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Divisive ‘sports activity coupé’ is meant to drive like an M3 on stilts. So, does it?

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The subject of this week’s road test, the BMW X4 M, is unlikely to stir your soul in the manner of M division’s former glories. At the same time, for BMW's niche-filling product strategists, it would have been an irresistible project.

In 2018, four years after the original BMW X4 hit our roads as an BMW X6 downsized in both dimensions and cost, the second-generation model was introduced, and as of September, year-to-date sales have grown by more than 40%. Be in no doubt: outside enthusiast circles, there is an appetite for high-riding coupés with a similar footprint to mid-sized executive saloons.

As long as BMW remains wedded to steel coil suspension for all of its M-cars, I don’t see how its fast SUVs can really compete with the very best. For me, they lack dynamic versatility

No self-respecting line-up is complete without a ‘halo’ model, so there is now the X4 M Competition. The car is aimed at the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, the flamboyant Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the Porsche Macan Turbo but is part of a broader roll-out of SUV-based M-cars that includes the expensive BMW X5 M and BMW X6 M and the X4 M’s more conventional-looking but mechanically identical BMW X3 M sibling.

This year, BMW has also given us coupé, cabriolet and four-door M8 variants as it continues to leverage the mammoth marketing influence of its motorsport sub-brand.

Next year, BMW will launch an all-new M3, which is where this road test of the X4 M Competition gets intriguing. BMW says the X4 M and X3 M have been set up to deliver the driving experience of the upcoming M3 super-saloon, but with the ‘added assurance’ of four-wheel drive and a higher driving position. This is also the first chance we’ve had to experience BMW’s new S58 3.0-litre straight six, which looks certain to feature in the upcoming M3, and probably in the same state of tune.

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The X4 M Competition has lofty ambitions, then, but are we looking at an exhibition in compromise and a positive bellwether for the most popular performance saloon of all time, or something more confused and less appealing? Let’s find out.

The BMW X4 range at a glance

BMW’s engine derivative range for the X4 looks like a slightly truncated one compared with the related X3 (there’s no entry-level petrol ‘20i’ option and no petrol-electric PHEV). It does contain no fewer than three performance options, though, and any of them should hit 62mph from rest in less than 5.0sec.

All X4s get four-wheel drive and BMW’s ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. Trim levels, meanwhile, start with Sport and progress through M Sport and M Sport X, before you get to the heady heights of the M division-developed models.

Price £80,110 Power 503bhp Torque 443lb ft 0-60mph 4.0sec 30-70mph in fourth 6.7sec Fuel economy 23.3mpg CO2 emissions 239g/km 70-0mph 44.4m



BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - hero side

The proliferation of coupé-SUV models will mean you’re now familiar with the concept. The German firm describes the new BMW X4 as a ‘sports activity coupé’ but in principle this is typical fare: simply a five-seat SUV with a sloping rear roofline, and as such it trades passenger space and boot volume for a dash more ‘elegance’.

In terms of width and length, the X4 M Competition is comparable to the latest BMW 3 Series, but its height, along with substantial air intakes, 21in wheels and aggressive details, such as the rear diffuser and gurney flap on the bootlid, give it the presence of a far larger car.

X4 M Competition doesn’t boast a kidney grille on quite the same scale as some of its recent range-mates, but it’s still a substantial detail made all the more menacing by gloss-black trim.

In short, you’re unlikely to miss it pass by, but the hardware beneath the bodywork is of greater interest. For a start, the six-cylinder S58 engine, although developed from the B58 found in the X4 M40i, is almost entirely new, with a redesigned block, cylinder head, pistons and crankshaft. The two turbochargers are controlled by electric actuators, while improved intake and exhaust tracts mean 503bhp (473bhp for the non-Competition X4 M, which isn’t available in the UK) can now be achieved without resorting to watercooling, as was necessary for the old M4 GTS. This is the most powerful six-cylinder engine ever fitted to a production BMW, and it delivers peak torque across a much broader band than the outgoing S55, even if the 7300rpm redline is lower.

