The emotional way to shop for an SUV
THE GOOD
  • Sensational power
  • Very capable handling
  • Well-sorted interior
THE BAD
  • Polarizing style
  • Compromised interior space
  • Numb steering feedback

Buying any vehicle that costs six figures requires a certain amount of emotional connection.

Nobody needs to spend that much on what they drive, but there are plenty of compelling reasons one might want to splurge in such a grand way. Maybe it’s for the enjoyment of sublime luxury or scintillating performance. It could even be the (low) potential for collectible investment, or maybe it’s just an appreciation for fine automotive art that drives you.

The 2021 BMW X4 M Competition is a ferocious performer capable of all-season usage, plus it offers plenty of technology and luxury, too. But it’s also compromised in a few key ways that make it a curious way to spend upwards of $100,000.

Power: 10/10

It’s tough to be pragmatic about a sport utility vehicle that deliberately concedes function for form, but stuffing a 503-hp engine under the hood certainly helps its emotional appeal. Both the X4 M and X4 M Competition (as well as their equivalent X3 siblings, plus the M3 and M4 cousins) use the same new engine. The twin-turbocharged 3.0L inline-six-cylinder is true to BMW tradition in its deliciously smooth flow of power, but there’s now a heck of a lot more of it than ever before. While the run-of-the-mill X4 M makes do with “only” 473 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque, my test unit’s Competition trim gets tuned up to 503 hp (torque remains the same).

That’s a prodigious level of power, and while BMW claims a 0–100 km/h time of 4.1 seconds for the X4 M Competition, instrumented testing from some of the American automotive magazines have netted 0–60 mph times in the low- to mid-three-second range when launch control is used. Rumours have circulated for years that those Bavarians have been sandbagging output numbers, and given that the X4 M Competition appears to be quicker than the Jaguar F-Pace SVR and Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio despite less output on paper that may well be the case.

Even though this engine can become a snarling beast when goaded (and when the driver goes through a multi-step process of setting up all the drive mode parameters), it’s a compliant and smooth operator in daily driving. Sure, massive wells of propulsion are a mere toe-tap away at all times, but the X4 M never feels unhinged or struggles to get its torque to the pavement.

Directed through the venerable ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission (which balances so beautifully between race-car-quick shifts when needed and silky, seamless ones when not), torque is sent to the four corners via BMW’s M-engineered rear-biased all-wheel drive system, which can allocate it laterally as needed through an locking differential.

Fuel Economy: 6/10

At 12.1 L/100 km on the highway and a cringey 16.6 L/100 km in the city, the X4 M Competition’s official fuel consumption rates are significantly behind its, well, competition. Even those V8-powered Jaguar and Mercedes models can easily best these figures.

In real-world mixed-condition driving, however, the X4 M had no difficulty posting an average rate in the mid-12s. Given the amount of power on offer and the shenanigans endured during the test week, that doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The X4 M Competition certainly isn’t just a straight-line performer. It’s a fiercely capable handler, managing to cling to the road even when driven at speed around tight corners in a ham-fisted manner – not that I’d condone such behaviour. Grip from the giant tires (255-mm width up front and 265-mm rear) is incredible, and the suspension is stiff enough to squeeze out virtually any and all body roll. Braking is sensational, too, with great immediacy and gobs of stopping power available.

Even still, weighing in at 2,082 kg (4,590 lb), the X4 M Competition is the heaviest of its peers and part of its planted on-road feel comes from the sheer mass holding it to the earth. Capable and quick, the X4 M isn’t overly engaging or playful; traits I’ve also experienced in the M5 and X5 M. Jaguar’s F-Pace SVR feels as if it sheds weight the faster it’s driven, and the Alfa Stelvio dances like a sports sedan. Both provide a more emotional experience than the X4 M in the process.

The suspension stiffness and the minimalist tire profile means that occupants are well-attuned to road imperfections and potholes. Not quite harsh, the solidity and tautness of the structure is always present in the X4 M.

Safety: 10/10

With great power comes great responsibility to keep both driver and passengers safe, and the X4 M has a host of active safety features available. Unfortunately, BMW does charge extra for many of these safety features, incorporating them into costly packages, like the steering and lane control, and various active front and rear collision mitigation systems.

My tester was loaded up, and the active driver aids – including lane-keeping assist and the adaptive cruise control – work very smoothly. Plus, BMW enables drivers to select the level of sensitivity of some of these features so that it doesn’t have to feel like you’re driving with a nervous mother-in-law nagging every time the driver so much as approaches the edge of a lane.

Neither the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have published safety ratings for the new X4; however the closely related X3 has received positive reviews from the latter.

Comfort: 7/10

Front passengers are treated to heated and ventilated seats that not only offer lots of adjustability, but aggressive bolstering to help keep bodies in place during fast cornering. The side bolsters can be widened or squeezed in to give the driver’s ribs a bear hug – handy at speed or for emotional support.

