2019 BMW X4 M Review: Good On Track, Better Off It

Over an Americano at the carbon fiber counter of Monticello Motor Club’s coffee bar, the head of the BMW X3 and X4 M project delivered a piece of spin that you’re all likely to hear over the coming months: The X4 M is an M4 but taller. And after driving X4 M Competition around Monticello’s 3.5-mile road course and through the winding roads of the Catskills, I can happily report that he was wrong.

That may be what the company set out to make, but the result is considerably less track focused, more comfortable, and, honestly, better balanced (though not literally) than the M4. And that’s a good thing.

To be clear, despite being less harsh than an M4, it can still hustle. Endowed with the most powerful straight-six ever built into a production BMW, the brand new 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine makes 500 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque, the X4 M makes an amount of power that could only be described as “plenty.” And thanks to a hole running through the oil pan, there’s enough room for a drive shaft to power the front wheels along with the rears.

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Make no mistake, this is a decidedly RWD experience, with 100% of power being sent rearward before grip is required from the front wheels, but give it a boot-full and it’s the rear wheels that rotate (both themselves and the car).

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But the AWD system is welcome here especially. It helps you get out of trouble as much as it does the hole. Hitting 60 MPH in just 4.1 seconds, the X4 M Competition is just as fast as an M4 off the line. Better yet, if you’re being an idiot and need saving, the front wheels will help claw you out of whatever understeer you manage to induce when you enter a corner faster than you ought to. That’s something that happened to me a few times as I tried to keep up with BMW’s pro drivers, who weren’t so much teaching me the track as they were trying to see how much they could make a journalist sweat. But that’s a good thing because it taught me that the X4 M is remarkably eager to slow down and even happier to rotate under the braking. That makes turn-in easy and means that you don’t have to worry about fun-sapping understeer unless you’re being a dummy, like me. In fact, coming out of slower corners, it proved eager to shake its moneymaker and step out of line. All of which made it enormously easy to like.

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But an M4 it is not. Like Jack Black, I was more surprised by its athleticism than I was utterly impressed by it. Jack has a remarkably high kick considering his frame, but he’s no black belt butterfly kicker. The X4 M’s size was evident in really fast bends and through short chicanes where its high center of gravity meant it could become unsettled as the weight shifted from side to side. But of course it would.

That shifting weight also may have had to do with one of the X4 M’s biggest advantages: it’s not as stiffly sprung as most fast sedans. Sure, it’s stable at speed and it’s not exactly a waterbed, but when you aren’t on track (as 99.5% of these cars will not be) it’s actually comfortable.

A capricious winter made the undulating Catskill roads that surround Monticello particularly potholed and despite being in an M car — whose natural enemy is the pothole — my spine isn’t broken. Its interior, too, was remarkably comfortable. Although the seats had hugging bolsters, they were big comfy couches pretending to be Recaros, instead of the Recaros pretending to be comfortable.

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And I think that’s actually what I like most about the X4 M. Whereas the M4 and its ilk have to perform at such a level that they can’t really be comfortable and fast and fun (pick two), the novelty of a performance crossover allows it to surprise you. Say what you will about Jack Black not winning any Tae Kwon Do tournaments, it’s still fun to watch him do a high kick. In much the same way, it’s fun, first of all, to eat a GTI off the line in a vehicle twice its size and then to set a faster lap time, too.

Like any of us, BMW is at its best when it has a clear mission. For a long time, it hasn’t been clear to me what the M4’s mission is. Is it a performance car? If so, then why’s it so big and heavy? Is it a luxury car? If so then why is it so uncomfortable? Is it a gross display of wealth? Then why isn’t it an SUV? That, after all, is what the young money wants.

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The X4 M addresses all of those problems and, better yet, BMW hasn’t just phoned it in. The engine makes more power than any other inline-six in BMW’s fleet right now, but it’s also 24.5 lbs (11 kg) lighter than the M4’s engine. That’s thanks to a stiffer forged crank, a lighter block, and a head formed around a 3D printed mold — this is a tangent, but an interesting one: BMW isn’t actually 3D printing its heads, but it is using 3D printing to build the molds that will be replaced by molten metal in the casting process. The advantage being that engineers can design more complicated shapes that fold over onto themselves, something that wasn’t possible before and that allows for better cooling channels.

Add to that the extremely well-judged suspension setup, its playfully oversteering nature, and practicality, and if you didn’t know I was talking about a crossover, you’d think I was describing a car from the M division’s good old days.

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The Verdict: 2019 BMW X4 M Review

Now, before you start writing your angry comments, the X4 M doesn’t exactly mark a “return to form” for M cars. I still think its steering is numb and when you can’t be an irresponsible git on the road, it’s something south of glorious to drive; it also has too many individualization gimmicks masquerading as options; and there’s also a surprising amount of turbo lag for something so modern.

What I will say with absolute certainty, though, is that taking on the X4 has had a calming effect on the M division. The car they produced is a little less ascetic, a little less raw that I’ve become accustomed to, and that’s a good thing.

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