The great Teutonic Horsepower Wars of the 2000s propelled the top AMG, M, and RS cars to supercar-levels of performance. But what if you want a little more stealth and a little less drama in your sports sedan? How much performance does something like a 550i get you? I decided to investigate.
Let me start by saying I have a great deal of respect for cars like the BMW M5 and its rivals from Germany, America, England, and Japan. I look at their finely machined differentials and their cutting-edge engine internals and I can almost feel a huge surge of torque hurling me down some country road.
But I've driven cars with as much performance as today's AMGs and Ms and whatnot and while it's fun for a little while, it's not exactly something I'd want to live with. I drove an RS7 from Florida to New York City and spent most of the time trying to keep my speedometer down for fear of some high-velocity, headline-grabbing wreck, a bank account-crippling speeding ticket, or jail time. My fears were not unfounded.
I love the deep well of power you get in those top models, but I wonder how much easier life would be if everything was turned down a touch.
And more than that, I'm not sure I want to be part of the AMG/M/RS scene. The image that's seared in my mind of a modern M5 isn't blitzing across Europe's A- and B-roads, it's some Chechen mobsters doing donuts and shooting AKs in the street. I don't want my car being part of that drama.
I'd much rather have some under-the-radar potential, so I looked up how much speed you can get in the cars one step down from the M5s and E63s of the world. It turns out there's more than I thought.
Here's all the relevant information you need in one convenient table. Take a look through it and I'll go over what's interesting tucked away in it.
|BMW 550i||Mercedes-Benz E550||Audi S6||Cadillac CTS V-Sport||Jaguar XF 5.0 Supercharged||Lexus GS 450h||Infiniti Q70|
|Engine Conf.||4.4L V8 (TT)||4.6L V8 (TT)||4.0L V8 (TT)||3.6L V6 (TT)||5.0L V8 (SC)||3.5L V6 Hybrid||5.6L V8 (NA)|
|Can It Manual?||Not Anymore||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Gears||8 (Auto)||7 (Auto)||7 (Dual Clutch)||8 (Auto)||8 (Auto)||CVT||7 (Auto)|
|Limited Slip Diff||No||Center||Center and Rear||Rear||Rear||No||Rear|
|Tires||245/35/20, 275/30/20R||245/40/18||255/35/20||245/40/18, 275/35/18||255/35/20||235/45/18||245/40/20|
|Can It RWD?||Yes!||No||Quattro, yo||Yes!||Yes||Yes||Yes|
As I said before and I will say again, there is a huge amount of performance in these 'ordinary' sports sedans.
I'm going to indulge myself in a played-out trope when I say a few years ago, this kind of power as reserved for the AMG/M/RS/V rivals. The current 550i, for instance, comes with 45 more horsepower than you'd get in the E39 M5, yet races to 60 miles an hour faster than an E60 M5. The E550 is as quick as the muscle car 2000s E55 (thanks assuredly to the new car's US-mandatory 4WD). The S6 might be down 24 horsepower on the lovely C5 RS6, but it's as quick to sixty as the bonkers last-gen model, V10 and all. It's the same kind of story for the other cars; their power is equivalent to the top models of two generations ago, and the on-road performance nearly matches that of the last generation.
There are a few other strange points to note. While you can't get any of these cars with a manual, but you could get a BMW 550i with a six-speed up until last year. Today, you can probably find one if you look hard enough. It's also odd that Lexus does build an F-Sport GS450h, which might seem like the natural rival to the other cars here, but Lexus doesn't sell that car in the US. Our only F-Sport package comes on the GS350, and with 306-horsepower it does seem to have a different kind of feel to the big motor cars in this class. That said, the GS350 F-Sport comes with excellent reviews.
Also, I hope you appreciate that I kept the Q70 in this comparison, given that approximately zero people buy them according to official sales statistics.
It's a troubling feeling I have now, going over all these cars. I have a sense of how capable they are on the road and on the track, but I know that they'll just end up being bought by the most staid, conservative buyers out there. I'll see a 550i idling outside of some SoHo executive dinner spot, and all I'll be able to think about is the huge, smoky burnouts the owner could be doing.
Or maybe the sports sedan buyers of the world will prove me wrong, and we'll see a turn towards Q-ships. Buttoned-down executive cars powersliding around the local trackday and squealing across the nearest deserted backroad. These cars certainly have the power for it.