By Chris Haak
Once upon a time, BMW’s storied Motorsports division stood for high-revving, power-dense inline-six engines paired to manual transmissions and installed in nothing but reasonably light rear wheel drive cars. It’s safe to say that M has jumped the shark from that original mission years ago. Now there are two-ton, self-shifting, forced-induction (with the exception of the 1 Series M), and sometimes even all wheel drive trucks. But that’s OK, because they are also all gasoline-fueled.
Hold on. Scratch that last one. Today, BMW announced that it is launching not one, not two, but four new M diesels. The 5 Series, 5 Series Touring, X5, and X6 will all receive a new 3.0 liter inline six diesel rated at 376 horsepower and an impressive 545 lb-ft of torque (and the torque peak occurs between 2,000 and 3,000 RPMs). BMW should just rip up its model-naming system and start from scratch; behold the M550d xDrive sedan, M550d xDrive Touring, X5 M50d, and X6 M50d. Three years ago, I thought “X6 M” sounded a bit odd.
The new engines certainly sound like impressive technical achievements. Twin-scroll turbo? Nah. Twin turbo? Nope. How about three turbos? And back to the oddball naming conundrum that BMW finds itself in, it’s referring to a three-turbo engine as “TwinPower.” Does GM own some sort of copyright on the term “Tri-Power” from 1960s GTOs that prevents BMW from more accurately describing its induction strategy? The engine is connected to an eight speed automatic, and all four of the M diesels have all wheel drive. Oh, the humanity!
These vehicles will only be sold in Europe. Sorry, North American oil burner fans. Per Autoblog, if we’re looking to point a finger at the reason we won’t see the M diesels on these shores,
blame the necessity to reengineer the SCR (selective catalytic reduction) systems to make them comply with emissions standards across the country.
It goes without saying that the the M diesels will have a significantly different driving feel versus the gasoline-fueled M models. If the power delivery is anything like BMW’s non-M diesels, there will be a brief period of turbo lag, followed by a massive wave of torque that leaves a you-shaped indentation in the seat, and then the engine will run out of breath (relatively speaking) in the upper reaches of the tach’s travel. However, the new M diesel will redline at a staggering (for a diesel) 5,400 RPMs. The petrol-powered Ms love to rev, and these guys may not quite like to do it as much as an M3 does.
Having all wheel drive in all of the models will make quick launches a snap. That, plus the massive torque available at low RPMs, helps the M550d hit 62 MPH in just 4. seconds, only about a half a tick behind the rear wheel drive M5, despite the M550d’s substantial 184-horsepower deficit.
BMW’s M division is embarking on a strange journey into performance diesels. I always kind of thought Audi or Peugeot would be one of the first brands to roll out performance-oriented diesels, given their history of success in LeMans with diesels. So what does M stand for now? The definition just got a lot broader, but it’s still going to be a helluva fast car, no matter what gas pump fills its tank.