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If you haven't noticed, luxury wagons have all but disappeared from the American market. BMW, Mercedes, and Jaguar continue to offer them in their homelands, but not here in the states, where plush SUVs and crossovers have killed off the premium wagon. That's left a hole in the market that the BMW 550 Gran Turismo is apt to fill.
It's a proper four-door sedan with a rear hatch instead of a traditional trunk. Nowhere is its hybrid body more evident than in its cargo-carrying ability. With the rear seat in place, there's a sedan-like 15.5 cubic feet of stowage space. Fold down the back seat, however, and capacity jumps to 60 cubic feet -- about what you would expect in a wagon of similar size. Keeping with the wagon-in-disguise theme, there's a trunk lid within the soft-close tailgate than can open independently of the larger glass area. Liftover height is commendably low, making loading and unloading less of a chore.
Riding on a 120-inch wheelbase and weighing nearly 4,900 pounds, the Gran Turismo is an uncompromising luxury cruiser that still manages to be remarkably fast. Credit goes to the standard 4.4-liter twin turbo V8 that cranks out 445 horsepower and takes the 550 from 0 to 60 mph in just under 5 seconds. All that power is dispatched through an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Thanks to rear-wheel drive and available drivetrain upgrades, the Gran Turismo can tow up to 4,630 pounds, something very few cars can accomplish.
The decadent leather-and-wood interior has an unusually spacious and airy feel, due in part to the standard panoramic two-panel glass sunroof, which features a wind deflector and power sunshade. The Gran Turismo is a five-seater unless you upgrade to a Luxury Rear Seating Package ($3,500) featuring two individual seats separated by a console, and four-zone climate control. With either rear-seat configuration, you can add a pair of separately controllable video screens ($2,200) for TV, Internet, DVDs, apps, and mobile devices. The Cold Weather Package includes heated seats all around, a heated steering wheel, and retractable headlight washers -- it's a relative bargain at $950. BMW's M Sport Package ($3,500) is also available for a more aggressive appearance inside and out. Buyers may add 19- or 20-inch performance run-flat tires to the M for an extra $1,000.
Like most luxury sedans, the 550i Gran Turismo is rear-wheel drive, which means it's more susceptible to traction loss when the roads get slick. Performance on dry roads is slightly better than the xDrive, however, since its all-wheel drive system adds weight.
xDrive models are equipped with BMW's sophisticated all-wheel drive system for maximum traction on slick or uneven road surfaces. The system continuously monitors road conditions and splits engine power between the front and rear wheels. This setup reduces the risk of skidding in turns, spinning out when accelerating, and getting stuck in deep snow. xDrive models are a bit heavier than their two-wheel drive counterparts, but highway gas mileage is the same. Expect to give up 1 mpg in the city. Buyers coming out of an SUV may appreciate -- or even insist on -- the security of all-wheel drive on their Gran Turismo. If you like to take the occasional winter vacation or live in the snowbelt, xDrive might be only choice for you.
Hatchback versatility and sports-car handling, lacks cargo space, V8 models can get widly expensive
Offered as a true wagon, blistering performance, lacks ultra luxury feel and options
Generous cargo space, lower price, lacks power by comparison
Gorgeous body with twin turbo of its own, traditional trunk cuts utility