BMW X4 M Competition is fast but flawed
The powerful SUV is a thrilling drive, if compromised by turbo lag and an overfirm ride
SUV coupes have become big business. When BMW birthed the genre in 2008 with the X6 — basically an X5 with a sexier roofline — there was much head-scratching about this styling curiosity, until it went on to sell more than 400,000 units and is now in its third generation.
Its success inspired the likes of Mercedes and Audi to launch SUV coupes of their own and, not resting on its laurels, BMW created the X4 as the swoopy-roofed version of the smaller X3 in 2014. It spawned another hit for the brand as it has found more than 200,000 owners to date.
The second-generation X4 was launched in SA in 2018, refitted with new styling, upgraded technology and improved driving dynamics. The seven-model range has several petrol and diesel engine variants, and this range-topping X4 M Competition was introduced late in 2019 as the new kingpin of the range.
It uses a new generation 3.0l twin turbo straight six engine, firing 375kW and 600Nm through an xDrive all-wheel drive system.
It’s the most powerful straight-six petrol engine yet to be used in an M car and outmuscles the M4 Competition’s 331kW and 550Nm, but the X4 loses some tractability due to its maximum torque only being on call at higher rpm.
It makes this powerful X4 surprisingly pedestrian in a standing start unless you’re using the launch control system, which is able to slingshot this SUV from 0-100km/h in an eager 4.1 seconds. But it becomes a chore to constantly call on launch control, which involves fiddling with buttons.
Driven normally, there’s notable turbo lag and nothing much happening under 4,000rpm, diminishing some of the feel-good factor expected of an M-badged chariot — after which it explodes into action.
Once moving, the automatic gearbox keeps the car in its power band with slick downshifts, making the lag barely noticeable. It’s accompanied by a sportingly hoarse sound, made even more vocal by pressing a button that opens flaps in the exhaust.
It’s a thirsty beast though, with the test vehicle averaging 15l/100km.
A 204mm ground clearance theoretically gives this X4 some obstacle-straddling ability, but it’s unlikely any owner will wish to subject the 21-inch low profile tyres to a gravel adventure.
On regular tar the sporting rubber doesn’t affect the ride comfort too much. The worse part is the stiffness of the suspension, even in the softest of its three settings, which makes for a jarring ride on imperfect tar and speedhumps. The upshot is very agile handling, and the X4 slices the bends with excellent poise for what is quite a large vehicle as it snugly grips you in M Sports seats.
Power is channelled via an M xDrive all-wheel drive system, which made its debut in the BMW M5. It’s a rear-biased system that avoids feeling understeery when driven in extremis, and a rear Active M Differential maximises grip especially when accelerating out of tight corners.
Like the suspension stiffness and M xDrive modes, the engine, transmission and steering responses can all be variously set — and your favourite two combos can be programmed into a pair of M buttons on the steering wheel.
Visual M-ness sets this high-performance X4 apart from its range peers in the form of a high-gloss black kidney grille surround, exterior mirrors and M gills, and wheels in polished black.
Inside, the M Sports flourishes include the unique seats, steering wheel, digital instrument cluster, and carbon fibre trim. Practicality-wise BMW’s X4 has decent passenger room, even at the back, where the sloping coupe-style roof doesn’t intrude too much on headroom.
The boot is suitably large, and with the seats flipped down it expands to 1,430l, which comfortably holds a mountain bike.
As standard the vehicle doesn’t come with many driver assist features and it costs extra to specify things such as lane departure control, active cruise control, and a camera-based parking aid — though there is a beeping system to help guide you through tight spots.
In summary, BMW’s X4 M Competition is a charismatic SUV-coupe with great cornering prowess and a lot of straight line hustle once it hits its power band.
As entertaining as it can be to drive, it’s also compromised by its overly firm ride in a world where performance cars are getting so good at being comfy commuters on one end, and brimstone-spitting sportstcars on the other. A bit more sporty in off-the-line acceleration and a cushier ride would swing the equation the right way for me.
BMW X4 M Competition
WE LIKE: Power, handling, styling
WE DISLIKE: Turbo lag, firm ride
VERDICT: Fast but compromised sports SUV
Motor News star rating
Design * * * *
Performance * * *
Economy * * *
Safety * * * * *
Value For Money * * *
Overall * * *
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Type: straight six turbo petrol
Type: Eight speed M Steptromic automatic
Type: xDrive all-wheel drive
Top speed: 250km/h
0-100km/h: 4.1 seconds
Fuel Consumption: 10.5l/100km (claimed); 15.0l/100km (as tested)
ABS brakes, six airbags, stability control, cruise control, climate control, remote central locking, adaptive M suspension, M compound brakes, active M differential, electrically adjustable seats, M-specific cockpit, M Sport seats, M Sport exhaust system, M-specific digital instrument cluster, infotainment system with navigation, electric windows, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights, ambient lighting, automatic tailgate, park distance control, 255/40 ZR21 (front) and 265/40 ZR 21 (rear) tyres
Warranty: Two years/unlimited km
Service plan: Five years/100,000km
Lease*: R34,210 per month
* at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit