Road Tests

Drive Review: BMW X4 M (2019) is from multiple divisions

If BMW is to be believed, the BMW X4 M is basically the new M4 a year early, only, a bit taller. The X4 M was developed to behave like an ‘M4 X’, we’re told: a taller sports-saloon instead of a faster crossover. 

Powering it is M Division’s new 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged straight-six engine, which has been in development for almost five years. It has no hybrid assistance, no water-injection system (like the old M4 GTS) and is smaller than AMG’s fabulous V8, yet it’s just as powerful.

The standard BMW X4 M makes 353kW, and in the X4 M Competition version we’re driving here, you get 375kW. Both versions generate 600Nm of torque. That means you can go from 0-100kph in under 4.5 seconds, run on to beyond 250kph if you could unhook the limiter. The new M4 may be quicker still, but does it need to be?

Underneath, the X4 M is a compilation of the latest M5’s greatest hits. The same four-wheel-drive system (albeit without the party trick of going rear-wheel drive only, thank heavens), the same electronic rear differential, and the same choice of many modes and settings for the car’s behaviour. 

So, choose from an Efficient, Sport or Sport Plus engine and gearbox, and Comfort / Sport / Sport Plus steering and suspension modes. There are two tempting red ‘M’ shortcut buttons on the steering wheel to quickly arrive at your chosen combination. 

And with that, let’s get to the bit that all M cars worth their tricolore should excel at: the driving.

The first over several large problems with how the X4 M drives concerns its ride comfort. Or the complete lack of it. Like its key rival, the GLC 63 AMG Coupe, the X4 M’s thudding, shatteringly stiff ride is totally unnecessary and ruins the car. With the AMG, things are a tad better in the SUV, but with BMW, you get the same intolerably firm ride with both the X3 and X4 versions, so there’s no escaping it. And at a stroke, the X4 M goes from being an odd car to a downright pointless one. 

Oh, it’s impressive on track, if you like irrelevances. We lapped it around the fearsome Monticello Motorsport Park in New York and the X4 M was easy to drive very, very fast. The brakes stood up terrifically well to repeated big stops from over 200kph, slowing the two-tonne X4M reassuringly time after time – meaning BMW M is finally getting its act together with steel brakes as well as ceramics. That’s the good news. 

The bad news is that even with its rear-biased AWD and the stiff suspension and the ‘M Dynamic Mode’ stability control, the new BMW X4M is a mute device. It doesn’t squirm under you or suggest rear-drive pretentions like an Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio or the AMG. It’s a point-to-point device. It’s very Audi-ish. One-dimensional. And back on the road, the ride’s too hard to enjoy any of it. And maddeningly, that’s true in Comfort mode, as well as the harsher settings.

Right, the engine. Here’s a stat for you: BMW has been working on the X3 M for four and a half years. The engine has taken closer to five years. It shares almost nothing with the 3.0-litre straight six you’ll find in the X3 M40i, other BMW M40is like the Z4, and the new Toyota Supra. It’s lighter than the old M straight-six, there’s less turbo lag, a 3D-printed head, and it develops 375kW in Competition form. The old M4 GTS was a few horses down on that, and it needed a fancy water-injection system to get there. This engine’s got lots more headroom.

It drives the X4 M via the M5’s eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is fabulously smooth in manual mode but has a curiously haphazard shift strategy as an auto. And the M-specific gear lever is an ergonomic disaster. 

Of course, it’s a fast car, but so’s everything these days. Crucially, this isn’t an exciting engine. Not as bombastic as the Jag F-Pace SVR or GLC’s enormously exciting V8, nor as sharp and savage as the Alfa’s V6. Throttle response is fine, but BMW is still struggling to make a modern turbo engine sound half-decent.

Exhaust parp is synthetic and the hi-fi supplements engine noise, in an attempt to fool an X4 M passenger into thinking they’re in something palpably more special than an X4 M40i. BMW’s very proud of the 7,200rpm redline, but max power and torque arrive earlier, so the engine’s done its best work by about 6k. The rest of the revs don’t do much.

The X4’s cabin is one of BMW’s best, straddling the line between not being too dull and boring, and doing without some of the 8 Series’ gaudier touches and the latest infotainment tech which spoils, like in the 3 Series, X7 and Z4. Overall, the materials are much better than BMW’s last-gen fare, and it seems well-assembled. The gap to Audi has been closed right up.

In the back, it’s not as headroom-compromised as you might imagine – a six-foot adult won’t crick their neck. However, the seat squabs cushions are very short, to give the impression there’s more legroom than there actually is. Pop round to the boot and you notice it’s a very long space, which is great, but you’d surely have sacrificed that for a longer, comfier rear bench. Except of course, it’s been pushed that far forward. The inherent compromise of the SUV Coupe there, eating into your space, visibility and the boundaries of good taste in the name of looking a bit more rakish. You pays your money…

One of the odd own-goals concerns those curious M mirrors complete with an extra spar that doesn’t actually hold the casing onto the car. They generate a huge amount of wind noise, which is a pity when the engine settles into such a quiet cruise at speed. 

The new BMW X4 M could have been a good car, because, pained as we are to admit it, there are some pretty handy fast SUVs out there. 

The Porsche Macan is a superb everyday all-rounder, and a one-time handling king. It’s been usurped by the cheaper-feeling but sprightly Alfa Stelvio QV. And the GLC63 AMG is a hooligan – a hot rod for the school run, and much as it should represent everything we dislike about cars, it’s the ultimate Top Gear guilty pleasure. The new BMW X4 M just doesn’t get there. Too firm, too mute, too soulless. It’s too much of what we don’t like about modern cars, and too little of what we love about great BMWs. 

Original source: BMW X4 M TopGear

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