Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 1, 2021
Want a BMW M4 sports car but need the space, cargo capacity, and functionality of a compact SUV? Well, BMW has an answer for that with the X4 M. It’s an SUV coupe that retains all of the performance goodies that make the M4 such an emotionally appealing machine, and stuffs it into a practical SUV footprint that even your spouse or child could drive. And it’s not just BMW that has noticed this first-world problem befallen on consumers, but Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, and Jaguar too, each of them unleashing their own full-performance SUVs in the past year.
The X4 M is the coupe form of the X3 M (fret not, it still has four doors), and ditches the traditional SUV silhouette with its boxy roofline and conventional liftgate. Instead, the X4 M utilizes a sloping roofline that cuts into rear seat and cargo space, but looks sleeker and more athletic as a result. BMW also made sure to add some M-specific aesthetics to separate it from the regular X4. Look closely and you will spot the signature M quad exhausts and C-shaped side mirrors. The X4 M gets a more aggressive front and rear body kit, and some exclusive colours like the Doninton Grey paint you see on our test vehicle.
In all, it makes for a handsome SUV, from the side and rear view at least. Like many modern BMWs, the X4 M appears a tad awkward and oddly proportioned from the front. Something about the way that snout protrudes outwards and the air splitters that don’t seem aggressive enough to balance out the heavy rear-end visual weight. The X6 M manages this much better with a more impactful front fascia.
The interior follows a similar theme with added M garnish. There are M-specific leather seats, a beefy new steering wheel with red M buttons, M-coloured seat belts, unique digital displays, and a new gear shifter that operates much like the M4’s with the DCT but with an actual park button. The rest of the cabin remains ergonomic and soundly designed, exactly what makes the regular X4 such a stellar package. Many are also quick to dismiss these SUV coupes due to their poor rear accommodations but they have considerably improved. Even with my six-foot stature, I can fit comfortably in the rear. Though not as spacious as the X3 M, there is just enough head- and legroom to find a cozy position for lengthy rides. The expansive sunroof aids in reducing the cramped feeling as well, though the view out the rear windshield remains limited.
What you’re really paying for with the X4 M isn’t the looks or the interior, but the performance. The X4 M receives a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six good for 473 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Courtesy of more boost and a more efficient M Sport exhaust, Competition models receive 30 more horsepower for a total of 503 hp. BMW says this new S58 unit is their most powerful straight-six engine ever produced, and judging by how BMW tends to underrate their vehicle outputs, this is going to be one fiery sleigh.
Rather than a dual-clutch gearbox, BMW mated the engine with an 8-speed ZF transmission to fit their M xDrive all-wheel drive system that first debuted with the M5. While the system is rear-biased for a sportier feel, you cannot disconnect the front axle for a pure RWD mode like you can in the M5. BMW also added stiffer springs, retuned adaptive dampers, stronger brakes, a sports exhaust, and beefier alloy wheels. Like other M models, the X4 M comes with adjustable modes for the steering, suspension, and engine response, each with their own dedicated button on the center console. The steering wheel is flanked by two red M buttons that drivers can program to any settings they choose, working much like the shortcut dials on Porsches and AMGs.
Furthermore, there is a dedicated exhaust button like in the M5 that can close the valves for a quieter cruise through the neighbourhood, and trust me when I say that this is a godsend. Because like the M4, the straight-six here revs up to the stratosphere with barely a touch of the gas pedal. What follows is a howling, reverberating, acoustically shattering wail that might not sound as elegant as a V8, but its high-pitch tones are as equally stimulating. While the engine application here doesn’t rev with the same lightness and eagerness as the M4, it still emits that distinct auditory tone that can’t be mistaken for anything but a BMW straight-six. And when it’s time to roll back home, shutting off the exhaust turns the X4 M into a quiet and docile creature.
Those cross-shopping with other performance SUVs might notice that many of BMW’s rivals are hoarding large V8 engines like the Jaguar F-Pace SVR (550 hp) and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S (also 503 hp). But just because the X4 M lacks two cylinders and a fair amount of displacement does not mean that it’s not up to snuff. Surely, its 503 hp in Competition guise isn’t all for naught, and the S58 does not disappoint. It’s a sweetheart of an engine and the inherent balance and high-revving nature makes the X4 M such a wild and sonorous street weapon. Simply mash the gas pedal in Sport Plus Mode and hold on tight. For an SUV to accelerate this quickly and offer such a ferocious kick back to the seat is nothing short of impressive. The engine peaks at a scintillating 7,200 rpm too, and the tachometer on the head-up display will ensure you don’t forget to shift. The 8-speed ZF is a more welcome companion than the DCT as well. It’s not as abrupt, harsh, or as penalizing at low speeds, and shifts with a similar amount of speed and ferocity.
When all is said and done, the X4 M Competition sprints from 0-100 km/h in 4.1 seconds (4.2 seconds in non-Competition models), which is faster than the F-Pace SVR (4.3 seconds), but significantly slower than the Stelvio Quadrifoglio (3.8 seconds) and GLC 63 S AMG (3.8 seconds). I believe that delta mainly comes down to the weight of the X4 M, and while it already clocks in 14 kg less than its X3 M SUV counterpart, I’m scratching my head because the BMW weighs a whopping 133 kg more than the AMG, and an even more worrying 179 kg more than the Alfa. In fact, the X4 M is nearly as heavy as the Lamborghini Urus. So while the BMW has the power, the actual power-to-weight ratio isn’t even close, and you will feel that extra heft when thrashing it around corners at higher speeds. This is perhaps the reason why BMW has tuned the X4 M to be so darn stiff.
Riding around town at low speeds exposes its weakest link: the ride quality. While having a stiff and flat ride with barely any body roll is desirable in a sports car or a track event, it’s not exactly a welcome quality for a car designed for civil duties or in this case, an SUV designed to do that at terminal velocity. The X4 M Competition, even in its softest Comfort setting, hugs and caresses every bump in the road, resulting in an exceedingly rough and taxing ride. A great deal of vertical motions shuffle their way into the cabin, and the thumping noise as the tires grope every bump reverberates the chassis and the resulting acoustical bass never stops buzzing in your ears. Don’t get us wrong, the X4 M does not demonstrate poor road compliance, rather it seems a little too focused on performance.
You could say that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio and GLC 63 are stiff riders, but they are actually balanced and walk on that fine line between stiff and supple. The ride quality in the Macan Turbo is possibly the best tuned of the bunch, and just goes to show that you don’t need a harsh ride to make an SUV feel sporty. The solution for those looking for a softer sprung family hauler with a usable amount of performance? Check out the X4 M40i variant instead. And just because the BMW uses a six-cylinder instead of a V8, don’t expect more impressive fuel economy numbers. We still averaged a dismal 15.8 L/100km over a mix of both city and highway driving, the same as our GLC 63 S.
The X4 M Competition uses proper ingredients and BMW has managed to pull off an exceptionally enjoyable performance SUV, but there are clear tradeoffs that sacrifice civility for performance. The weight is an issue, and there is only so much a stiff ride and rev-happy S58 engine can do to make up for that. Those who can forgive the taxing ride however, will find a true M car for the family.
Model: 2021 BMW X4 M Competition
Paint Type: Donington Grey Metallic
Base Price: $95,600
Price as Tested: $108,095
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,762 / 1,927 / 1,618
Curb weight (kg): 2,082
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 503 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 442 lb-ft @ 2,600 - 5,950 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 15.8
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.6 / 12.1 / 14.6