CompleteCar
BMW 550e xDrive (2024) review
Is it worth upgrading to the high-performance hybrid version of the BMW 5 Series saloon, the 550e?
James Fossdyke
James Fossdyke
@JFossdyke

Published on May 15, 2024

The i5, BMW’s electric version of the 5 Series, is so crucial to the German brand that it was the car with which the company chose to launch the entire 5 Series range. But of equal importance is the plug-in hybrid line-up, which comprises the basic 530e and this, the more powerful 550e. While a more powerful version of an efficiency-orientated car might sound like a contradiction in terms, it’s here to offer buyers a potent, refined and luxurious plug-in alternative to the 530e - itself hardly a workhorse - but is there really demand for such a thing in the 5 Series range from Irish BMW customers?

In the metal

Visually, the 550e xDrive doesn’t look that different from the petrol and electric versions of the 5 Series, and it certainly doesn’t look that different from the 530e. You get the same upright grille, the same slightly squashed-looking tail and the clean sides broken only by flush-fitting door handles and, in the case of the plug-in 5 Series models, a filler flap on the flank. Even the nose is much the same as every other 5 Series, with a black ‘kidney’ grille that manages to look cool and sporty without being enormous. See? BMW’s designers can do it...

Just as the 550e’s exterior design is much the same as other models, so too is the interior. Don’t go expecting to see anything too different here. As with all 5 Series variants, the dash is dominated by the ‘Curved Display’ that runs across the driver’s side of the car, housing both the touchscreen infotainment system and the digital instrument display. That’s surrounded by a clean and minimalist cabin that’s mostly as well built as you expect from BMW, although one or two elements feel a tad more plasticky than we’d like. Nevertheless, it’s all stitched together very well, and it feels as though it’ll be quite robust and comfortable.

That said, technology is clearly the focus of the 5 Series cabin, and not just because of that massive Curved Display. BMW has also fitted a huge light bar around the cabin, which is supposed to provide a little more interaction thanks to animated lighting that changes when you open a door or get a phone call. But it’s housed in a tacky crystalline plastic strip that feels a bit cheap, and it has left BMW creating some new and clever controls for the air vents - something that didn’t really need reinventing. Fiddly joystick-style directional controls and touch-sensitive fan speed operation really don’t make for an ergonomic cabin.

But that’s true of any 5 Series model, so the 550e xDrive isn’t exceptional on that front. And that’s probably the biggest tech issue in the 5 Series now BMW has sorted out the touchscreen a bit. Such is the 5 Series’ focus on tech that there are very few physical buttons on the dashboard, so functions including climate control have all been lumped into the touchscreen. Fortunately, the system uses BMW’s latest touchscreen tech, so it works very quickly and neatly, and though we’d still like to see proper climate control switches for ergonomic reasons, BMW’s execution is far from the worst implementation of touchscreen climate control we’ve seen.

That’s partly because the climate controls are always there to see on the screen, no matter what you’re looking at, and partly because the BMW system is just so quick and sleek. Sharp graphics are matched only by an even sharper processor, so the whole thing works as quickly and as intuitively as your smartphone. And speaking of smartphones, those who specify the right options can use theirs as a video game controller, allowing you to play arcade-style games on the touchscreen while charging. Told you that processor was sharp.

Yet despite the touchscreen’s prowess, BMW has kept the iDrive rotary controller on the centre console, allowing those who have learned their way around the system to navigate it almost by touch. That means you spend less time with your eyes on the screen and more time with your eyes on the road, which is safer for all concerned.

Again, though, all this is standard 5 Series fare, as is the amount of boot space available in the 550e xDrive. Every 5 Series saloon model with a petrol engine under the bonnet - no matter whether there’s a hybrid system or not - gets the same 520-litre boot space. Admittedly, in the 520i, that’s a competitive, if not especially impressive figure (although we like the symmetry with the name), but hybrid systems often rob cars of boot space, so that luggage space looks more impressive alongside other hybrid executive cars.

Obviously, though, boot space isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to practicality, and BMW has made ample provision for passengers in the cabin, too. There’s plenty of space in the front, as you’d expect, and rear legroom is very generous, although headroom is little more than adequate. Even so, you’ll get four fully grown adults in there with absolutely no trouble at all.

Driving it

So far, the 550e xDrive sounds much like the 530e, albeit with a bigger number glued to the tailgate. But this is where all that changes because BMW has given the 550e xDrive a simply stonking powertrain. Like the 530e, it gets a 19.4kWh battery pack that drives an electric motor, while there’s also a petrol engine for longer journeys.

However, while the 530e gets a 184hp electric motor and 190hp 2.0-litre petrol engine producing a combined maximum of 299hp at any one time, the 550e xDrive is a little more potent. With a 197hp electric motor and a 313hp 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine, it gets a total of 489hp when you bury your right foot in the carpet. And it goes to all four wheels, whereas the 530e sends it all to the back.

