If you’re of the opinion coupe-roofed SUVs are a motoring faux pas, the notion of a high-performance variant might seem nonsensical. But that’s okay – you’re absolutely spoilt for choice for utterly sensible mid-sized SUVs fit for shuffling loved ones A to B.
But if your inner fringe dweller aches for red-hot M4 Coupe experience shoehorned a more commodious body shell, the 2019 BMW X4 M Competition is one almighty step closer to your ideal, red-misted and slightly twisted dream.
That’s really the point, isn’t it? If you want normal SUV practicality, BMW already offers the popular X3. If you want a plus-sized family rocket, there’s now also an X3 M Competition to appease your Jekyll and Hyde. (See our X3 M review here.)
Offering a further, somewhat sportier if arguably less-practical coupe-look “Sport Activity Vehicle” – BMW’s words, not mine – simply spoils buyers further, right, even if this particular option isn’t quite what you’d describe as pragmatic?
At $164,900 before on-road costs, the only things separating the X4 M Competition from its X3 twin are a moderate loss of boot space (525L plays 550L) converting to a slightly more substantial sacrifice of seats-down space (1430L against 1600L) and a seven-grand larger hole in the hip pocket.
That’s not what you’d call a sensible upgrade but, equally, it's wrong to presume all car-buyers are driven by sensibility. They’re not. Emotion is an often-underestimated if integral aspect to car desirability and ownership and – surprise, surprise – it comes at a cost.
Obviously, with X4 M you’re buying into the appearance. Let’s be honest, designers at M GmbH hardly went to town separating the full M's exterior appearance from the regular range's M Sport pack. So the car's coupe roofline, with its novel wedged bob-tail spoiler, does leave the X4 M looking a little more go-fast certified than its X3 wagon twin.
Like its X3 twin, the X4 M Competition isn’t short on certified M hardware: staggered-width 255mm/265mm tyres, M-spec brakes with two-piece composite alloy hat/steel rotor discs, a recalibrated xDrive all-paw system, M Adaptive suspension, an Active M differential, added structural bracing, and an M Sport exhaust with four 100mm tailpipes are all bundled in.
And there’s nothing on the slim options list that will make it quicker, louder, or that might improve the handling.
Australia misses out on the ‘regular’ 353kW X3 and X4 Ms offered in other markets, but it needs all 375kW/600Nm from its higher-power Comp-spec ‘S58’ 3.0-litre bi-turbo six to measure up, even academically, against the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR and, as an arch nemesis of sorts, the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S.
Only the latter offers a coupe body style to directly rival the X4 M Competition, the AMG clocking in at a pricier $172,400 list price – if boasting an added 100Nm from its bi-turbo 4.0L V8, as well as a swifter 3.8-second 100km/h sprint to combat the BMW’s 4.1-second claim.
If you're sensitive about such things, fuel use is a claimed 10.5 L/100km (using overseas figures) while in a broad mix of urban, highway and spirited running the X4 M returned a neat 13.0 L/100km.
But BMW hasn’t just created a one-dimensional rocket ship. I’ll spare the long-winded equipment breakdown but there are plenty of big-ticket items such as Merino leather trim, Harman/Kardon surround sound and a panoramic glass roof together with myriad details including comfort access, wireless phone charging and rear roller blinds stacking the X4 M Competition as a particularly well-rounded and well-heeled proposition.
Nitpicking, perhaps, but there’s still a ridiculous extra charge for Apple CarPlay ($623).
Appointment wise, the X4 M Competition is clearly more the flagship sport-luxury package than go-fast stripper, as it should be at such a lofty price point for what’s still primarily a family hauler, rather the track weapon. And BMW hasn’t skimped on active safety and driver conveniences either.
Driving Assistance Plus is standard issue, bringing active cruise control with stop-go functionality and a suite of various warning and active ‘keeping’ assistance to prevent you wandering from your lane or colliding with vehicles approaching from various blind spots.
The breadth of driver assistance extends in the opposite ‘red-mist’ direction when tapping its inner M-car Hyde, too: there’s a special 4WD Sport mode in the xDrive AWD firing almost all the torque rearward, with a choice of loose M Dynamic stability control or full DSC Off.
There’s certainly a sense of sporting occasion mixed with suitably upmarket presentation inside the cabin. It looks great and feels focused as a driver’s tool without robbing too much of the comfortable, airy ambience we’ve grown to like about the mid-sized X.
There’s plenty of eye candy, such as the standard aluminium-look and pearl chrome or optional carbon-fibre and piano black highlights, on hand to really add a sense of occasion over the often stolid BMW cabin treatments.
Both the wheel, which features the dual-M buttons now common in the stable, and the transmission controller are conspicuously lifted from the monstrous M5.
The M theme continues through the driver’s instrumentation and specific head-up display though, as with the now ageing iDrive 6-based infotainment system, the key user interfaces seem a generation old because, well, they are.
It’s not as if the 10.25-inch Navigation System Professional lacks in features or intuitive usability – standard Apple CarPlay notwithstanding – it just looks and feels old hat against the newer gear in the current 3 Series.
