive suspension (double front suspension, multi-link rear) and weighs 2,275 kg. While 19-inch wheels are standard, our 20-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in the glorious Michelin Pilot Super Sports.
All this makes the M550i an off-road superstar. It turns out that the big blue M Sport calipers don’t do that, for the sake of clarity. The front bite is strong, the turns are sharp and sporty, and the suspension is quiet as you approach the limits of the turn, if you can get there at all (see above, re: Michelins).
The slightly redesigned exterior of the M550i is a car for younger, meaner, or at least more focused architects. The model gets renewed front and rear bumper clips and a cheeky boot lid spoiler.
Inside, the centre console is what BMW calls the Live Cockpit Professional, which sounds a bit dirty for what it is: Two 12.3-inch screens, one under the leather-wrapped dashboard and the other in the centre of the dashboard, display a rotary knob and a touch screen. The design of the cabin is smooth and elegant, the leather sports seats are sturdy and well-fitting and the materials are of the highest quality. I especially like what BMW calls the Rhombus aluminium upholstery, a bright metallic grey with diamond relief. Feel those advanced ceramic controls too.
I wonder what Sreten will think?
2021 BMW M550i xDrive Sedan
BMW in North America
Base Price : $76,800
Price as verified : $93,735
Engine/Earbox: 4.4-litre DOHC V8 with two-wheel turbo, variable valve / camshaft, on / off; eight-speed Sport automatic gearbox with manual transmission; electronically controlled rear-wheel drive with limited slip differential.
Power/torque: 523 hp at 5500-6000 rpm/553 lb-ft 1800-4 600 rpm.
Length/width/height/wheelbase: 196.0 / 73.5 / 57.8/117.1 in.
Weight: 4,275 pounds.
0-60 mph: 3.6 seconds
EPA Fuel Saving: 17/25/20 mpg, City/Highway/Combined
Trunk volume: 14.0 cubic meters.
Email Dan Neal at Dan.Neil@wsj.com.
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