Amongst the frenzy, there is a moment of calm when the limit of adhesion is broken and the rear axle breaks free. It doesn’t have to be a lurid drift; a slight, ever so subtle sensation of yaw is all it takes. The car feels alive beneath you and at your fingertips. It’s a level of playfulness that enamours and excites.
It’s just not a feeling you expect to come from an SUV. Traversing the copious number of winding roads nestled within Victoria’s Alpine region, it’s all too easy to forget that the BMW X4M Competition is, in fact, a near two-tonne SUV. The high-riding coupe has a dynamic ability that it has no right to employ.
The sun is in its final stages of descent and the air is beginning to cool, but instead of inputting an address of the nearest motel, our GPS coordinates point to a destination high in the sky. Falls Creek is one of Australia’s few snow epicentres, however, right now it’s far from a winter wonderland. Nope, it’s driving nirvana.
Slinking out of Bright isn’t really an option. The $164,900 X4M turns heads and pricks ears. The SUV-coupe form factor confuses many, while the angry, boosted straight-six growl baffles the rest. It’s a somewhat uncomfortable concoction. If you wrestle with the idea of a performance SUV, then the X4M Comp is a concept even harder to digest.
Something else that’s hard is the ride quality. Fitted with stiffened steel springs and, thankfully, adaptive dampers, the big BMW struggles to live up to the name of its most supple ‘Comfort’ mode. All the imperfections of Tawonga Gap road are being translated into the cabin. However, the Comp isn’t sans damper sophistication. And as the tarmac smooths and becomes twistier as it wraps around the mountain ranges, the X4M comes alive. The big, 1970kg body shrinks around you, with the rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system doing its best to mimic a rear-drive setup.
While you can’t fully disengage the front axle, play with the myriad modes like 4WD Sport, and the rear will step out with little provocation on corner exit. Body control is kept in check and the way it transfers its heft on changes of direction is mighty impressive. Chasing the horizon apex after apex, it’s hard not to recognise that the X4M Comp feels more dynamically adept and entertaining than the M135i hot hatch – although it is $99,910 more expensive.
With road-biased Continental SportContact6 rubber (255/40 front; 265/40 rear), the X4M Comp hooks up and explodes out of tight hairpins. The M division’s handy work is evident as the twin-turbo straight-six inhales the crisp, cool air. Interestingly, the new S58-generation engine is seeing its first use here, and not in the upcoming M3/M4.
Despite some initial low-down lag, once it has a full head of steam, the 375kW/600Nm six is unrelenting. It catapults you forward at an alarming rate. The 3.7-second 0-100km/h time recorded earlier in the day is proof. The eight-speed torque-converter auto does its best to replicate the instant shifts of a dual-clutch, but it just misses the mark. The flip side is it’s much more obedient at slow speeds.
With ample grunt on tap and plunging cliffs aplenty, it’s refreshing to feel a progressive brake pedal underfoot. The ventilated stoppers arrest the relentless fury, either while heading for the clouds or plunging down steep declines. That sensation of feedback also applies to the steering, although it becomes far too artificially heavy in the sportiest modes.
As night falls the temperature plummets. The calendar might say we’re in summer, but the BOM app computes that it ‘feels like’ -1.2 degrees. That piece of information induces numerous profanities as the assembled Wheels team freezes in a hybrid of winter and summer attire. We all feel ill equipped and as if we’re sliding into the initial stages of hyperthermia. The X4M Comp has company, the Range Rover Velar SV Autobiography and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S have joined the Bimmer for a comparison test you’ll see soon.
With the final shots for the magazine in the bag, seeking refuge in the leather-bound, but crucially, climate-controlled cabin becomes paramount. The new-gen BMW interiors are a huge leap forward, by being both ergonomically sound and visually appealing. But does it feel $165K special? After hours behind the wheel, I’m not so sure.
The 525-litre boot easily swallows the quirky photoshoot props we’ve lugged along, while the 40/20/40-split rear seats allow a pair of snow skis to be stowed appropriately. There’s a 25-litre compromise for opting for the X4 over the X3, as well as restricted back-seat headroom, but many won’t care when the tapered silhouette turns more heads.
Cranking the heat to 28 degrees is the first port of call, while switching on the heated and ventilated seats concurrently proves a masterstroke as hot air is fed through the supportive M Sport seat. Our test car’s bright-red leather won’t be to everyone’s taste, however. Selecting the right route while traversing a section of rocky dirt track becomes vital – who said an X4M would never go off-road?
It’s late. Eyes are bleary and the wits of the team are being tested after navigating safely past the plentiful nocturnal wildlife. Mercifully the hotel comes into view and it’s finally time to park up for the night. Pressing the red starter button kills the burbling straight six – only ticking can be heard as the dormant S58 cools.
The X4M Competition is abundantly talented for what it is – a performance-orientated SUV. That much is overtly clear from behind the thick-rimmed steering wheel. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact BMW’s M division has created a hyped-up, jacked-up SUV coupe that confuses and beguiles in equal measures. And I’m strangely okay with that.