The latest high-performance car to come from BMW’s M division may be an ugly crossover coupe, but the 2020 BMW X4 M Competition also has over 500 horsepower from BMW’s most powerful inline-six ever, a rear-biased all-wheel drive setup, and 100 percent functional air vents. The X4 M is a real M car, and it’s actually pretty awesome.
(Full Disclosure: Lexus was kind enough to loan me an ES350 for a week to drive out to New Jersey, which is where BMW put me up and fed me in a hotel the night before letting me have a go in the 2020 BMW X4 M Competition on the road and the track at Monticello Motor Club.)
OK, I lied. The two fender vents behind the front wheels on either side are not functional. But everything else is.
What Is It?
The X3 has been around for some time, but this is the first version getting the full M treatment. The X4 hasn’t existed as long, but it’s essentially the coupe version, or fastback version, or whatever the hell you want to call these things, of the X3. The X3 M and X4 M, and any variation, all share the same mechanical parts. Only difference is that the roof is sad on the X4 and the rear body work has been adjusted to try and cope with that.
This is also the first X4 M, and that’s the one I got the most time in. The new X3 M, X4 M, and the Competition models of both are all built at BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina plant.
Specs That Matter
BMW has been doubling down on its club of 500 horsepower crossovers and SUVs lately, and the new X3 M Competition and X4 M Competition are no exceptions.
The X3 and X4 M Competition models, the highest performance versions you can get, make 503 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque between 2,600 and 5,950 rpm from an almost all-new twin-turbo 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine I’ll detail in a minute.
The regular M models get 473 horsepower, with the same 442 lb-ft of torque between 2,600 and 5,600 rpm. Top speed for all these cars is electronically limited to 155 mph, unless you option the M Driver’s Package, which boosts top speed to 174 mph on regular M models, or 177 mph on M Competition models.
BMW claims the 0 to 60 mph time for the M Competition cars is 4.0 seconds flat, or a tenth of a second slower on the regular M models.
Fuel economy is obviously fantastic. Just kidding. All four M options are EPA rated at 14 MPG city, 19 highway, and 16 combined.
The X4 M Competition I drove had a starting MSRP of $80,400, but was optioned with a $550 red paint job, Advanced Driver Assist and Executive packages, and ventilated seats, coming to $86,495. The X3 M Competition I briefly drove had a starting MSRP of $76,900, but was optioned the same as the X4, coming to $83,845.
Big car goes fast. I had never driven on Monticello before, but it’s four miles of wide track with a nice number of dramatic direction changes and two subtly bent long straights. On the back straight, revving the engine all the way over 7,000 rpm, the BMW driver hit 130 mph on the explainer lap, and I managed 125 myself, and yet the car was communicating that you could take it much, much further if you had the road for it.
The X3 M and X4 M’s 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, codenamed S58, has “90 percent new parts” according to BMW. Those include forged pistons, a new crank drive that’s about 6.6 pounds lighter than BMW’s other inline-sixes, with a changed bore stroke, a 3D-printed cylinder core which helps optimize temperature management, and two electric motors managing compression.
There’s also a new oil pan design, engineered with additional internal pumps that keep oil flowing from the back and sides of the pan when it’s sloshing around under performance driving.
Word on the street, and in many prayers, is that this will be the engine in the upcoming BMW M3, and that’s very promising, because it’s the best part of this X4 M Competition.
If I want to be hard on the car, there is a simulation feeling that comes from the engine note pumped into the cabin (BMWs system of apparently amplifying actual engine noise, though it sounds unnatural), the digital driver display flashing yellow at high rpm, the near-instant paddle-shift gear changes, and the steering feel that suspiciously starts to seem more like muscle memory than actual intuitive engagement a few laps in.
But you’re going so fast you just brace with your left knee and keep your eyes on the road, and within a couple laps you can’t help but have fun. The engine note and exhaust sound great standing from pit lane as the cars fly by, for what it’s worth.
The X4 carries its weight exceptionally well, turns into corners without the shyest hint of inertia fighting back, and if it weren’t for the slightly higher seating position, you’d go ahead and let yourself think you were in a sports car before hating yourself for having such a cliched thought. But that really feels like the benchmark and the goal for this car, and BMW swung 500 hp at it and knocked it out of the park.
I like that you can turn off all of the active safety systems by holding down the green circle button under the hazard lights for three seconds. I like that there are two red M trigger switches on the steering wheel that put you in “Danger” and “More Danger” settings. I like that the adjustable seat bolsters get so tight I remember I have kidneys and that they can feel pain if I’m bolstered too much. I like that the upshifts and downshifts with the selector are mapped appropriately, with downshifts pushing forward, upshifts pulling back, unlike the Lexus ES350 F-Sport I drove to this event in.