Drive is sent via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic that replaces M’s old seven-speed dual-clutch auto, and downstream of that sits the transfer case for BMW’s M xDrive system, before an Active M diff at the rear axle. As with all M division SUVs, there is no way to ‘uncouple’ the front driveshafts as you can with the BMW M5, but the torque split is rear-biased and the kinematics of the adaptively damped suspension have been revised for better wheel control, grip and stability.

Powerful SUVs are unashamed in their road-biased disposition, and this X4 M is no different. Michelin’s Pilot Sport 4S tyres – the sort of rubber you would expect to find on BMW’s quicker saloon and coupé models – are standard.

All this technology does not come cheap, but there’s another cost: weight. Even without heavy mechanical features such as air suspension and four-wheel steering, the X4 M Competition still weighs a claimed 1970kg. However, this isn’t unusual for the class and, at the scales, the BMW splits the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the Mercedes GLC 63 S.


BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - cabin

Architecturally there’s little about the X4 M Competition’s cabin that differentiates it from its lower-order siblings – and that’s no bad thing. BMW's familiar blend of sophisticated materials and user-friendliness is present and correct, only this time coming with an additional layer of subtle performance paraphernalia.

Our test car’s optional carbonfibre panelling is complemented smartly by glossy piano black surfacing, while a chunky M division gearshifter protrudes from the centre console. Atop the spokes of the thick-rimmed steering wheel sit two suitably eye-catching bright red buttons labelled ‘M1’ and ‘M2’, used for saving and dialling up your own personal preferences for the car’s various system configurations.

Red ‘M’ buttons on the steering wheel are programmable. You can set preferences for damping, powertrain responsiveness and steering weight.

Muscular sports seats are heavily bolstered and upholstered in attractive quilted leather. Adjustability is excellent, as is the support. The front chairs position you suitably low but aren’t so recumbent as to jeopardise the view over the attractively sharp creases in the X4’s bonnet to the road ahead.

It might run BMW’s previous-generation Professional Multimedia Navigation System, but the X4 M Competition’s infotainment suite is still far superior to that which you’d find in an equivalent F-Pace or Stelvio.

The 10.25in display is clear and easy to read, with enough processing power to ensure that transitions between menus are slick and relatively seamless. Control is via touchscreen or rotary dial, although it’s the dial that proves to be the easiest means of interacting with the system – particularly when on the move. Dedicated shortcut buttons provide quick and easy access between the system’s main features.

Standard equipment includes satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a Harman Kardon surround sound system – although, as is increasingly the case with BMW these days, you have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay preparation (£235). Considering the effectiveness of the base system, however, you’d might find you could get away without it.

What results is an interior that wants for little by way of technology, performance flavour or luxury appeal, looking and feeling very much in step with what we’ve come to expect from a contemporary high-performance BMW.

There is, however, a degree of compromise that comes with opting for the X4 M’s sloping roofline over the more conventionally shaped BMW X3 M Competition: rear practicality takes a hit. According to our tape measure, the X4 M Competition’s rear bench offers a typical leg room figure of 720mm, while head room stands at 920mm. Respectively, that’s 30mm and 55mm less than the standard X3 we road tested last year (which suggests the sports seats of M-cars do indeed rob a bit of leg room).

Boot space stands at 525 litres with the rear bench in place. While still usefully large, it is 25 litres less than that offered by the X3. With the bench collapsed, the boot opens out to a maximum of 1430 litres.


BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - engine

However many times you’ve witnessed it, it remains difficult not to be alarmed by what two tonnes of luxury SUV feels like as it catapults its way to 60mph in four seconds flat, and then on to 100mph in a little over nine. As a sensation, it’s certainly extraordinary and not a little absurd.

The BMW X4 M Competition makes it seem all the more of the latter because, just like the hot Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, it has a quite violent electronic launch control that sets it going more like a motorsport special than any normal family car you can think of. Engaging launch control on a car of this size and weight seems like admitting that you’ve lost your grip on rational thinking completely, and you’re out to explore what else life has to offer.

