The M5 has been a performance benchmark since the E28 first established itself as a serious contender in a world dominated by exotics. The better part of four decades later, the M5 continues to swing above its weight class, and the latest generation has moved things into another realm, with measurements clocking acceleration from zero to 60 mph in the high two-second range, territory formerly reserved for only the purest of performance thoroughbreds, with two seats and very little in the way of cargo capacity.
The entire time that the model has been available, owning a car with serious performance capability, while retaining the practicality of a sedan, has been as simple as buying an M5. Since the introduction of the seventh-generation 5 Series though, things have changed, and there’s a new model in the lineup that has established itself as a serious alternative for the discerning enthusiast auto buyer. We’re talking about the M550i xDrive, and if you’re in the market for an all-weather sedan that can keep pace with some serious contenders, it’s probably already on your radar or in your garage.
The current M5 doesn’t need much of an introduction. We’ve written extensively about the model, because it’s simply too potent to ignore in the automotive environment of today. With 600 horsepower available from 5,600 to 6,700 rpm and 553 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 5,600, the M5 is advertised with a zero-to-60 time of 3.2 seconds, but Car and Driver says the all-wheel drive super sedan can make the sprint in just 2.8 seconds. It wasn’t too long ago that such performance was reserved for supercars, or more recently a bit more attainable in something like a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Opting for an M5 Competition means you’ll have 617 horsepower at your disposal at 6,000 rpm, along with a slightly longer torque plateau, and although acceleration is claimed to be 0.1 seconds quicker by BMW, the quarter mile is where the Competition separates itself, with a trap speed one mph higher than the conventional F90.
The F90 M5 just cracks the six-digit MSRP threshold, with a base price of $102,700—the competition starts at $110,000. New inventory in Southern California ranges from $109,995 to $126,220 for an M5, while a new M5 Competition can be had from $121,260 to $133,425. The used market for these isn’t too strong just yet, with only a few dozen available nationwide, for an average price of approximately $92,000.
So what makes the M550i a viable alternative to an M5? Without diving into extraneous details like options, visual differences, and other technical stuff, it’s all about performance. The M550i, in its initial form, came with 456 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, and with xDrive routing motivation to the ground through all four wheels, that’s good enough for a zero-to-60 time of 3.7 seconds, while the quarter mile is covered in 12.3 seconds with a trap speed of 115 mph. Those are real-world numbers from Car and Driver, and for the uninitiated, are seriously impressive. In fact, the M550i with the N63B44M3 engine is in the same realm of performance as the previous generation M5, the F10.
Things are different for the 2020 model year though, as the M550i has gained the N63B44T3 engine that was initially unveiled beneath the hood of the M850i. This engine develops 523 horsepower from 5,500 to 6,000 rpm with 553 pound-feet of torque on tap from 1,800 to 4,600. The torque figure is the same as the current M5, M8, and both of their respective Competition models, albeit for a plateau that is 1,000 rpm shorter. Real-world test results for the M550i LCI aren’t out yet, but BMW claims a zero-to-60 time of just 3.6 seconds, which is significantly faster than the the last-gen M5’s factory time.
The M550i xDrive has only been available for two model years as of this writing, and the starting MSRP of the model was approximately $72,100. Today, the secondary market is strong, with healthy inventory at BMW centers nationwide according to CPO.BMWUSA.com. Between these listings and those of other volume dealers (the same sources we used for the M5 market pricing data above), the average price for a used M550i is approximately $64,000, and this is for a car that is still covered by its original factory warranty. The 2020 M550i xDrive starts at $76,650, and listings for new models in Southern California return a prance range between $76,135 and $91,405.
Which one is for you? There’s no denying the presence and specialty of the M5, which is clearly distinguished inside and out, in terms of driving experience, and performance. But in terms of every-day practicality and usable on-road performance, the nearly $30,000 price differential of the M550i xDrive is simply too great to ignore. With the latest version packing 523 horsepower and the same peak torque as the M5, the M550i is even more enticing, but at the end of the day there is no getting around the fact that it’s not a full-fledged M car with disconnectable all-wheel drive.
How about an F10 M5? All but the absolute latest of the late models are out of factory warranty coverage, but the last-generation M5 might still be worthy of your consideration. Acceleration performance of 3.7 seconds for a DCT model according to Car and Driver is directly on pace with the current M550i (thank xDrive) and is likely just behind that of the 2020 M550i xDrive, but that’s not the full story. The F10 M5 covers the quarter mile in just 11.9 seconds with a trap speed of 123 mph, proving that its 560 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque still have some influence at higher speeds, once the advantage of four-wheel motivation has given way to raw horsepower.
You’ll be sacrificing some technology and the latest safety equipment, and the F10 in general looks dated in comparison to the G30 and F90 replacements, but the platform proved itself over the production run, with the M5 never questioned in terms of performance and capability. Warranty coverage and tech aside, you’re also giving up the all-weather capability of xDrive, a significant, location-dependent factor.
But the F10 M5 is an indisputed M car, and although the starting MSRP was something like $92,100, one can now be had for an average of $51,000 according to listings from CPO.BMWUSA.com and other mass-market dealers.
Between all three models discussed here, the dollar-performance ratio clearly favors the F10 M5, but for someone desiring of a current model without the worries of something out of warranty, the M550i xDrive is hard to argue against—and then there’s the undisputed world-beater, the F90 M5.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]