BMW’s ‘M’onster tri-turbo diesels

Gone are the days when a BMW M creation automatically meant a high-revving naturally aspirated petrol engine, track-tuned suspension that made it hard to live with on an everyday basis and far-out-of-reach pricing.

Sure, the M Division will continue to churn out its usual series of hardcore flagship models, albeit with turbocharged engines, but the Bavarian carmaker has now unleashed a division (called M Performance) that sits between the latter and BMW's ordinary model line up.

The BMW M550d xDrive is one of four new M Performance models, all powered by a six-cylinder diesel engine with three turbochargers.

The idea here is to offer performance that's not too far off traditional M cars, but with better comfort and economy and a more realistic price tag, something like the M535i was to the M5 back in the '80s.

Quite fitting for today's obsession with efficiency, the first fruits of this new sub-division are all diesel-powered, but they're far from tame.

Set to make their first appearance at the Geneva Motor Show in March, the M550d xDrive Sedan and Touring and X5 and X6 M50d models are all powered by a 2993cc six-cylinder turbodiesel powerhouse complete with three variable-geometry turbochargers, direct injection with piezo injectors and an aluminium crankcase.

Before you get too excited, though, the M550d models are not coming to South Africa, but the X5 and X6 50ds will reach our shores in June this year.

While the engine's power output of 280kW between 4000 and 4400rpm is certainly on the decent side, the real talking point is its maximum torque of 740Nm, available in a very accessible range - between 2000 and 3000rpm. The engine will also rev as high as 5400rpm if you so desire.

How do they perform? Well, if we use BMW's claimed figures for comparison sake then they're not lying about performance close to traditional M levels.

Consider that the M5 takes 4.4 seconds to screech from standstill to 100km/h, while the M550d does it in 4.7 seconds - who would ever have expected that from a diesel? The X5 and X6 M50d models do it in 5.4 and 5.3 seconds, respectively, compared to the X5 M's 4.7 seconds.

Of course, these M diesels have a huge economy advantage too and while we're not going to pretend that their claimed figures are going to be achieved in the real world, consider that the M5's claimed overall consumption amounts to 9.9 litres per 100km, while the diesels sip between 6.3 (M550d) and 7.7 l/100km (X6 M50d) on the same cycle.

All four oil burners make use of M Division expertise in areas beyond just the engine, with detailed modifications to the suspension, steering, aerodynamics and the eight-speed Sports automatic transmission that channels its torquey aggression through a specially optimized xDrive all-wheel drive system.

What's more, the M550d xDrive Touring and X5/X6 M50d are fitted with automatic, self-levelling air suspension on the rear axle. The 550 models can also be ordered with Dynamic Damper Control and Adaptive Drive, the latter feature standard on the X5/X6.

M-style visual aggression is also the order of the day on all four, examples including Ferric Grey exterior mirrors and air intake bars, trapezoidal exhaust tailpipes; BMW Individual High-gloss Shadow Line and bespoke 19-inch alloys on all but the X6, which gets a 20-inch footprint.

It's a similarly enticing scenario inside the cabin, where various M logos are joined by M sports seats (Alcantara/Cloth in the 550s and Alcantara/Nappa leather in the X models), M leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles, Anthracite roof liner and a wide range of comfort amenities and driver assistance systems.