Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 2, 2022
To many buyers, ticking the box for all-wheel drive (AWD) is like buying insurance. It’s not always necessary but most will want it for a peace of mind when the weather gets rough, especially when the upcharge is reasonable. It’s no coincidence that fixed mortgage rates are more popular than variable ones - predictability wins in the end.
And from a performance perspective, adding AWD makes even more sense. More driven wheels means more traction. More traction means more grip, faster launches, and better acceleration. And as power outputs swell thanks to advancements in automotive engineering, AWD becomes one of the easiest and most effective ways to get power to the ground. Just look at the BMW M5, Mercedes-AMG E 63, Acura NSX, and the Jaguar F-Type SVR. Each of them used to be rear-wheel drive only, with the adoption of AWD being born almost out of necessity to translate their prodigious outputs into forward motion.
The same is now true for the BMW M4 Competition M xDrive, the first M4 to drive all four wheels. BMW still offers a rear-wheel drive, non-Competition, manual gearbox only version for those who want a more distilled driving experience, and we are one of them. AWD tends to muddy the steering feel as the front wheels are now trying to steer and put power to the ground. It also adds weight with its extra internals and driveshaft, and it hikes up the overall price tag too.
We certainly didn’t complain about a lack of grip when we flogged a rear-driven M3 around CTMP’s Driver Development Track last summer. So does the G82-series BMW M4 even need all-wheel drive and should you save your hard-earned cash? Let’s start off with some quickfire numbers from the spec sheet first.
The AWD variant costs $2,500 more than the RWD. Power and output remains the same at 503 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, but the AWD will reach 0-100 km/h four-tenths of a second faster (3.5s vs. 3.9s). The AWD is 1mm taller probably due to the added driveshaft and internals, and it’s also 45 kg heavier. The front axle geometry and steering ratio has been revised, but all other dimensions remain the same, including fuel tank size, wheelbase, and interior space. Though, the AWD’s turning circle is slightly wider, and fuel economy should take a small hit. Visually, they are identical. There isn’t even an xDrive badge on the back, so no one will know you took the safe route. Also equipped on both are staggered 19-inch front and 20-inch rear tires, a slick 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, an adaptive suspension, adjustable brake pedal feel, and an adjustable exhaust sound.
So what’s the verdict? Well it’s a clever AWD system. It’s rear-biased for better sporting feel, and with the help of an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch and an M differential, it can transfer torque between front and rear axles, as well as between the two rear wheels. BMW states that only when additional traction is required, will torque be sent to the front, ensuring the most unfiltered and natural driving experience. It’s still easy to kick the rear end, but it takes much more careless throttle application, a slippery surface, or just traction control disabled, to get the most out of it. Good thing then, like the BMW M5, there are also three modes for the AWD: the default 4WD, 4WD Sport which puts more bias on the rear wheels, and 2WD which essentially disconnects the front axle, turning the M4 into a strictly rear-wheel drive coupe. The stability control system has to be unactivated to access this mode, so drivers better know what they are doing.
Even in the snowy conditions we found ourselves in, the M4 Competition xDrive never skipped a beat, we hardly ever saw the traction light come on, and there was an overcasting feeling of, well, overconfidence. We didn’t have to be gentle with the throttle, we did not have to baby the brake pedal when the front tires weren’t pointing straight, and matting the gas in a high-speed second-gear right hander didn’t even have us breaking a sweat. Every time we tried to coax the rear end to slip out with a generous dose of throttle and wheel rotation, the M4 would grip up immediately, tenaciously anchor its output to the ground, and make us look like driving heroes.
It was clearly crafted for drivers who prize handling and have some great serpentine roads to explore in their backyard. Grip limits are tremendously high and most drivers will struggle to reach that ceiling outside of a track. The M4 is genuinely one of the most well-rounded and expertly executed performance coupes we have driven in the past year, and AWD only adds to its all-weather appeal.
Now before we continue to wax poetic, we do have to mention a few things that nagged at us during our week with the M4. First, the steering is all numb and devoid of feedback, but we’ve honestly grown used to it over the years and don’t mind it as much. But hopping back and forth from say, a Porsche 911 or an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio will remind you just what you’re missing, and exacerbate the disparity even more.
Gone is the 7-speed dual-clutch and in its place is a more traditional 8-speed torque converter automatic. That’s not a bad thing as this 8-speed feels just as quick, firing through each gear at bullet speeds but with a refined smoothness that makes the dual-clutch feel unpolished and antiquated. It’s still not very gentle nor smooth in the M4’s flurry of Sport modes, but we think that’s because we weren’t driving it hard enough. As with most M3s and M4s, driving them slowly is punishing. Driving them quickly is rewarding.
Also like its predecessor, the new M4 Competition howls and sings with a typical straight-six song, but it’s not the most melodic of exhaust notes, sounding loud just for the sake of being loud. It’s more metallic grinding than mellifluous orchestra, losing some of those distinctive notes of a previous-generation M440i with a Performance Exhaust, but it should undoubtedly satisfy most ears, and you will certainly hear one when it’s speeding down the opposite lane of traffic. You can switch off the exhaust too with a dedicated button on the center console, effectively stuffing its pipes with a cotton ball and letting you punter around in relative silence.
Say what you will about the controversial beaver teeth grill but you have to admit, the M4 is more striking and characterful than an Audi RS 5 or Lexus RC F. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but we think it commands a great deal of road presence in the proper spec, and the grill looks even better in the M4 GT3 race car that debuted just last year. BMW also offers a plethora of M Performance Parts, from an LFA-like quad stacked exhaust system to a carbon fibre wing and body kit. To each their own. All we have to say is, green over tan is wunderbar.
And speaking of tan, the Tartufo Merino leather ($2,500) is a stunner - we had a similar spec with the Alpina B8 we tested last year. The rest of the cabin can come across as slightly undramatic though, and the layout will be familiar to anyone that has spent time in a modern BMW. The thick-rimmed steering wheel is flanked by red M buttons that can be conveniently programmed to any custom driving mode, though the paddle shifters don’t click with the same positive or premium feedback as those in a C 63 AMG.
Actual dials and buttons complement the rotary dial and 10.25-inch center touchscreen. A fully digital 12.3-inch instrument panel sits in front of the driver but it’s a convoluted mess of fonts and nonlinear shapes that makes deciphering the displayed information a chore. We’ve tried the carbon bucket seats before with the schlong holder as we like to call it, but we find these sport seats much more comfortable and welcoming towards a wider spectrum of body sizes. The rear seats are still cramped despite its improved legroom over the outgoing M4, but my six-foot slender frame honestly wouldn’t mind the short journey to and from the grocery store.
BMW expects the majority of M3 and M4 sales to come with xDrive, and we can see why. For just $2,500, its extraterrestrial levels of grip not only pays dividends to performance, but it also boosts its all-season capability, the latter of which is especially important if assigned to daily driving duties in the unpredictable Canadian climate. Be that as it may, we’re here to tell you that AWD is really not necessary. After piloting both variants, we can report that the RWD M4 with the manual gearbox offers a greater sense of occasion, a higher level of driver engagement, and when equipped with proper winter tires, will be just as capable in the snow and slush. But who in their right mind doesn’t get insurance?
Model: 2022 BMW M4 Competition xDrive
Paint Type: Isle of Man Green
Base Price: $91,600
Price as Tested: $102,545
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,804 / 1,887 / 1,394
Curb weight (kg): 1,805
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 503 hp @ 6,250 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 2,750 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 16.1