Of course it rained on the day I attended Rolfe BMW’s "Ultimate Test Drive Murrumbateman" event. The event that included both an X4 M40i and X4M.
While I stared out the window at the SUVs, the tale of Goldilocks came to mind. Not that there were three SUVs -- there were four -- but they were of an ursine size. I recalled that, despite the traditional family of the fairytale, in reality male bears leave before the birth of the cubs and go fishing while the female bears are left to tend the young cubs.
Now, if that sleuth of male bears drove BMW’s X7 xDrive30d then they'd be able to discover better fishing spots than their competitors, but more on air suspension later.
Bring on the SUVs
Why had this tale came to mind? I continued staring at a X7 xDrive 30d, X5 xDrive40i, X4 M40i and X4M while pondering this. Perhaps it’s the new, larger BMW grill, reminiscent of a growling grizzly, or perhaps it was the mood set by an overcast day and light drizzle. Perhaps I had a hankering for porridge followed by a nap.
Whatever the reason, this drive was divided into four legs with the Shaw Winery at the midpoint. At Shaw Wines we'd be able to sample their wares with accompanying condiments. The stop also allowed us an opportunity to compare notes.
I was keen to drive the X4M as I’d already driven an X4 M40i a week earlier. I was curious to see if the X4M could offer any persuasive argument to spend substantially more than the competent X4 M40i. In an ideal world, I’d be able to spend half a day with each plus track time, but for this it would be 20-30 minute drive. Yet, I reasoned, that should provide me enough clues to glean the differences, if any, between the two.
I also drove the X7 xDrive30d and X5 xDrive40i, which were excellent, but the two smaller “baby bears” that’d piqued my interest. Still, as this was both a tasting session for both wine and cars, what follows is more along the lines of “driving notes” than any in-depth review per se.
Let’s get this out of the way. There is criticism regarding BMW’s new style of large grills and, in this respect, they are following a recent trend of large grills across the industry. While these grills do not photograph particularly well, they are, “in person”, not as bad on the eye as one may first suspect.
If anything, I found them less offensive than, say, the new Lexus grill, and despite their size they were, at least for me, neither here nor there. If anything, I found the proportions of the X3/4’s grills to be pleasing. **
(**In a "hold my beer" moment I've now seen the new 4 series concept... oh dear!)
This is the entry point into BMW’s seven-seat SUV line-up. A direct injection in-line six-cylinder turbo diesel producing 195kW/620Nm and able to accelerate 0-100km/h in 7.0… not that we were able to do this in Canberra’s morning traffic. All cars were well equipped with a heads up display, rain sensing wipers (yes, an overcast day meant these were tested), electronic front seats, reversing cameras and the ‘comfort access’ entry system. In addition, the X7 and X5 had electronically adjustable steering columns, air suspension and a wireless phone charger.
This is not a small car. At over 5 metres long and 2 metres wide, I was nervous about keeping it inside traffic lanes designed for much smaller cars. However, the x7 uses a host of driver aids, including lane keep assist, to keep the driver assured. For my drive, none of these were necessary since its steering was precise and its handling predictable.
The air suspension and direct steering hid much of the X7’s weight and allowed it to drive like a sedan instead of a truck. Yet the X7 isn’t a sports cars and, while it sticks to where it's pointed, it has bulk if pushed on corners. Yet, unless one’s distracted, it doesn’t leave the driver wondering about their position on the road.
The X7’s premier feature is comfort. This is an SUV that allows drivers and passengers to experience long drives in opulence and comfort. Its cabin exudes luxury and our one had the optional “crystal” package.
And what if a bear wanted to take it off road? There is a button to adjust ground clearance which I tested, but which I was unable to measure the effectiveness of. Still, big maw grill apart, it’s a compelling car and one to inspect if you’re in the market for a large, 3 rows of seats, SUV.
This is the junior sibling to the X4M and I had spend some time with it a week earlier. The numbers are an in-line six cylinder turbo producing 265kW/500Nm and a 0-100km/h time of 4.8 seconds, which is close to the E92 M3 BMW a decade earlier. This has shove-in-the-back acceleration combined with superb handling. Put it into sports mode and you hear roar that'd make a kodiac bear grin, along with crackles and pops throughout the cabin.