We'll wait for a full and more comprehensive garage review to investigate further, but worryingly a chorus of trim squeaks and rattles from the interior plastics don't paint a picture of rock-solid quality, dimming first impressions slightly.
The ornate, heavily sculpted M Sport front seats look fantastic – full leather or leather/Alcantara, your choice – and thanks to the adjustable bolstering provide ample lateral support for the most spirited driving. But there is some trade-off to their purpose: they’re a little too stiffly padded and somewhat unforgiving if you’re only planning on daily driving or long touring trips.
In row two, the rear seating is nice and relaxed with legroom aplenty, and head room isn’t too constrictive given the sloping coupe roofline and impact to the headlining of the glass roof. Climate controls in row two are also most welcome.
With the rear seats in play, the X4’s 525L boot is neither impractical or anything like class leading, though it only loses an academic 25L to the X3 wagon.
Drop the 40:20:40 split-fold seat backs, though, the deficit swells to 170L, the X4 offering just 1430L compared with its stablemate’s superior 1600L measure.
Though similar in size and outputs, this new ‘S58’ bi-turbo 3.0-litre six isn’t the same (S55) as fitted to outgoing M3 and M4.
According to BMW, it’s actually around 90 per cent different. It runs a reasonable 2.3bar of boost but, thanks perhaps to the two-turbos-per-three-cylinder arrangement, manages a nice linear delivery for an engine producing a healthy 375kW at 6250rpm, and can spin happily north of seven grand.
While its peak 600Nm torque figure is shy of its V8 rivals, the M pulls cleanly and assertively from idle to 2600rpm where peak torque clocks on.
With all of the X4 M's adjustable diver modes set to their least aggressive setting – Efficient engine, Comfort steering and suspension – you could almost mistake the performance halo as one of the garden-variety members of the X4 range.
Power comes on gradually, there's no crazed straining at the leash, no struggling to get power down. Subtlety is key here, giving the M SUV brilliant stealth abilities, if that's your thing.
The X4 M foregoes dual-clutch tomfoolery for a conventional eight-speed automatic and, drivability wise, it's all the better for it. This particular ZF-sourced unit is the same as that fitted to M5, an immensely flexible transmission capable of silky smooth around-town behaviour or rapid-fire, track-ready obedience should circumstance call for it
That means no jolting, shuddering, or moments of indecision when asking the X4 M to behave like a typical urban runabout. The transmission has its own three-stage set of shift maps to dial up aggression. At its angriest it isn't quite as manic as the outgoing M3, but the compromise is perhaps a better fit for the X4's high-riding disposition.
While it may look mostly calm from the outside, inside the cabin occupants are more likely to notice that the suspension's "comfort" claims are something of a fallacy. In order to keep all four tyres glued to the pavement and reduce the effects of errant body movements the strictly tied-down suspension jars and crashes over every tarmac join, cats-eye, and ripple in the road surface.
Even the brakes, with massive reserves of stopping force when required, are civil from the moment you start up and exit your driveway, not something every high-performance entrant in the hyper-SUV segment can claim.
Where the ride quality may not make it the most reasonable day-to-day commuter, hit the open road and the X4 M's proves its credentials as a grand tourer. Certainly it has the space for four occupants plus luggage, along with the long-legged ability to churn through long distances and all the balance to dispatch twisting coastal roads in a grin-inducing fashion.
As pace picks up the rough-shod ride dissipates on all but the most severely damaged rural roads, lending a still-firm but more forgiving grace to the potent BMW's mile-eating ability.
Chance upon the right kind of curvaceous and sparsely-trafficked road, delve into the more exciting Sport and Sport+ setting for suspension and throttle mapping, and the X4 M's reason for existence starts to come into sharper focus. There's a deliberate neutrality to the handling balance, giving it grip and go slingshot capabilities out of corners. No hesitation and (unless you really ham things up) no understeer.
The steering has a marvellous fluidity that suits an SUV with performance car credentials. The three weight steps feel just right as you cycle through them and turn up the pace, though as ever, BMW's M steering wheel rim could be a shade slimmer.
Grip, or more accurately a surfeit thereof, leaves no mistake that all four wheels are doing their best to keep things on course, but 4WD Sport and M Dynamic mode bring a blatant rear bias to the power delivery, shifting the X4 M's abilities from capable to captivating if you're feeling adventurous.
A valved exhaust is the icing on the cake. While it might seem juvenile, selecting the wide-open mode and flicking the engine to Sport+ delivers a full emotional sweep of cracks, pop, gurgles and overruns.
Unfortunately the speakers also augment the soundtrack inside the cabin, which is a shame as it hides the distinct straight-six soundtrack distinguishing M cars from the eight-pot Jaguar and AMG offerings.
The reality is, if you’re committing $165k to a medium SUV offering king-sized performance, outright practicality clearly isn’t the highest priority: there’s obviously a huge choice of much larger if humbler family haulers you’ve already bypassed.
While the X4 M is acceptably functional as a device for passenger transit, the real test of its mettle comes when you uncork its performance and dynamics… provided its inner wild child doesn’t impact too negatively on daily-driving credentials.