First Drive Review: 2012 BMW M550d xDrive by Henny Hemmes

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BMW M550d

The Devilish Diesel

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
The Auto Channel

SEE ALSO: BMW to Unveil New Sub Category at 2012 Geneva Motor Show: The BMW M Performance Automobiles

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BMW M550d

MUNICH - February 24, 2012: M GmbH, the daughter of BMW AG, has added another product category to its portfolio: M Performance Automobiles, which will be placed in between the standard line-up and the M cars. The first Performance models will make their debut at the Geneva Auto Show that opens its doors for the media on March 6.

The base models for the first M Performance cars are familiar: the 5-Series Sedan and Touring and the X5 and X6. They officially debut in Geneva along with another world premiere: the brand new 3.0-liter six-cylinder in-line diesel engine, which is exclusively developed for the M Performance models.

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BMW M550d

Some five years ago, a team of 5 engineers started the development of the high performance diesel engine - based on a new idea to use 3 turbochargers instead of two. Last year, together with other technologies, such as a further developed common-rail injection system that raises pressure of the piezo injectors to 2,200 bar, as well as an upgraded cooling system, the diesel power plant was ready and propositions to the Board of Management of BMW AG were made for use of the new models to form the M Performance Automobiles unit.

Dr. Friedrich Nitschke, president of M GmbH, smiles when he says that the Board members who drove the new models were immediately impressed and willing to give the green light for the M Performance Automobiles.

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BMW M550d

Dr. Nitschke: “We are targeting for customers who want more emotion and more performance, but who also want to have everyday usability. We are not simply adding M Sport Packages and increase the output of existing models. Performance Automobiles especially benefit from the expertise of M GmbH instilling power transfer and excellent dynamics.”

In order to prevent direct competition with the M5, a separate development team was formed especially for the development of the M Performance models.

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BMW M550d

In the 550d xDrive, the new 3.0-liter six-cylinder in-line tri-turbo diesel engine delivers 280 kW/381 hp and 740 Nm/546 lb-ft of torque. The state-of-the-art tri-turbo system can produce an amazing maximum of 3.5 bar!

The fast sedan sets a new performance standard for diesels, with a sprint time from zero to 62 mph of 4.7 seconds. The top speed is limited to 155 mph (250 km/h), but will reach just under 186 mph (300 km/h), if we listen carefully and read between the lines of the answer to the question what the real top speed is. With a power to weight ratio of 6.8 kg/kW the sets a new standard for diesel engines. The Audi V12 is the only one matching the mighty M-diesel, but weighs a lot more.

M GmbH claims that the M550d xDrive is a true fuel sipper with 6.3 l/km or 44.8 mpg for the combined European cycle.

On paper the figures look promising, to say the least. Usually, diesel engines never lack torque, but they do not instantly respond to pressure on the throttle. However, when you drive the M550d xDrive, you realize that nothing is impossible …. Dr. Nitschke’s team of engineers has proven it with this new engine.

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BMW M550d

When pushing the throttle, the saloon flies fiercely forward until the engine revs hit the limiter. Also in this Performance model, the 8-speed automatic transmission shows its qualities over and over. There is no proof of shifting and torque never seems to stop being available. Wow, the M550d xDrive is fast…devilish fast, and in the meantime the sound is absolutely fantastic.

But there is more to this new model. Except from flying on the unlimited stretches of Autobahn, the M550d xDrive’s dynamics are wonderful and it is a joy to drive actively on winding roads or cruise at lower speed. With its xDrive system it does not feel heavy, surprisingly so, it is some 220 pounds less than the ultimate M5.

It also costs less (around 80,000 euro in Germany - $107,000 approx. equivalent) and that is why BMW M GmbH will have an excellent business case. Since diesel engines are highly popular in Europe, there undoubtedly will be many customers falling for diesel Performance. It is a pity, though, that for the time being neither the M550d xDrive, the X5 M50d nor the X6 M50d will make it to the North American market, but other markets – except those where right hand drive cars are used – will be getting them.

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