Given how quick this new six-cylinder engine feels under the bonnet of a two-tonne SUV, I’m excited to see how effective it’ll be in the new – and hopefully much lighter – M3

The fact remains, however, that we’ve witnessed several of the X4 M Competition’s established rivals going almost exactly this fast when we’ve benchmarked them over the past two years, and one or two – the GLC 63 S 4Matic+ mostly notably – have been quicker still. So if you take in this car’s mock-coupé roofline and imagine you’re looking at a car with more get-up-and-go than boxier-looking fast 4x4s, you should think again. AMG aside, a Jaguar F-Pace SVR is just as quick to 110mph, and would be quicker still at derestricted autobahn speeds.

The Jaguar and Mercedes-AMG both use forced V8 engines, of course, and compared with sledgehammers like those, you’d hope that BMW M’s all-important new S58 inline six would offer greater delicacy, linearity and precision in its delivery in return for giving up a bit of outright punch.

You won’t be disappointed on those scores. The X4 M has first-rate turbocharged throttle response and pulls with genuinely striking evenness, as well as with true grit and muscularity, as the revs rise. At no point does it wallop you in the back with a sudden swell of boost; rather, it feels as if an inch of extra accelerator travel deployed at 3000rpm is worth almost exactly as much as it is at double that crank speed.

Even so, most testers agreed that the BMW’s engine, well-partnered as it undoubtedly is to BMW’s eight-speed auto ’box, lacks at least some of the blockbusting audible presence of the engines you’ll find in many of its rivals. Some also questioned whether the delicacy and precision of a great BMW Motorsport six is really what fast SUV buyers may be after.


BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - on the road nose

The audible character of the BMW X4 M Competition may be a little reserved, but the car’s handling character is a lot more lurid – and being present right on the surface of its driving experience makes it seem all the more so. It’s as if this were a car tuned never to be more exciting than to a slightly disinterested driver navigating a roundabout at 43mph.

The steering is quite fast-geared, medium-heavy and delivers some but not much feedback, but it isn’t one you’d describe as particularly intuitive. Working in tandem with BMW's uncompromisingly firm suspension, it makes the X4 M considerably more agile at low speeds than you expect something so big and tall to be. With familiarity you become used to the snappy directional responses, but none of our testers ever became totally comfortable with them.

Get brave around tighter bends and you can easily make the X4 M oversteer with power – but you’ll need to be fast and precise with the steering to do it assuredly.

BMW M’s menu of driver-configurable systems is thankfully present, and by dialling down the engine, transmission, suspension and steering systems to their most becalmed settings, it could just about be massaged into something with the drivability and good manners to be used every day.

Even so, some testers found the car’s handling to be quite tiringly high-strung and frustratingly contrived even thus configured and, while they might have recognised it as a fairly authentic M-car in its wilder moments, would have hesitated to call it a typical luxury BMW in any of them.

During those wild moments, the car exhibits plenty of grip and traction and has all the body control and handling balance needed to sustain lots of cornering speed on a smooth surface. That the chassis declines to understeer as you accelerate beyond the lateral limit of the tyres but can snap quite suddenly into oversteer if you rein in the electronic stability controls makes it not unlike its immediate rivals from Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-AMG: finely balanced almost to a fault and exciting with it – but not particularly stable-feeling or inviting to drive quickly. Such are the problems that remain inherent in attempting to make big, tall, heavy SUVs handle like super-saloons, even in 2019 and with the very latest torque-vectoring four-wheel-drive systems involved.

The car’s stability on B-roads is considerably less impressive than on flatter surfaces, its ride becoming unyielding and excitable when given bigger, sharper inputs to deal with, and its on-board comfort levels deteriorate quite starkly. Someone who bought a performance SUV expecting a car more suited to rougher topography than a sports saloon certainly wouldn’t find their match with the X4 M.