It starts at $109,900 before you tick the option box and if you desire performance over, say, comfort or practicality, then this may be a car to examine. The only problem I noticed concerned the rear seat headroom. The X4's sloping rear roof, in order to get that "coupe" look, takes away headroom from the back passengers. My guess is that teens would be alright, but anyone approaching 180cm may find the ingress too much. In which case, the equally capable X3 M40i, which I have also driven, may be the alternative.
I enjoyed the X4 M40i... a lot. I started wondering about the X4M. It'd better be something pretty special to command a price north of $160,000... well...
Enter the X4M
The first difference I noticed between the X4 M40i and X4M was the gauges. I've not been particularly partial to BMW's new LCD gauge style showing the revs coming up the right and the speed coming up from the left; but the X4M has a more traditional approach. There's two circular metal bands inside which more traditional speed and rev gauges are displayed.
The next thing I noticed was the X4M's performance. It is measurably quicker than the X4 M40i. The statistics point to 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-six producing 375kW / 600Nm and a 0-100km/h time of just 4.1 seconds. Like the X4 M40i, the X4M had as standard the Driving Assistant Plus package which brings lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, front and rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assist.
But when you plant your foot to the floor none of that matters. The only thoughts passing through your brain are bliss followed by laughter. SUVs shouldn't be this much fun. They should be staid vehicles as exciting as a bear market.
And the sound! It seemed more intoxicating than wine. I continually let the cars in front forge ahead so I could punch down on the accelerator and catch up.
Later, at the winery, I apologised to the driver behind me who smiled and said he'd enjoyed the sound equally as much. Yes, delightfully intoxicating and this brings us to...
We arrived at Shaw Wines where we were greeted with splendid wine and enticing condiments.
The wines were a temptation I avoided, although somewhat akin to Jason needing to be tied to the Argos's sail in order to hear the Sirens. Me? I stood outside of arm's length of any glass.
The problem with reviewing fast cars is they don't safely mix with good wines. I knew there was a spittoon so I could taste wine without being effected, but I still declined. I'm here for the drive, not the wine.
On the other hand, the food held no such restrictions for me...
I drove the X5 xDrive40i home. Although this was the middle sized car of the group, it felt neither too small, compared to the X7 nor too large against the X4s. It was nearly as comfortable as the X7, but not quite. And its performance was peppy, but not as quick as, say the X4s. Still, on normal roads its statistics are more than adequate. The X5 xDrive40i has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder twin-scroll turbo petrol with 250kW / 450Nm and a 0-100km/h time of 5.5 seconds.
I believe our X5 had air suspension, but time was too short to check this. It handled better than the X7, but you'd not buy a car of this size for its handling nor performance outright. Inside, the seats were supportive and along the roads the X5 soaked the patchwork of poor repairs that seem to be a feature of country roads here.
The X5 would make a good, all 'round family car.
Yet again BMW has produced a persuasive array of SUVs for the Australian buyer. Which one you'd want to buy would depend on the situation. The X7 with its third row of seats would suit a soccer parent driving their kids and others of the team to the games. Despite being the largest of the group, it hid is size well for the driver, although I never got to park it at a local shopping mall. If I were to buy it, I'd want to check it out in day to day situations. Can you park it easily? Does the large grill make small children cry and clutch their parents?
The X5 is the best allrounder of the group for a family, with both good utility coupled to day-to-day performance. At a starting price of $120,000 it is more expensive than the X4 M40i or X3 M40i, but with more equipment, such as electronically adjustable steering column.
Finally, the X4 M40i and the X4M. In my book these are the pick of SUVs in this group, being "just right" in size and "just right" in performance. I would probably opt for the X3 given the rear headroom, but in this test these cars ticked the boxes. I could see myself being able to park these in tighter parking lots without sacrificing too much utility space.
But which one would I have?
If money were no object then the X4M makes a compelling case for putting the "sports" back into the "Sports Utility Vehicle". It's quick. It's nearly as fast as the current crop of M3/4s and is fast as the M2 Competition. However, at over $164,000 I'd be tempted to look at the cheaper M2 Competition or, if I needed a peppy four door SUV, then the X4 M40i.
Indeed, the X4 M40i is in the "Goldilocks Zone" of price, performance and utility. For me, this was the car of the group, but which would you pick? Tell me in the comments below!