BMW’s high-riding X4 M is a fast SUV coupe with a belter of an engine strapped into a polarising chassis to match its looks.
Look, I’ll come clean with you. I do not like the look of the BMW X4. The great thing about driving an ugly car, though, is that you don’t have to look at it. Beauty, as ever, is on the inside. And so I was pretty excited to get my hands on the S58-powered X4.
You see, the X4 is based on the X3, a car I drove in M40i guise and liked very much indeed. It’s fast, fun, and here in Australia, a bargain for what you get.
There is, of course, the X3 M (review soon) and but first, we have the inexplicably popular swoopy version.
Words: Peter Anderson
Images: Mr Black
How much is the X4 M and what do I get?
Price before on-roads: $164,900 (December 2019)
We’re quite lucky here in the Antipodes. Well, more accurately, we like the full-fat version of everything, so we only get the X4 M Competition (same with the X3), priced at $164,900. For comparison, the X3 M is seven grand cheaper at $157,900.
Overseas buyers can choose an X4 M with “only” 353kW. Slumming it, they are.
Bear in mind, this is a full-on M-car with all the M goodies as well as a metric ton of standard equipment, something BMW is getting better at as the days go by. The recent announcement that you don’t have to subscribe for Apple CarPlay might be a small matter, but believe me, that really stuck in my craw.
You get a mostly-digital dash, big central touchscreen, leather all over the seats, professional sat nav, Comfort Access (BMW-talk for a package of stuff including keyless entry and start and the seats remember you by the key you’re holding), adaptive LED headlights, a 16-speaker harmon kardon, stereo, wireless phone charging, multi-zone climate control, active cruise control and everything is electrically-operated including the amazing front seats with backlit M logos.
Naturally, there are many options, including ventilated seats for $1600, heated front seats ($700) and steering wheel ($500) and most of the paint colours are a scandalous $2000 or $2350. You can also get heated rear seats (fancy!) for another $700. Apart from the paint, these seem like reasonable prices to me. Carbon interior trim is a no-cost option instead of aluminium and it actually looks pretty good. You can have woodgrain trim too, but I’m not sure we can be friends if you go for that.
Safety – 5 stars (ANCAP, December 2017)
The X4 has a five-star ANCAP rating based on the standard models.
You get six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB (low speed), forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, auto high beams, head up display, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, speed sign recognition and reverse cross-traffic alert.
To stop you hitting people and things when you’re manoeuvring you get front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. The car will also steer itself into a park if you can get it to work and it will also reverse you out of a tight spot if you’ve forgotten how you got in. A bit like a black box recorder, it remembers the last 30 seconds or so of your wheel twirling and will back out exactly as you nosed in.
Warranty and servicing (December 2019)
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Like Mercedes and Audi, BMW still has a crap warranty. On a car this expensive, it should go for a lot longer. A $15,000 Kia can manage seven years, the least BMW could do is meet in the middle at five years. I’ve owned old BMWs and they were pretty good, but the length of the warranty feels wrong.
Capped-price Servicing: Condition-based. $3685 (Basic), $8173 (Plus), five years/80,000km.
For at least 15 years, BMWs have told you when they need some spanners waved at them or a fresh gulp of oil. BMWs used to be famous for high servicing costs, Ms even more so. Unlike Audi Sport, BMW will sell you a capped-price servicing package for the X4 M, offering a generous five years (see? Five years) or 80,000km (whichever comes first) for $3685. That covers most things, including oil and your annual visit will average out at around $600. Not great, but not terrible.
A couple of AMGs will cost you that for just three years.
Now, M reckons you might want to take this on a track day every now and again and are willing to offer a higher level of cover for the same period and costing $8173 and includes brake pads and discs. If it were me, I’d probably not need that because I’m fairly easy on brakes, but some people aren’t, so think carefully.
Look and Feel
The main differences between the X4 and its X3 sibling are behind the B-pillar. Where the X3 roof stays flat for a bigger load area and big tailgate, the X4’s swoops down like the bigger X6. It’s a bit shabby down low and the front is a bit gapey, but hey, I don’t need to tell you how it looks. You can look at the marvellous photos and make up your own mind.
The no-cost carbon trim on this car darkened the interior, making it a bit meaner-looking. I reckon it’s very nice and doesn’t make it seem like you’ve bought some stickers from eBay seller rajidajiweewop37,
Obviously, the roofline means a smaller boot, but it’s a mere 25 litres difference, measuring a very decent 525 litres. It’s a good boot, too – wide and sensible. Push all three sections of the 40:20:40 split fold and you have a decent 1430 litres (X3 is 1600).
That roofline also whacks some of your headroom, but I was fine and I’m just a scooch under 180cm.
The interior feels lovely and is one of BMW’s better efforts. Be nice if it had the full Live Cockpit in the dash like the new 3, X5, Z4 and X6, but you can’t have everything.
Those 21-inch wheels, though. Phwoar.
Fascinatingly, the X3/X4 M twins host the debut of the new S58 twin-turbo straight-six that will find its way under the bonnet of the new M4 when it finally arrives with its massive krill-straining grilles.
The 58 should remind you of something if you know your Ms – the X3/X4 M40i uses the B58, along with a bunch of other cars, including the late, lamented M140i. BMW says 90 percent of the parts in the S58 are new, which is probably pushing things, but I don’t care.
Because it produces 375kW from just three litres and six cylinders. Ten years ago a BMW with that kind of power had ten cylinders and 5.0-litres of displacement. And a thirst for fuel rivalled only by Warnie’s thirst for botox. That’s an astonishing amount of power, a nice round 500 horsepower.