Sporty stuff aside, it’s also worth pointing out the X4’s goofy sloping roofline—which it doesn’t pull off nearly as well as the new Porsche Cayenne Coupe, which also comes in an eye-searing red-orange—somehow doesn’t compromise head room, with an entire human hand fitting sideways above my bad haircut suggesting someone nearing six-foot should be fine.
The first thing is that the X4, in all guises but particularly the muscular M and M Competition trims, is very ugly. Can you imagine if they tried to put the X7’s kidney grille on it? And what the hell is this fender shape?
I think it’s drawn that way to hide visual weight, but it looks broken. It also makes the 21-inch wheel look bent. Something is off. It drives me crazy. I don’t love it on the X3, either.
Out on the track, the back seat was fun (with a professional BMW racing driver showing us the gearing, speeds, and racing lines) but bruising, as neither the X3 M nor X4 M (nor the Competition variants) have roof-mounted grab handles in the back seats. My life depended on the door handle and the fold-down middle armrest, which is probably fine in normal driving but definitely not designed to handle the fears of two adults bowling around the back seat at over 100 mph.
When I was in the driver’s seat, the seat itself became a minor annoyance with a significant squeak under moderate-to-severe g-forces in the corners. To be fair, this is a seat that’s done four-mile laps of Monticello seven times in a row, four times a day, for who knows how many waves of automotive journalists ranging from 130-to-300 pounds. That’s somewhere around 100 miles a day under duress. I’m going to cut it some slack, but maybe it’ll be a concern for the average buyer a few years into ownership. Or if you take it to Monticello every weekend.
On the road, one of the first things you (hopefully) notice getting into a new car is whether or not you can see out of it. On the X4, out the front is fine, the sides are good, though I found myself still having to turn my body to check blind spots (but there is blind spot indicators in the mirrors), and out the back is just trash.
Going out and getting one of those aftermarket, extra large rear-view mirrors won’t help because the issue is the heavily sloped, small rear window. Unless you want to stare at your rear passengers like an underpaid and over-stressed school bus driver.
While there is a “Comfort” ride setting, none of the options on the list are particularly comfortable. On the streets and highways at speeds between 25 to 70 mph, the ride always felt a little harsh, and every bump in the road was communicated through to the cabin, just at varying degrees of intensity. My idea of a “comfort” mode is something so soft I wouldn’t be able to accurately date when a road was last paved with my ass.
My thoughts are torn between two conclusions. I was in the M Competition version, so what should I expect? But also, shouldn’t the entire point of a variable suspension setup be that I get the best of both worlds?
Being forced to use BMW’s own navigation system was unfortunate, as the system is less aesthetically pleasing compared to something like Google or Apple Maps applications, which has been a problem with OEM navigation since the dawn of time and inexplicably difficult for companies to fix as time passes.
It’s also nearly impossible to make quick adjustments to the map display, with the options to change viewing elevation and cursor direction buried under unclear menu settings, instead of being obvious one-touch options on the driver’s side of the display. The car has Apple Car Play, which works a treat instead.
Interior materials are not great, with a lot of obvious black plastics, and the dashboard layout, with a heavy horizontal approach that’s been ported over from BMW generation to generation, is really getting tired at this point. Strangely, you can’t adjust the seatbelt height, the steering wheel looks and feels like something out of 2005, and you can’t see the heads-up display with polarized sunglasses.
The only other two things are the gesture controls changing the volume or the song while in conversation (if you move your arms when you talk, and are not a scary robot driver). This feature can be deactivated if you have a few minutes to spare navigating the infotainment settings. That, and the cooled seats do not get very cold at all, even in the highest setting.
Somewhat unfortunately, you don’t get to define what an M car is. Neither do I. BMW defines what an M car is.
And while Cadillac is inexplicably introducing new V models with a near-300 horsepower deficit over the previous versions, BMW just built its most powerful 3.0-liter inline-six ever, put it in a car with a rear-biased drivetrain, and put so much intake and cooling on the nose there wasn’t any room left to even think of adding a fake vent.
Sure, they did all of this on a pair of crossovers, but they’re crossovers that turn on a dime and meet you at your limit on the track, don’t threaten understeer, and can still happily throw the rear-end powering out of a corner in second gear. And they can easily load that priceless antique wardrobe you won over your siblings from your step-father’s will on top of that.
And because of that sort of driving performance going into cars like the X3 and X4, which sell very well, it reinforces BMW’s decisions to push for more performance in a time when you can slap performance branding on just about anything for a quick stack of cash. It’s important, because that means the upcoming “legacy” M performance cars like the next M3 will also likely get rear-biased setups with over 500 horsepower. And you should be sad if BMW does anything less.
But think about that. If the next M3 is (probably) getting this engine, what does that make the X4? It makes it a real M car, and a damn good one too.