Those who still think of diesels as sluggish, smelly and anything but fun to drive could be in for a shock if they turn up for the BMW news conference at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show.
If reports circulating on the web prove true, the maker could be ready to unveil not just a new diesel, but one that would be the first to carry the vaunted BMW M badge. According to Autoblog, the new model would go by the unusual designation of the M550dX, which would suggest a diesel with all-wheel-drive.
The nomenclature might seem unusual – though one of BMW’s very first M cars was the 1979 M535i – but so is the idea of using an oil burner to power a performance machine. The technology has, for most of the century-plus since it was invented, been focused on fuel economy.
But the latest diesel systems, such as turbocharging and direct injection, have transformed the technology, as Mercedes-Benz proved, a few years back, with a limited-production diesel model bearing that brand’s vaunted AMG badge.
The 550 portion of the M550dX designation apparently does not translate into a massive 5.5-liter diesel. As we have seen in recent years, BMW and other German makers have begun taking liberties with those numbers and it might instead suggest what a conventional engine displacement for a given motor might be, ie, without such niceties as using triple turbochargers. In this case, that unusual approach is reportedly going to pump out an estimate 395 horsepower and gobs and gobs of torque from a 3.0-liter straight six.
How much? That’s the missing number, according to all the various sources we’ve checked, but we’d expect something well north of the 600 lb-ft range and possibly nudging up or beyond 800. After all, diesels routinely provide that wheel-spinning power and the triple turbos would likely be aimed at maximizing off-the-line acceleration.
Why would BMW be rolling out a diesel M car – that is, if the reports prove true? We’re already seeing a push for more fuel-efficient performance machine from even the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. And with new mileage and emissions standards weighing heavily on the industry, even the most limited-edition products will have to do a better job of squeezing MPGs, as well as HPs and lb-ft, out of a tank of fuel. As Europeans are well aware, the latest diesels are doing a pleasantly surprising job of that. So, it appears, BMW is now looking to see what would happen if you push a diesel to the same bleeding edge as the folks at the M division normally do with gasoline engines.
Whether the supposed M550dX would make it past European borders is another question we’ll have to wait for Frankfurt to get answered. Diesels account for about half of the Continental automotive market, but have yet to make a serious dent elsewhere. That’s changing, however, and BMW is just one of many makers seeing opportunities to export the technology to the States. The diesel-powered version of the X5 accounts for nearly a third of that crossover line, though demand for the 3-Series diesel has so far been minimal.
Considering the speed with which Americans traditionally sign up for anything carrying the M badge, it suggests that even the unusually-named M550dX could find a home here.