4:15 AM and the alarm goes off. I don’t have this right-hand drive 2012 BMW X6 M50d long and “Man, do I want to go back to sleep.” My aim is to get as far down on one of the best driving roads in the world, The Great Ocean Road on the southeastern coast of Australia, before I have to turn back and return it later that day.
I jump in the shower to clear the fog out of my head and then book downstairs to find the Space Grey Metallic X6 M50d waiting for me outside of our hotel. Taking off before 5 AM free of its usual insane traffic, I am thankful for the iDrive nav and a Head-Up Display to deftly take me out of the maze of streets that is downtown Melbourne.
You know, most of the time a mid-cycle refresh like this X6 just received is just cosmetic tweaking. Maybe a new engine choice or two to keep a given model relevant in a rapidly changing automotive market. This X6 M50d is different. Way different. It represents two firsts for BMW. The X6 M50d, along with the X5 M50d and the M550ds introduce BMW’s new M Performance Automobile line, and second let BMW’s engineering department flex it muscle with the debut of this all-new N57TU tri-turbo diesel motor.
Visually this X6 M50d looks like it has been beefed up with a power dome hood or in the Aussie speak – bonnet. The new front and rear body work fascia combined with the huge 20” wheels make the X6 M50d look like it’s ready to bolt out of the starting blocks. The standard 20” double-spoke light alloy wheels have a nice dark grey metallic hue to them and are shod with 275/40/20s front and 315/35/20’s in the rear with third generation performance fun flats. New for 2012 is the addition of optional LED headlights.
The X6 interior is well appointed in Nappa leather with very supportive M sport seats. Black seats are adorned with contrast stitching and there is a ///M50d badge situated in the center of the tachometer. Other M accents are on the gear lever with an M logo and an M leather steering wheel. The door sills have the ///M 50d lest, there be any doubt of what vehicle you are entering. An interesting carbon fiber weave is in place of the normal wood accents you find in BMW SAV’s. It didn’t really do anything for me one way or the other. The cabin was very comfortable, not much road noise and I never noticed any diesel clatter. It does still allow enough engine noise to be please an enthusiast especially under full throttle. The 600W, 16 speaker sound system that I Bluetooth streamed my music via iDrive doesn’t hurt either.
Unquestionably, the star of the show in the X6 M50d is BMW’s new tri-turbo diesel motor. BMW breaks new ground with the use of two small high pressure turbos and one large low pressure turbo. Initial tip-in of the throttle from the 600 RPM idle is handled by the first of the small pressure turbos. By the time the X6 M50d heads past 1500 RPM, the large low pressure turbo is jumping in. It takes you up to 2700 where the third turbo, another small high pressure, start’s kicking it, taking you all the way to the 5800 RPM redline. BMW’s new tri-turbo diesel makes 381 hp (280kW) at 4000 RPM and 546 ft-lbs of torque (740Nm), and does this with a total motor weight of 477 lbs (217 kg). This diesel is unlike any I’ve driven, the upper rev range doesn’t feel weak and out of steam at the top end. 0-100 km/h comes in a short 5.3 seconds. Here’s a link to a previous write up and a great video of how the engine works.
The N57TU is a re-worked 40d motor (N57D3) and this table details the changes to it. This engine completely resets the standards for low fuel consumption for a powerful motor. BMW has so much technology in this new X6 that I wish the iDrive screen had some mode where it would display the varying boost on each turbo.
BMW has fitted the X6 M50d with a cleaver eight-speed automatic transmission. If the driver desires manual mode simply slip the gear lever over and bump the shifter, or one can use the shifting paddles on the steering wheel. The X6 M50d loves to downshift when you stomp on it, giving it a very un-diesel like feel as it raps out in each gear. When I would romp on it, the thing would literally jump down two to three gears and you would hear the engine roar. I suspect that if you wanted to hyper-mile the thing you could manually shift, but be aware that smashing the gas pedal is addictive.
In comparison, the X6M has a 6-speed automatic transmission and this M emits the most exotic race car burble upon shifting. I have never heard before such a wicked blip throttle exhaust note coming from an automatic and the aural throttle sounds great in the X6 M50d, but it just doesn’t match that impressive exhaust sound of the X6M.
Introduced upon the debut of the X6 in 2009 was the Dynamic Performance Control (DPC). With DPC, BMW adds more power to the outside wheel so it doesn’t have to engage the brake on the inside. The best description I’ve seen of this unique system comes from BMW’s European website where it relates it to a canoe making a turn. You can either brake on the inside or add power to the outside of the canoe’s bow turn. Adding power and not braking of course is faster, and this is what BMW describes as “torque vectoring” which helps give the X6 such great chassis handling dynamics.
