You could think of the BMW X6 M50d as a kind of 'M Diet' model.
This is the first in a new range of so-called M Performance vehicles that, according to the German car maker, are essentially a “40 per cent” version of its core M models - not the full-sugar variety, but still aiming to deliver a good dynamic flavour.
So while the full-blown M cars and SUVs – including the 1-Series M Coupe, M3, M5, M6, X5 M and X6 M – are built from the ground up by BMW’s M GmbH performance division using regular models as donor cars, the M Performance models are instead modified versions of top-tier BMWs, with some input from the M division.
At $157,000 before on-road costs, the BMW X6 M50d is priced not far above the top-tier X6, the $150,400 xDrive 50i, but still $33,900 below the X6 M.
Unlike regular BMW models with M Sport packages and like the core M cars, the M Performance models come with a badge on the rump that pairs the capital M with a number.
The X6 M50d has arrived as part of a mild update for BMW’s polarising SUV coupe, a ‘lifecycle impulse’ – to use BMW-speak – that brings changes relating more to styling and trim than anything mechanical.
The M50d shares a ‘powerdome’ bonnet bulge with the X6 M, though lift the bonnet and you’ll find it’s purely aesthetic as the engine sits nice and low in its bay.
The M Performance SUV, though, does include design touches that serve a purpose, with the M50d dispensing with foglights to allow for large air intakes feeding more air to the engine’s intercoolers.
And this is useful when the engine in question, a diesel, is fitted with three turbochargers.
The trio of turbos operates in sequence with the aim of providing a consistent wallop of torque through the 3.0-litre straight six that is a development of the engine found in other BMWs with single- and twin-turbo configurations.
A small, low-pressure turbo kicks things off at low revs before being joined by a bigger turbo at 1500rpm. Once the M50d’s tachometer needle ticks past 2700rpm, another smaller but high-pressure turbo spools up to join the forced-induction proceedings.
On paper, the results are 280kW of power from 4000-4400rpm and 740Nm between 2000 and 3000rpm, with a 0-100km/h time of 5.3 seconds. (Again suitably distanced from the V8-powered 408kW/680Nm X6 M that completes that sprint in 4.7sec.)
On the road, the result is an SUV that feels like an unstoppable force of nature.
There’s a tremendous welly of torque in each of the ZF auto’s eight gears, with the BMW X6 M50d pulling urgently from low revs. And smoothly, too, with no interruption to that huge swelling of torque as upshifts occur – either automatically or via the driver flicking the paddleshift levers.
BMW says the full M vehicles remain the choice for buyers who want the most dynamic models, some with intended use on the racetrack. The car maker, however, still took Australian media to the Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin to experience the sub-M X6.
From the outside, the X6 M50d doesn’t sound anything special; standing in the pits as one circulated the track, it could have been any humble diesel SUV passing by on a motorway.
Inside the cockpit, though, the tri-turbo six-cylinder has limited clatter associated with diesels and more of an enjoyable sporting note more in common with a petrol engine.
This is an engine you can also rev almost like a petrol engine, with the M50d’s powertrain happy to venture beyond 5000rpm. For a diesel, there’s also a surprising amount of mid-corner throttle adjustability.
For the quickest progress, though, it’s still best to exploit the peak torque sandwich in the middle of the rev range by upshifting earlier.
There’s little point providing a trip computer read-out of our fuel consumption from this launch, though the official rating is a commendable 7.7 litres per 100km.
The media launch provided little time on the road, but in the racetrack environment the BMW X6 M50d impresses to a certain degree without generating the kind of satisfaction you’d find in a well-honed sports car.
Quick S-bends quickly reveal you’re still in a tall-bodied SUV, with the M50d taken a moment to recover its composure after rapid direction changes.
The X6 M50d, like the X6 M, features Adaptive Drive that is designed to reduce body roll, though the vehicle still leans partially through corners – and the diesel engine over the front end is clearly no lightweight unit.
Turning stability control off is preferable to avoid the electronic system’s tendency to cut power with far from dramatic body movements in corners, and the M50d, which features a rear-biased all-wheel-drive set-up, still feels incredibly planted.
Stability is aided by the M50d’s big (20-inch) tyres – with super-wide 275/40 rubber – and all X6 models continue to be equipped with Dynamic Performance Control, a system that has proven its worth since the original SUV coupe was launched in 2008.
Unlike many other torque vectoring systems that brake an inside wheel to help push a vehicle around a corner, the BMW version actually distributes more torque to the rear wheel that sensors detect have the most traction – typically the outer-rear.
You can feel the system working, helping to quell understeer – though on the limit it will still fail to overcome physics.
Further confidence is provided by the brakes that were consistently excellent over numerous laps; easy to modulate and with no sign of fade.
Which is just as well when you’re trying to slow a two-tonne-plus vehicle from above high speed at the end of Hidden Valley’s long straight.
The electrohydraulic steering is responsive, though. Not so good is the kickback that was evident on the track but particularly noticeable on the road, where the M50d was also prone to tramlining. The steering is also surprisingly vague - for a system tuned by M GmbH - around the straight-ahead position.
With the steering wheel moving in the hands in reaction to any surface bumps, the X6 M50d is not a vehicle that struggles to permit relaxing progress.
Which is a shame when the vehicle is thus equipped with such an effortless engine.
We’ll need to get the SUV onto our own chosen roads to deliver a definite verdict on ride quality, though we can report from our limited road time that tyre roar (not helped by those fat tyres) and wind noise are both prominent on coarse-chip country roads.
As with the rest of the new BMW X6 range, the M50d can carry up to five people - in a high-quality cabin - now that a three-seat rear bench is standard instead of the previous two-seat configuration.
Headroom and practicality are still reduced compared to the slightly smaller BMW X5 on which the X6 is based, though.
Boot space remains at 570 litres, with a maximum of 1450 litres possible if you lower the rear seatbacks.
For the main interior, the M50d doesn’t look much different to a BMW fitted with an M Sport kit – with M badges in areas such as the steering wheel and gear lever. There's also a M50d badge on the tacho dial.
The BMW X6 M50d is generally well equipped, though a $2000 ask for metallic paint still seems a bit on the nose for a car that will cost in excess of $160,000 once on-road charges are added.
And of course there is a plethora of options – covering three and a half pages in the X6 range’s dealer specification guide.
The BMW X6 is, even by the car maker’s own admission, its most controversial vehicle, mostly as a consequence of its aggressive size and shape – essentially an automotive ‘up yours’ to the anti-4WD brigade.
The BMW X6 M50d is no different in this respect, though one thing that isn’t polarising is its brilliant triple-turbo diesel engine.
And if you need more headroom and more cargo space, a BMW X5 M50d version will be here in August.