The BMW X3 M Competition – and its quasi-coupe twin, the BMW X4 M Competition driven here – are important for two very different reasons.
Firstly, these two high-performance mid-size SUVs are expected to become M Division’s biggest sellers (the X3 garnering Best Actor, the X4 in the running for the Best Supporting gong), which means they’ll want to be good. Secondly, their mechanical make-up offers our first taste of the underpinnings that’ll sit beneath the next M3.
Key to both cars is BMW’s new engine, the S58 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six. It’s a clever thing, based on the ubiquitous B58 but heavily upgraded for high-performance applications, including a closed-deck crankcase, 3D-printed cylinder head core, new mono-scroll turbochargers and super-high fuel injection pressure (350bar!). BMW claims just 10 per cent of the parts are carried over from the previous S55.
In the case of the X3/X4 M Competition the net result is 375kW at 6250rpm and 600Nm from 2600-5950rpm, enough to motivate 1970kg to 100km/h in a claimed 4.1sec, a figure which is said to be conservative. We’ll find out when we hit the drag strip in the coming months. Regardless, there’s little to complain about with the way the X3/X4 M moves. There’s a small pause as the turbos build boost but the mid-range is massive and power continues right to 7000rpm. What it’ll be like in the next M3 bereft of 400kg or so is a tantalising prospect.
Once those turbos are spinning throttle response is very sharp, almost too much so in Sport Plus, but it’s not an engine that’s really going to light the fire of too many enthusiasts. The angry snarl from outside is muted to a more cultured, synthesised hum from behind the wheel with little of the rasp that made previous M sixes such a delight to listen to. Likewise, the delivery is undoubtedly potent but there’s no crescendo of power, no incentive to chase the redline. Without wishing to dismiss the hard work of the M engine department, it feels a lot like a tuned B58 rather than an all-new unit.
The X4 M is better in the bends. In fact, it’s remarkable for a car this size and weight. The steering is short on communication and quite weighty, even in Comfort, but it’s also very accurate and the front tyres tenaciously hold your desired line. Grip from the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres (255/40 front; 265/40 rear) is very high but BMW’s M xDrive all-wheel drive system injects plenty of fun into proceedings.
There are two settings: standard 4WD is slightly rear-biased and provides excellent traction with just a hint of rear interaction; 4WD Sport doesn’t quite disconnect the front driveshafts but it certainly limits their involvement. The X4 M is remarkably keen to power oversteer and requires a lift of the throttle to regain traction when it does so, rather than just relying on the front wheels to quickly pull the whole show straight like in most of the BMW’s rivals. It feels a little contrived, but is inarguably good fun.
For pure hard-driven enjoyment, the X4 M might have a claim to being the best of the SUV bunch, but there is a ride quality penalty to be paid. Clearly, the suspension team’s goal was body control above all else, including occupant comfort. It’s not terrible, only really becoming tiresome on bumpy roads when vertical motion will have you bouncing out of your seat, and it’ll take a comparison to say it’s appreciably worse than the equally firm-riding Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S and Jaguar F-Pace SVR, but equally it’s an important consideration for a car whose primary role will be family transportation.
Judge the exterior looks for yourself – though the X3 and X4 M feel a more sensible size than bigger behemoth brothers – but the interior works well, a simpler, more intuitive set-up than the likes of the 7 and 8 Series. Excellent seats, too.
As ever, it’s tough to make a rational case for a performance SUV; if you have room for two cars the X4 M’s $164,900 buys a more suitable X3 20i for the family and M2 Competition for the weekend. But it struggles on irrational grounds, too; the substantially cheaper X3/X4 M40i twins offer much the same soundtrack and what they lose in ultimate performance they make up for in everyday comfort. Let’s hope the next M3 is a bit spicier.
2019 BMW X4 M COMPETITION SPECS
Engine: 2993cc inline-6cyl, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 375kW @ 6250rpm
Torque: 600Nm @ 2600-5950rpm
0-100km/h: 4.1sec (claimed)
Like: Genuinely entertaining to drive; very fast; loaded with equipment
Dislike: Stiff ride; engine lacks character; cheaper, more entertaining rivals
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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