To haul you down if you find yourself going over Australia’s top speed limit of 130 km/h, there are massive vented 385 mm discs in the front and 345 mm vented ones in the rear. BMW has fitted the X6 with all of its latest handling and driver aides which are the alphabet soup of DSC, ABS, DTC, CBC, DBC, DPC, PDC and last but not least HDC. Remarkably the wide array of systems don’t seem to get between the driver and the experience, like they have in some of BMW’s older cars. No body roll or harshness can be felt.
I had the X6 M50d for two days and about 400 km in the land of down under. When I picked it up at BMW Australia’s headquarters and headed to downtown Melbourne, we landed in massive rush hour traffic. Think downtown Manhattan traffic on the “wrong side of the road” and then add electric powered trams. Did you know that in order to turn right you have to do it from the far left lane in some but not all parts of the city? Me neither and was so glad that BMW Australia press guys warned me. Nuts. I found the X6 M50d very easy to drive for being a relatively big vehicle. Its great seating position gave me a great view of its edges and made me comfortable in what turned out to be very tight lanes and traffic that would creep right up on you. For driving such a powerful vehicle, I found the throttle very progressive and easy to modulate with no discernible turbo lag. It’s nice to see that BMW has vehicle that is happy to be driven hard, or just as happy to guide you through bad rush hour traffic.
My trip to The Great Ocean Road was about 80 percent in the rain. I actually thought this a good thing since I could experience the X6‘s dynamics at speeds that were closer to not going to jail or get a string of speed camera tickets. The steering is absolutely perfect, its thick M steering wheel is well weighted and centered. I could literally feel the subtle pulls of the road where the wheels are just trying to tram-line. I sensed this most on the well worn and rutted water filled two lane roads leading up to start of The Great Ocean Road.
Stomping on the throttle, you get hit with this wave of torque where all four wheels clawing for grip. The tremendous power delivery reminded me of the first time I had the chance drive a Dodge Viper. I expected crazy amounts of thrust in lower RPMs, but what blew me away was the thrust up top in the rev-range. It was unlike anything I could have anticipated from a diesel motor, in fact most of the time I forgot it was a diesel. It doesn’t behave like a diesel or even sound like a diesel. The only constant reminder was the ///M50d in the tachometer, the relatively low red-line and the insane nearly 800km range on the fuel tank.
It was still dark when I made it to Loutit Bay Bakery on The Great Ocean Road at about 6:15 AM. Stopped for a cappuccino, a muffin, and a leg stretch before the sun came up. As the sun started to come out, I knew I had to stop for some photos of the breath taking X6 and surreal beauty of this road. Here I got what I think is the best automotive photo I have ever captured.
As I progressed further south, the road started getting unbelievably tight with sharp turns and steep elevation changes, and surf crashing into the rocks off to my left. I was in heaven dancing this X6 up down left-right, hard brake. It turned out to be a huge bonus to have gotten up so early because the road was all mine. Though the road was still very wet, I never felt the X6 M50d make a misstep, it always felt composed.
The X6 M50d brings an insane combination of 546 ft-lbs of torque and the eight gears give this BMW some very impressive fuel economy numbers. While it hasn’t been rated on the U.S. EPA scale, this X6 M50d has a rated combined fuel consumption of 7.7 liter per 100km. The X6 50i with the V8 turbocharged rates a 12.5 liter /100km, that’s a 38% better fuel economy, and the tri-turbo diesel does 0-100 km/h in 0.1 second faster!
Routine criticisms remain about the lack of headroom in the rear, and not as much storage space for luggage. The third seat in the rear option for the US makes this X6 much more practical in my mind, the Aussie X6s all come with the third seat. Rear seats do still fold nearly flat to increase storage space. Plus, if you need to pack a lot into it just get roof racks and a storage compartment to throw on it and put a 3 inch trailer hitch and slap your trailer hitch bike-rack in there. If you need anymore convincing, fire the thing up and experience its massive instantaneous thrust from the 740 Nm of torque. BMW makes this wicked motor available in a X5 M50d if rear seat head room and cargo capacity are a bigger concern.
The X6 M50d does 0-100 km as faster than an X6 xDrive50i with 38% better fuel economy. It was a pure Joy to drive this Ultimate Driving Machine. BMW of North America, please bring us this X6 M50d! If the X6 hybrid made sense to bring to the U.S. market, how can this X6 M50d not? This triple turbo diesel is a modern automotive engineering marvel and we really deserve to get it over here somehow. It would definitely change the way the U.S. customers perceive diesels.
I know it did for me, and I’d love to own one.
See also our article on BMWBLOG visiting BMW Australia HQ