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Tuesday 28th February 2012

Driven: BMW M550d xDrive

Enough discussion of Bavarian breakfast sausages, time for Harris to get to the, er, meat of the BMW M550d



Last week's live blogging exercise was a bit of fun, albeit lacking any real detail about the car and expensive. The iPhone data cost £120. Everyone say a big thank you to Stuart for that.

Three turbos and a whole lotta complexity
Three turbos and a whole lotta complexity
Now I have just been sitting reading the technical document handed out by BMW last week explaining the key features of this new 381hp/546lb ft motor. See below to enjoy it in its full, unexpurgated glory.

Beyond the minutiae of intake, exhaust, block and head connection techniques and the clever inter-play of those three turbochargers, I was left with one overriding thought. Boy do you have to engage in some pretty crazy tomfoolery to make diesel oil do exciting things.

There is just so much going on, so much cajoling of that nasty, greasy, smelly fraction of crude oil, it does beg the question: is it really worth the hassle? I mean, would a 550i actually do a better job? All the V8 petrols are now smaller capacity twin-turbos, so the 'effortless' argument is no longer an easy diesel victory.

Big roads and Autobahns are natural habitat
Big roads and Autobahns are natural habitat
Three times the fun
What never ceases to amaze me is how current motor car engineers execute these staggering solutions to the performance/economy predicament, and then leave the driver completely unaware of the alchemy under the bonnet. I started the M550d xDrive and tootled off down the road like it was a 520d. The only clue you are driving something very special is in the rather clumsy, hi-fi augmented intake noise (in Sport Plus mode) that sometimes sounds like a Corrado VR6 that's dropped a cylinder. Minutes later you are doing an indicated 159mph and wondering what idiot felt it necessary to fit a speed limiter. Oh, and during that bout of acceleration you wondered if at times the M550d didn't sound really quite good.

There is actually a very simple reason for this car's existence: Audi. The rear-wheel-drive mantra has served BMW well for decades, but the popularity of interstellar 4WD machines from Ingolstadt forced a change of attack from Munich. It needed something to appeal to affluent folk who like driving to ski resorts in winter time. This is that riposte. But the car won't be coming to the UK, nor will it end up in the States.

Dials go red at night, like a real M car!
Dials go red at night, like a real M car!
Comfort zone
On the Autobahn, or wide, sweeping national highways, this is the type of car you'd select to persuade curmudgeons unwilling to accept the progress of modern cars. It hauls from idle and then persists until a most un-diesel 5,400rpm. The real advantage it offers over the 535d is in the upper rev range (can you call 4,000rpm 'upper'?) where you feel that extra, smaller compressor urging on this near-two-tonne machine.

Why a car with such immense core strength should need eight forward gears is anyone's guess. By diesel standards the M550d has a gargantuan power band, but that's still much smaller than a gasoline engine's and juggling all that torque with eight ratios offers the potential for a shambles.

Bigger bootlid required to fit badge
Bigger bootlid required to fit badge
The ZF unit works well here, but its eagerness to kick down does rather spoil the party. I love feeling when these torque-monsters heave from 1,500rpm and hang on to a gear, but with the transmission in Sport it just wants to shuffle down the 'box. I found myself putting the thing into Comfort just to avoid the downshifts. They're smooth and snappy, but they interrupt the surge.

The diesel M5?
Is it as fast as an M5? Nothing like. Its 4.7sec 0-62mph time is a corollary of stacked gearing and 4WD traction. Above 100mph the new M5 would have to use all of its firepower - but that's always the case for the valiant petrol machine versus the fast diesel, no? Even so, it would then teach the M550d a lesson or two. And that's before we even discuss the subjectives, throttle response being the big one. What happens when the taps open is very impressive. The sensation of doing so is one of complete detachment. Personally, in this kind of car that doesn't worry me one bit, but some will find it irksome.

'A nice place to be' and all that
'A nice place to be' and all that
My test of fuel consumption was woeful, and I apologise for that. We had to drive around Munich like dervishes trying to shoot a video, and spent most of the time at full throttle. This gave 20.1mpg over 160 miles. Now at face value that looks terrible, but when I did the same in an M5 last year, it was into single figures. I don't subscribe to talk of 40-plus mpg unless you drive it in a manner that proves you should have bought a 520d instead, but mid-30s looks very possible. That's 10mpg more than an M5 in like-for-like driving.

Piste basher
I have never before driven a 4WD BMW at over 150mph, but can report that they are more stable than their 2WD relatives. No great surprises there. Few cars feel more comfortable at 155mph on winter tyres than this one. Am I allowed to say that?

Built for rich Germans to visit ski resorts
Built for rich Germans to visit ski resorts
The benefit 4WD brings on normal roads is less clear. Revised springs and dampers and bigger anti-roll bars give more support and make the car firmer than a 5 Series M Sport, but they don't remove the feeling of mass. I thought the M5 felt big and heavy, the M550d to me was lazier in direction changes and less nimble. Again, it was on winter tyres so I can't draw a definitive conclusion, but I think it's fair to say that the M550d is better suited to bigger roads and longer journeys. What it does have is far better traction than an M5. Surprise, surprise. In reality, any car looking to usurp Audi as the Verbier chariot of choice needs to be 4WD, so it fits the package.

So what we have here is a great all-rounder. It's not an emotional statement like the M5 and the more time I spent with it, the more I appreciated the subtlety. Remove that rather clumsy boot-badge and it could be any-old five. Specify the Touring body and you surely have one of the most complete cars on sale. A diesel with massive performance potential; a ski-taxi to shame Audi. Yes, it was worth it.