The game of dynamic high stakes played by makers of performance SUVs might seldom present itself to a driver in everyday use, but drive the X4 M to its limits somewhere like the Millbrook’s Hill Route and you can’t fail to notice it.

It comes across as a sense that this car, like certain rivals, has a little too much agility, lateral grip and body control for its own good, and so it can be quite highly strung, unpredictable and a little unstable with its electronic aids disabled. There’s no shortage of keenness about the way it changes direction and no meagreness about the way it holds the road or supports its mass. Pour on power mid-corner and the driveline throws the lion’s share of torque at the rear axle.

Leave the traction and stability controls active and the car remains secure. But turn them off and you’ll find that the X4 M can take attitude very quickly on corner exit and feel on a knife edge as it runs short of grip.


This is where the X4 M Competition really starts to come unstuck. While it is undoubtedly fair to expect a degree of businesslike severity from the ride of any performance car, the general consensus among our testers was that BMW might be guilty of losing sight of why people buy SUVs in the first place. Everyday usability remains a key part of their appeal, even in go-faster form, and when a car rides as harshly as this one does, that usability is inevitably compromised – and to a level that might ultimately make this car feel little less pragmatic in daily use than either of its key rivals from Alfa Romeo or Mercedes-AMG.

Even with its adaptive dampers set to Comfort, this X4 M is a trying vehicle to drive. Taut to the point of very nearly feeling at odds with the Tarmac beneath its 21in alloys, its ride is defined by a persistent jostling and fidgeting that is at its most agitated on uneven country roads. Its body is so firmly sprung that there’s little room left for any compliance through compressions, and on tougher surfaces – even in BMW’s softer damper modes – that springing feels like it’s adversely affecting outright body control, not boosting it. At low speeds, the chassis stumbles over potholes and manhole covers with limited grace or sophistication, while motorways only go so far at settling things down.

The cabin is, at least, reasonably well isolated in relation to those of its rivals. There is a degree of wind noise at speed, but it’s the road roar generated by those 21in alloy wheels that announces its presence to the greatest extent. At a sustained 70mph cruise, our microphone returned a reading of 68dB – equal to an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and 1dB louder than a Jaguar F-Pace SVR.


BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - hero front

The BMW X4 M’s enlarged body and vaguely practical inclinations can be misleading: it is as costly to buy and run as any other car with comparable performance, if not more so.

The BMW’s £80,110 list price puts it at the top of the class with the Mercedes GLC 63 S. The X4 M costs £10,000 more than even the dynamically superior Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, although many might feel the extra is worth paying for the more convincing interior and infotainment.

Being pricey initially and on a steeper downward glide path in our projections, the X4 M isn’t expected to hold its value like rivals

The BMW is less convincing where residual value and everyday economy are concerned. It struggled to muster more than 30mpg at a steady cruise, recorded a real-world range of only 330 miles (despite a generous 65-litre tank) and is forecast to retain just 54% of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, with commensurately high monthly lease costs.



BMW X4 M Competition 2019 road test review - static

The BMW X4 M Competition demonstrates just how challenging the process of crafting an effective, likeable performance SUV can be. If the niche’s current incumbents show one thing, it’s that there’s no one route to success. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR stands out for its ability to combine pile-driving V8 character and poise in a comfortable everyday package. An Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is far more unforgiving but its agility lends it a distinct charm and appeal all of its own.

The X4 M, however, doesn’t possess an obvious endearing trait that justifies its shortcomings; it does plenty well enough but nothing to truly stand out. Its engine is effective, if a little flat on character. The chassis is agile at a superficial level but fails to feel particularly composed or inspiring on either road or track. Its cabin is plush, but any serenity is undermined by a highly strung ride.

Fast and precise, if short on the big-time charisma you’d expect

Perhaps the unusually serious performance character will curry some favour but, in our book, a performance SUV needs greater dynamic versatility, a broader repertoire of abilities and more bombastic performance charisma than this to truly stand out.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

BMW X4 M First drives