Torque is pretty important, too, and the S58 delivers 600Nm between 2600 and 5950rpm. The redline is set at 7000rpm while peak power arrives at 6250rpm. It’s kind of nice to have a twin-turbo six that revs almost as happily as a McLaren 720S’s free-spinning V8.
Those new parts include new single-scroll turbos, 350-bar of injection pressure (for comparison, the M5 V8’s is set at 200 bar) and electrically-operated wastegates. The M exhaust makes sure other road users can hear the car. You can tell it’s going to be loud from start-up and the four black-tips blare when you’re really on it.
M’s of the past had the seven-speed DCT, but as with the M5, M’s engineers ditched it for the far superior eight-speed ZF automatic. What a belter of a combination.
Want to know something else? Like the M5’s power figure, BMW is probably under-quoting – a dyno test I’ve seen has already unearthed a figure closer to 405kW or 543hp. Yowser. And the torque is probably closer to 660Nm. Lucky it has all-wheel drive…
Floor the throttle from standstill (you might need Launch Control) and the X4 M will go from 0-100km/h in 4.1 seconds.
Two things are clear when you look at the X4 M – it’s low and it rolls on massive wheels. The 21-inch monsters are clothed in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, with 255/40s at the front and 265/40s on the rear.
An Active M differential sits between the rear wheels, which means ever so much fun. You can access the fun via a variety of ways. First, there are the mode selectors for steering, engine and suspension. You can also select three different shift programs – nice, not-so-nice and extremely naughty. You can also program a combination of these settings in the M1 and M2 ears on the steering wheel. Out of the box, M1 turns everything up to Sport and M2, which requires a second push for confirmation, switches the chassis to M Dynamic Mode. Which basically means more slip, gunshot transmission shifts and throttle response faster than a Robin Williams routine.
The dynamic dampers handle keeping the car flat in the corners and lots extra bracing – including what looks like a hefty crowbar across the engine bay – helps keep the entire chassis braced and stiff.
Chassis changes from the standard car include different swivel bearings, torque arms and wishbones with elastomer bearings.
The brakes are huge and you can see the big blue callipers through the spokes of the 21s. Ventilated (obviously) and drilled, BMW has fitted a set of stoppers they expect to work on a racetrack. No, really. And they’re from the M760i. I keep expecting BMW to announce carbon-ceramic options but so far the company says that they’re too expensive at this level.
It never ceases to amaze me how much fun M engineers can extract from an SUV. The first time I drove an X5 M50d a few years back I couldn’t believe how fast it was compared to the petrol V8. When I drove the latter, the M50d blew by me like I was parked up. Astonishing. The X5 M was in another league again.
The X4 M is quite a machine. As I said, the M40i version is pretty good, but the M is wild. That comes at a price, though. The first time I drove an M I thought it wasn’t as stiff as everyone said. A few more drives, though, and I decided that, yes, it’s quite stiff. Your family – if you have one – will really have to get used to it. Not long before I had this car I also had the Jaguar F-Pace SVR, a car that goes really fast but also rides big bumps a lot better.
What that car can’t do is handle the way this thing does. On a smooth road (you know, a race track) this thing would be an absolute weapon, despite riding high. While those 21-inch wheels might ruin the ride for some people, they more than make up for it with those sticky Michelins.
The steering is too heavy in Sport+, so keep it dialled back to either Comfort or Sport and enjoy the way this car works. The all-wheel drive system is pretty much rear-wheel drive when you punch up an M-mode. Only when things get slippy will the system send help to the front wheels.
The active diff does a ton of work in M Dynamic Mode, pointing the nose at the apex of the corner. The only thing that spoils the fun are chunky bumps. While the car won’t deviate, your backside will leave the seat if you’re not strapped down tight.
With the eight-speed working the S58 hard, you will cover ground at an almost indecent pace. The X5 M is going to have to be damn good to attract your performance dollars.
The Jaguar F-Pace SVR ($140,262) we’ve already mentioned, as well as the coupe SUV from Mercedes, the GLC63 S (from $168,100). While both of those cars pack V8s – and in the AMG, a quicker 0-100km/h time and another gear – they’re roughly the same size. You have to spend some money on the Jag to match the specification of the BMW, though. And the Jag is very loud and a hard drinker and yes, I love it, what of it?
The AMG is also loud and has a certain…reputation attached to the badge. M is a more focussed sport brand than AMG and like the C63 S, the X4 M would probably eat the GLC63 in the corners. The GLC also has higher servicing costs ($4050 for three years, $6100 for four and $6850 for five), even more if you don’t pre-pay (three years is about $5000).
Audi doesn’t have a dog in this hunt, which is a terrible shame. The SQ5 doesn’t have the RS4/RS5’s 2.9-litre V6, at least not yet.
Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio Q is a laugh but has an unconvincing interior, an even more unconvincing senior management, but it is gorgeous and sounds terrific. But it also costs too much and the options are far too expensive.
If you must, and don’t mind a massive step back in quality, overall refinement and handling, there is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk with its 700 horses and squidgy front seats.
You’re going to have to have a think about this car, as I did. It’s hugely fast and massively capable but unlike its main rivals, it doesn’t have that everyday ride quality. That’s not to say you can’t use it every day – far from it – but it’s not as comfortable. The AMG is heavier partly because it needs air suspension to make it work every day – the GLC43 is fabulously uncomfortable, way worse than the X4 M.
It is, though, the real driver’s car in the segment, while being absurdly practical despite the swoopy roofline. It isn’t the best-looking – that trophy belongs to the Jag – but boy oh boy, is it fast.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.