2018 BMW M550i xDrive

It is 27 degrees outside, according to the car’s temperature display, and it feels a lot worse with the humidity we’re getting; but you know what? I can’t complain.

Pretty much the whole rest of the country is faring as bad (or worse) this summer, and many of the other people enduring the heat wave don’t have the advantage of ventilated seats in a luxury car, like I do this week with BMW’s M550i.

A hot car for a hot day.

There’s nothing like a seat that helps cool you down, working in conjunction with the rest of the 2018 5 Series’ climate control system; it’s a feature which is fast becoming a must-have in any car that wants to compete in the high-end market.

I consider it especially important when your interior is decked out in black-on-brown Nappa leather, sitting outside in a sun baked parking lot.

My beloved driver’s seat is part of the Premium Package option included on this test car (and I want to add, the front seat passenger is treated equally well). Boasting a full range of adjustability with tailorable leg-length extension, properly aggressive lumbar support and side bolstering, it is easy to add my setup to the seat memory and end up with a configuration I could sit behind the wheel in for hours at a time. And I did!

Check out this fantastic photo by Elliott Mah, exclusive cinematographer to the world’s finest website! Taken in beautiful downtown Edmonton outside the landmark Chez Pierre, in front of a great mural by artist Carly Ealy.

Ah, but look at me, leading with the cabin comfort when I should be talking about performance – this is a Beemer, after all.

BMW touts the M550i as being all-new for 2018, and the fastest 5 Series to date. Now, by way of explanation of the lineup, the M550 is the latest edition to a lineup of 5’s, coming in above the 530, the 530e hybrid and 540. And while the vehicle we’re looking at here wears the M badge, and gets many of the M-specific tuning and trim accoutrements, this is not the same car as the company’s M5 (which further pumps up the power to 600 ponies and  553 lb.-ft. of torque).

A twin-turbo 4.4L, eight-cylinder engine pushing 455 horses and 480 lb.-ft. of torque to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, AWD is what xDrive stands for, though the power is biased toward the rear).

The big 8 exhibits a sweet exhaust note that gets the right kind of attention from fans of the brand, and one of the things I like about the 550i is that the engineers don’t confuse ‘performance’ with ‘stupidly loud’ – the car sounds good without ostentatious, blasting noise.

The company claims acceleration of 0-100km/h in just four frightening seconds, and while I don’t have personal stopwatch verification of that, I’ll take them at their word – the M550i is a rocket, particularly when the Sport or Sport+ drive modes are engaged.

My test car put the power to the road via an 8-speed Steptronic transmission (with wheel-mounted paddle shifters) and backed that up with the sort of enhanced stopping power a driver needs to get this monster back under control with an M Sport brake package with its big, blue calipers.

M550i also gets a tweaked suspension – branded as you might imagine as the Adaptive M Sport suspension – which lowers the ride height by 10 millimeters versus other members of the 5 Series lineup, and further enhances the handling and cornering abilities of the car.

Steering and handling is a real joy all ‘round in this package, feel –and-feedback through the wheel is engaging and tight, highly responsive without being heavy or difficult; and while that makes a driver look forward to the twists and turns, the M550i is also an excellent highway car.

I took it 300km down the QE2 to Calgary (using mostly the car’s Eco mode, for as you may imagine, fuel economy isn’t one of the car’s strongest selling points), and the cabin showed off its quiet and NVH-free environment.

The outward styling is more of the evolution of BMW. Still easily recognizable, with its stance and overall silhouette, and further sculptural refinement behind the twin-kidney grille (with its active air vents), it is, as with every generation of every model from the Bavarian brand, better looking than the last.

Detractions for the M550i are the predictable series of complaints. I won’t even dwell on the fuel economy (as I figure if you’re shopping for eight-cylinder sports/prestige vehicles, it probably won’t be a factor in your purchase, but the M550i states FE of 14.3L/100 km in the city and 9.4 on the highway).

Its also a big car with a big turning circle (at over 6 meters) and interior cargo volume is not huge, at 530 litres.

Instead, I will say, as I always do, that in order to get the car you want, when envisioning the perfect 5 Series package, is that to get it up to its fully realized potential, many an option group is required.