BMW M550d xDrive
Engine:
2,993cc 6-cyl diesel, tri-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 381@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 546@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,970kg (EU)
MPG: 44.8mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 165g/km
Price: N/A


Rather than try and condense all the incredible tech we'll let you read the full story from the BMW press pack; click here:

Page one
Page two
Page three
Page four
Page five


 

 

 

Chris Harris
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Author Discussion

PascalBuyens

Original Poster:

2,868 posts

168 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Just another 5 Series then...

Carry on smile

Luca Brasi

841 posts

60 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Best daily driver out there?

Garlick

40,600 posts

126 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
PascalBuyens said:
Just another 5 Series then...

Carry on smile
You did read this part didn't you?

BMW M550d xDrive
Engine: 2,993cc 6-cyl diesel, tri-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 381@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 546@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,970kg (EU)
MPG: 44.8mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 165g/km
Price: N/A

Quite possibly the best real world useable car you can can't buy today

Chicane-UK

3,552 posts

71 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
The Article said:
The only clue you are driving something very special is in the rather clumsy, hi-fi augmented intake noise (in Sport Plus mode) that sometimes sounds like a Corrado VR6 that's dropped a cylinder.
So like a Golf V5? smile That is pretty much a VR6 with a cylinder lopped off!

Digger

8,283 posts

77 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Garlick said:
You did read this part didn't you?

BMW M550d xDrive
Engine: 2,993cc 6-cyl diesel, tri-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 381@4,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 546@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,970kg (EU)
MPG: 44.8mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 165g/km
Price: N/A

Quite possibly the best real world useable car you can can't buy today
Ahem fyi.

Advertisement

doogz

23,288 posts

73 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Pretty much E39 M5 quick.

Garlick

40,600 posts

126 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Digger said:
Ahem fyi.
hehe I'll let them know! Thanks

toppstuff

10,920 posts

133 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Dear BMW

Before you brief your engineers to go and design stuff, management should get their minds around the idea that RHD markets like 4WD for the same reason the German market does.
Audi are making you look like idiots. They can engineer both RHD and LHD 4WD platforms and make money from them. So should you.

It is'nt good enough. Sort it out.

Yours Faithfully,

TS


Aeroresh

1,180 posts

118 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
so its only above 100 mph that an M5 would show it whose boss, and then only if all its performance is used!

Fine on the track or autobahn, but in the real world on real roads.......

Shame its not coming here though.


StottyZr

5,192 posts

49 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
doogz said:
Pretty much E39 M5 quick.
I see a pattern here, the 335d was almost as quick as the E46 M3.

So the next generation of diesels should be F10 M5 quick scratchchin

k15tox

1,680 posts

67 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
i can imagen the mods having a good old chuckle before putting these threads up.

they know what controversy they cause.

m550d threads. keeping the pistonheads forum busy!

Vladimir

6,917 posts

44 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
If this comes out as a Touring, I'm having one.

Oddball RS

1,442 posts

104 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Nearly 2 tonnes, wowsers...

AlpinaB5s

138 posts

45 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
quote "Why a car with such immense core strength should need eight forward gears is anyone's guess."

Well, the biggest criticism of autoboxes in the past has been the fact they are often in the wrong gear.

Having more gears (in between the old gears) ensures a smoother and more efficent journey. I suspect that these new 8 speed ZF auto boxes are as close to 6 speed manuals with respect to efficiency.

Can't wait until the crank the forward gear count up to 11!

toppstuff

10,920 posts

133 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Vladimir said:
If this comes out as a Touring, I'm having one.
Assuming you live in the UK, then you cannot. Unless you specially import a LHD one.

We Brits are not worthy. BMW does not want us to own this car. We are not worthy to have the X platform cars engineered for us. The Germans want them all to themselves.

kambites

41,084 posts

107 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
I can see why they aren't planning to sell it here. It sounds like it's too heavy and cumbersome to be good on twisty roads; too wide to be fun on narrow roads; and doesn't really do anything better than a 530d on the motorway, whilst offering significantly worse economy. On top of that, the 4WD system only provides significant benefit at speeds which are far beyond legal in the UK and in the south of England where the majority of the population lives (especially the majority of the population who could afford to spend this much on a car), it doesn't snow often enough to be worth having for that...

I can see the point in Germany where there are still unrestricted motorways, or in countries that get a significant amount of snow-fall around their major centres of population but in the UK I just can't see many people buying it.

sleep envy

61,896 posts

135 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Garlick said:
Quite possibly the best real world useable car you can can't buy today
that's the problem with it

Guvernator

3,468 posts

51 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
Lovely though the idea of this car is, I can't help but pick up on one of Chris's points in the article and that is of over-complication. Do we really need 3 turbos and 8 gears?? Yes it's all very clever engineering but what about when this car is a few years old and out of warranty. Who'd want to risk running one as a daily driver then with soo much to go wrong? The twin turbo diesels are unreliable enough as it is, I doubt adding a couple more gears and an extra turbo will help at all in that regard.

Vladimir

6,917 posts

44 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
toppstuff said:
Assuming you live in the UK, then you cannot. Unless you specially import a LHD one.

We Brits are not worthy. BMW does not want us to own this car. We are not worthy to have the X platform cars engineered for us. The Germans want them all to themselves.
Bu99er.

tercelgold

969 posts

43 months

[news] 
Tuesday 28th February 2012 quote quote all
This reads more like a Diesel engine was chosen for it's abilities and not because of the mpg, on a car with this power and complexity looking after it is going to be expensive, even if it's just an inspection.

5-10 years from now, decat, deflap, remap smile

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