A SUMMERTIME LUXURY CAR DRIVE NORTH, THROUGH MUSKOKA

By MARK KEAST

With respect to the Lord Commander: luxury cars are about how they make you feel, yes.

Then there are BMW cars.

I am talking about those new Infiniti commercials, where actor Kit Harington, Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, blows around a corner behind the wheel of a Q60 sports coupe. No idea where he was driving to.

Our drive in the 2017 BMW M550i xDrive was a summer-time trek north on Highway 400 to Muskoka, for lunch at Rocky Crest Golf Resort. From there we headed east on Highway 169, to ClubLink’s Sherwood Inn, then through Bala, down to Gravenhurst and back to Highway 11, past Orillia, which took us back to the 400 south to Toronto. Any CGOC club member who has been to the Muskoka region during the summer knows there are no words that encapsulate the natural beauty of the area.

The BMW driving experience also is like no other. At first, the M550i seems a little unassuming when you walk out and see it. Then you press the button and start it.

This is the first M Performance version of the business sedan, putting it first in line in the 5 Series lineup. It all starts with power – that of course makes highway drives like the 400 that much more enjoyable. The M Series cars have steadily been getting better and faster — this one is quicker than the current generation M5. When the next generation comes out in November it will blow this one out of the water.

The M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology engine is all you need – 456 hp and 480 lb-ft torque, V8, with the BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive with rear-wheel bias and M Performance chassis. Power as well as agility, we should add.

The debate involving driver assistance packages versus totally autonomous driving rages on. The M550i features a wide variety of driver assistance systems, like steering intervention, that pulls the car back, and blind spot detection. These are all great features for drivers that enjoy driving. This is a lot of car, after all.

However, even a company that markets the driving experience over everything else is having to yield to market pressures and is starting the process of introducing a self-driving car option. Harald Krüger, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, said this at the AGM last May: “Don’t be surprised if you see a BMW driving alongside you and the driver doesn’t have their hands on the wheel!”

Kruger says they are concentrating their expertise in this field at BMW’s new Research and Development Centre for Autonomous Driving near Munich. The company wants to be at the forefront of autonomous driving.

Personally, I will weep the day they introduce it – probably sometime in 2021. Two summers ago for us the driving experience was behind the wheel of the BMW M6 – a week-long drive to NYC and Boston, where long highway driving didn’t feel like a marathon. The charisma factor of that car was like nothing I had ever experienced – like the time 20 or so blue collar New York types walked over individually or part of a small group when we stopped on a side street in Lower Manhattan to take a quick picture of the car, all to admire it and ask questions about it. The BMW M550i got its fair share of looks and nods and thumbs-up signs from passersby this time out as well.

Looks, brains and brawn. These cars are meant to be driven. Frankly if you’d rather read the sports pages while some computer drives a car for you, maybe you should take a train instead.

You just feel good. You feel empowered. This is what luxury car driving is supposed to feel like.

I have said this many times – when parsing cars at this luxury level, it is tough to find points of differentiation. All of them in this class – Cadillac CTS, Infiniti Q70, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class – offer the same premiums when talking about luxury touch points.

Things like the M Sport exhaust system, producing that distinct BMW M roar when you start up the car, and the unmistakable sport lines of the car’s exterior (as well as the cool M rear spoiler on the truck lid, part of a design that optimizes aerodynamics helping to guide the car), puts the BMW M550i, and others in the M Series, a step above.

JUST THE FACTS

  • Fastest 5 Series to date: 0-100 km/h in 4 seconds
  • M Performance TwinPower Turbo technology engine delivers 455 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque
  • M specially tuned chassis delivering even sharper steering responses
  • MSRP for the model I drove, with advanced driver assistance extras like Steering and Lane Control, Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Keep Assistant, and Premium Package add-ons like Ventilated Seats, Seat Massage Function, Satellite Radio and BMW ConnectedDrive Services Professional: $89,650