Not only does that mean you get a bit more traction on slippery surfaces, which might come in handy for some, but it also means you get a lot more performance. Nobody would call the 530e slow, but a 0-100km/h time of 6.3 seconds pales alongside the 550e xDrive’s 4.3-second dash to 100km/h. It’s a properly fast thing, and that 3.0-litre engine makes a beautifully aristocratic growl that’s refined and sporty all at once, giving you a bit more excitement than you get from the 530e.

Obviously, it’s hardly as meaty or as raucous as an M5 Competition, but there’s a snarl when you put your foot down and that has an appealing naughtiness to it. The rest of the time, the six-cylinder engine is as smooth as can be, which means you hardly notice when it’s running. In fairness, the 530e is largely very smooth, too, but that four-cylinder engine drones a bit when it’s pushed, and it just doesn’t quite have the silkiness of the bigger unit at any speed.

But while the 550e’s engine is fantastic, it is slightly less economical than that of the 530e, and for 95 per cent of the time, the difference in refinement is minimal. Thanks to the more powerful electric motor, the 550e can get through its battery charge a little more rapidly, giving it an official electric-only range of 85-90km on a single charge, whereas the 530e extends that to 94-102km. In the real world, the difference is closer than those numbers suggest, but given the €20,000 price difference between the 530e and the 550e, some might be put off by the comparative lack of efficiency.

That said, everything is relative, and for those whose lifestyles suit the technology, the plug-in 5 Series could prove incredibly economical. The battery can be recharged in three-and-a-quarter hours from a 7.4kW home charging point, and if you do that regularly, you need seldom use the petrol engine unless you want the performance or long-distance capability. After all, a 60-70km real-world range will be more than enough for most errands and day-to-day trips. More to the point, the low emissions of 19-22g/km mean low taxation, and without picking a hybrid, you’ll never get this much performance and the flexibility of a petrol engine with such a low tax burden.

Impressively, though, the 550e xDrive doesn’t just perform in a straight line or at the pumps; it goes around corners brilliantly, too. Yes, the bigger engine means it feels a little more nose-heavy than the 530e, but the steering is still beautifully precise, and the car still turns into corners sharply. But the steering can’t take all the credit, because the 550e’s suspension is brilliant, too. It keeps that relatively large body feeling tight and secure, which allows the car to feel light on its feet for such a big vehicle. There’s a bit of lean in corners, but not enough to cause any kind of motion sickness or alarm, and the whole thing feels very composed and controlled.

The same goes for the ride, too, despite the impressive handling. Both plug-in hybrid versions of the 5 Series feel a bit more supple than their already competent electric siblings, and though no 5 Series will ever quite glide over undulations, the hybrids both feel very controlled and mature, keeping your spine protected from the sorry state of our roads without letting your senses lose track of what’s happening to the wheels altogether. In short, it’s pretty much perfect, particularly for those who like driving.

What you get for your money

The 550e xDrive comes in at €94,215 in Ireland in entry-level M Sport form, and that makes it more than €20,000 more expensive than the equivalent 530e. Both cars get the same standard equipment, with M Sport body styling, 19-inch alloy wheels and M Sport brakes with blue callipers, as well as a ‘vegan’ interior as standard and M Sport suspension. In short, all you’re really getting for your extra €20,000 is more power, more refinement and all-wheel drive, all of which many customers will be quite happy to live without.

Summary

If you take money out of the equation, the 550e xDrive is the best iteration of the current 5 Series we’ve tried so far. It offers a sensational mixture of economy, performance and refinement that’s really difficult to beat, and it maintains the 5 Series’ innate handling and style that have made it such a popular choice over the years. But in the real world, price always matters, and a €20,000 difference between this and the 530e is very difficult to justify. Especially when the 530e is very nearly as good.

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Tech Specs

Model testedBMW 550e xDrive M Sport Pro Saloon
Irish pricing5 Series starts at €70,845; 550e xDrive from €94,215
Powertrainplug-in hybrid - turbocharged 3.0-litre, six-cylinder petrol engine plus 145kW electric motor and 19.4kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmissionautomatic - eight-speed gearbox, all-wheel drive
Body stylefour-door, five-seat saloon
CO2 emissions19-22g/km
Irish motor tax€140 per annum
Fuel consumption0.8-1.0 litres/100km (353.1-282.5mpg)
Official electric range85-90km
Top speed250km/h
0-100km/h4.3 seconds
Max power489hp
Max torque700Nm
Boot space520 litres rear seats up
Max towing weight2,000kg (braked trailer)
Kerb weight2,230kg
Rivals to the 550e xDrive (2024)