Here’s a breakdown of this particular test car, which came with a $6,500 Premium Package (which is how it got those seats I like so much), an Advanced Driver Assistance package ($1,500, and it includes desirable safety features like evasion assist, cross traffic alert and lane-keeping function), Smartphone package ($750) and the Nappa leather upholstery for another $1,500

I love this photo because without any context it looks like I just stumbled out of a strip bar at 11:00 on a Sunday morning and coincidentally encountered cinematographer Elliott Mah.

The car’s is at its best with those additions, but it kicks up the buy-in from a starting base of a cool $83,000 to a sticker price of $93,250 before freight ‘n’ taxes.

The price of prestige, I suppose. Here, please check out the video of the M550i on our Youtube channel!

EcoRun 2018!

Prologue: Good Morning New Brunswick

The EcoRun vehicle showcase wrapped up its seventh year late in June, once again demonstrating the real-world utility of a cross section of fuel-efficient cars. This was my third year participating in the event (which is staged by the Automobile journalist’s Association of Canada).

I’ll get to that pretty quick – and you can find background info on EcoRun here and here, for a rundown of what its all about – but first, can we get a shout-out for the province of New Brunswick!

Serving as the backdrop for the adventure, the beautiful province provided fine scenery and a backdrop of Maritime lifestyle for myself and the other participants as we wound our way through three cities on some beautiful roads.

This year marked the first time NB has been the staging ground for EcoRun, and it is also he first year it could have been – the event requires somewhere to plug in for the various PHEVs and all-electric vehicles that account for many of the cars used for the drive, and the province has just completed a year-long implementation of the province’s charging network.

Indeed, NB has gone from having virtually no public charging points for such vehicles to having 49 of them, including 18 level 3 chargers (level 3 are the ‘fast’ chargers, these are the ones you want if you’ll need to get up to full battery in a reasonable amount of time).

Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

That alone is a good reason to plan your holiday in the Atlantic province if you drive, say, a Honda Clarity or Toyota’s Prius Prime, but put it together with the hospitality and scenery and (of course) the food, and my advice is to put New Brunswick on your list of Canadian adventures.

Go ahead, learn more here.

EcoRun: Part One

The scene at Catch 22 in downtown Moncton.

We kicked things off in Moncton, where we’d landed the day before and fueled up with a dinner at Catch 22 Lobster Bar downtown; which I mention for no other reason than to say that if you are ever in downtown Moncton, eat at Catch 22. Order the lobster, of course, but really, order anything on the menu.

The next morning, Day One, the assembled auto journos and our nineteen vehicles gathered at Moncton City Hall where we were welcomed by the province’s Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and the city’s Mayor Dawn Arnold.

Justifiably proud of the giant strides made so quickly in modernizing the provinces electrical infrastructure, they waved the EcoRun green flag to start us on our way – nearly 600 kilometers split up into six legs of driving over the next two days awaited.

NB Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and Mayor Dawn Arnold, with EcoRun co-chair David Miller at Moncton City Hall. Photo by John Walker/AJAC

I started out in Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (and with as many vehicles as we had at the 2018 event, of course not all the participants could get seat time in all the cars, so I’ll focus mostly on the ones I drove).

The Energi is the pluggable gas-electric hybrid version of the Fusion (and this may be one of the last chances to see one, for as I’m sure you know, Ford is going to stop selling cars in North America to focus on trucks and utility vehicles). A full-size sedan boasting a roomy and comfortably appointed interior beneath some good-looking sheetmetal, I put a little over a hundred km on it en route to our first change point, a recreational family holiday spot called Snider Mountain Ranch.

Now, I won’t lie to you, me and some of other drivers kind of blew the curve for the Energi – I ended with a fuel consumption number of 4.6L/100km (which is high, for that car, a couple of the other drivers got into the low fours and one brought it down to a ridiculous 2.4L/100km)

The thing of it is, though, it wasn’t that long ago that those numbers would have been considered really good – that’s how far hybrid technology has come.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours at Snider Mountain (where the EV and plug-in hybrids were recharged at Flo chargepoints) and then saddled up in new vehicles.

I took a run from the ranch to the City of Fredericton in Mazda’s CX-3, one of a few gasoline-only vehicles entered in the EcoRun this year. Mazda loves to make the point that even in a field of hybrids, the SkyActiv underpinnings of the vehicle can still yield very good economy.

And here’s the thing – it did. I put over a hundred km on it and beat the NRCanada rating by over a litre per hundred. Nearly all the drivers who used the CX-3 did – average economy for our event was 7.2 – versus the official rating of 8.2 from NRCan.

That’s kind of the main point of EcoRun, that virtually any vehicle can achieve better fuel economy when driven with an eye to lowering consumption. I didn’t do anything special with my driving habits in any of the cars; except maybe for sticking to the posted limits and trying to avoid hard braking and lunging starts; and I figure all the other participants did the same. AJAC strongly discourages ‘hypermiling’ techniques (i.e., driving waaay too slow) as it defeats the spirit of the event.

Anyhoo, switching cars in Fredericton I got into one of my favorite new vehicles of the year: Honda’s Clarity plug-in.

The Clarity was originally going to be present in New Brunswick with both its powertrains (it is also sold as a hydrogen fuel cell car, but apparently the FC one wasn’t able to make the event).

Clarity is a full-size family car that I will feature pretty soon right here on the world’s finest website; as it delivered some of the best fuel economy I have ever seen. No kidding, I did a week-long test of one recently where it ended up at an incredible 1.9L/100km over 360 kilometers driven.

I really have nothing but praise for the 2018 Clarity.

Here’s my room at a Delta in Moncton. The layout was very similar in other members of the chain we stayed at.

We rolled into Saint John at the end of day one and parked everything at the hotel. As a bit of trivia, all the hotels we stayed at were Delta. What I found interesting was how uniform the room layout was in all three of them. Once you get used to it, everything is exactly where you found it in the previous one, which is pretty handy when I want to locate the TV remote and flip on the Cartoon Network while I fall asleep.

EcoRun: Day Two

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

Most of St. John downtown appeared to be under construction when I rolled out the next morning, resulting in a detour where I almost immediately got lost; but fortunately was driving the Camry Hybrid from Toyota, which had an excellent navigation system.

Good thing it was a short leg to a cool little spot called the Baybreeze restaurant, where we performed another car swap. I didn’t post my best mileage in the Camry, but I want to stress it came in with an overall score of 4.8L/100 km, which beat its NRCan rating.

Mitsubishi’s latest gas-electric utility vehicle was up next – the Outlander PHEV. Once again, this new entry outperformed its FE rating overall, but I bet it could do even better. There’s a lot of tech onboard and a lot of fuel-saving, efficiency-boosting wonders within its electronic presets. Mitsubishi’s rep gave me a bit of a rundown on the basics, but you know, this tiny brain of mine…

I am hoping to get a longer-term test drive in the Outlander plugin (hopefully this summer) and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

The best possible car to finish up the 2018 EcoRun was the Lexus. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that I got the new LS500h sedan for the final run to our last destination, back in Fredericton.

It goes without saying it is a supremely luxurious auto, and after a couple days of sitting in cars for extended periods, well, give me the one with the massage seats.

The LS500h is also the only car that I beat the rest of the field in, finishing up at 6.9L/100 km, which is just over two litres per hundred better than the NRCan numbers, and even lower than the average posted by AJAC drivers at this years event (which was 8.0)

And with that, the ‘Run came to its end at the Delta Marriott in Fredericton (the nicest of the three we stayed at, imho). Now, while EcoRun isn’t run as a competition, either for the vehicles or the drivers, the group does award the Green Jersey to whomever posts the best overall fuel economy.

Just to show you that anyone can win, I won it last year; but for 2018 the prestigious t-shirt was taken home by Jim Kerr, a real good guy and long-time auto writer (and mechanic, and teacher) from Saskatoon.

But the point that EcoRun is truly making, is that this is a game anyone can win; regardless of what they drive; and with gas prices where they are, it would foolish not to play.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

You can view the stats of all the models driven here; and once again, I exhort you to visit New Brunswick when you can.