Rear-seat occupants are offered decent legroom and there’s ample width for two grown adults, but a third can snuggle between them without too much difficulty. Headroom is more generous than expected, but the rapid rearward slope of the roofline cuts into the eyeline of taller rear seat passengers, who’ll need to crane their necks to see what’s happening outside.

User Friendliness: 7/10

The driving position is not only comfortable and supportive in the X4 M, but the sightlines to the front and sides are quite good, too. Fortunately, the door mirrors are also a good size, because the rearward views are significantly compromised by the squashed roof line, creating a mail-slot opening in the rear to see through.

The latest version of BMW’s infotainment system is a well-polished process that features a bright, crisp touchscreen, plus the console rotary controller helps cycle through menu options quickly (and keeps greasy fingerprints off the screen). Normally, I’m not a fan of redundant controllers when a touchscreen seems so intuitive, but two decades of evolution with BMW’s approach have helped craft a well-sorted operation here. The one hiccup is the spotty wireless connectivity to Apple CarPlay that did have a tendency to unexpectedly drop the connection – usually mid-way through a call.

The all-digital gauge pod allows some configurability of the information prioritized by the driver, but the overall layout of the gauges with angular, arcing speedometer and tachometer graphs are too busy for ideal readability.

Features: 9/10

The X4 M offers a lot of the niceties one expects in a premium vehicle as standard features, like the panoramic sunroof, a great audio system, and heated leather seats. The Competition trim adds in a number of stylish upgrades in addition to the added performance, too, like the spokey 21-inch wheels and the M exhaust that looks and sounds great. Typical of BMW, though, several items that buyers have come to expect on lesser-priced cars as standard equipment are buried in pricey options packages. X4 M buyers can have a wireless phone charger, ventilated front seats, and lane-keeping assistance – but all at an extra cost.

Styling: 6/10

Styling is subjective, and more than any other aspect of the car-buying purchase, appearance inside and out is likely the most emotional component.

Having taken a traditionally shaped BMW X3 and brought the roofline down into a much more aggressive arc, BMW claims to have made a Sports Activity Coupe out of a Sports Activity Vehicle. [And I’ve made a whatswhosit out of a dippity-do. – Ed.] To my eye, designers have created an awkward-looking vehicle that’s neither got the sleekness of a sporty five-door car, nor the purposeful proportions of a traditional SUV. (Clearly there’s an appeal to this genre of vehicle that eludes me, since the number of hunchback SUVs available is growing every year, so people must be buying them.)

The Competition model is the most aggressive of the X4 family, and with its large wheels, and thanks to the extensive blacked-out – or carbon-fibre – trim throughout, it’s at least a very aggressive-looking machine if not a pretty one. Of note, the Donington Grey Metallic paint on my tester had a gorgeous liquid look to it that really emphasized the X4’s creases and curves.

Inside, the seats with their integrated headrests look like proper sport buckets, and the bright red leather wears black accents and stitched quilting to make them the centrepiece of the cockpit. The dash layout and materials used are pretty common across the BMW family, and while there are no sweeping arcs or flourishes to the dashboard, its familiar look will be appreciated by BMW fans. The materials are top-quality and well assembled.

Practicality: 7/10

As much as the X4 M’s appearance seems odd, what’s more puzzling is why someone would choose this machine over the more useful X3 M Competition. Mechanically, they’re identical, but the X3 offers more rear passenger room than the X4, plus the X3’s cargo hold is 35 per cent larger, too.

Still, at 524 L, there is plenty of usable space behind the rear seats, and folded flat, the cargo space opens up to 1,430 L, and it’s really only the height that’s affected by the X4’s sloping roof. BMW actually lists the X4 M’s approach, departure, and breakover angles for off-road clearance, but despite its excellent all-wheel traction and modest height advantage over a sedan, the stiff suspension and track-ready tires should dissuade any off-pavement excursions more gnarly than a gravel cottage road.

Value: 7/10

BMW Canada has priced the X4 M quite competitively with a starting price at $85,300 before freight, fees, and taxes. Pony up for an X4 M Competition and it’ll tack on an extra $10,000 to the price, which still comes in just under the Porsche Macan Turbo and Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 Coupe. It also splits the difference between the $92,000 Jaguar F-Pace SVR and $99,000 Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

To get the features most buyers are seeking in this segment requires some option package add-ons, which in this case pushed the total north of $110,000 with destination fees. For a young, affluent urbanite looking for one vehicle to do it all, the X4 M Competition makes a strong case for itself; but then, an X3 M Competition is $1,500 cheaper.

The Verdict

Setting aside the polarizing styling of BMW’s midsized Sport Activity Coupe, the X4 M Competition is an exhilarating and incredibly capable performer. If the crossover coupe style triggers an emotional response in buyers too, so much the better. Otherwise, the X3 M Competition simply makes more sense without sacrificing any performance.

 

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L   Model Tested 2021 BMW X4 M Competition
Engine Cylinders Turbo I6   Base Price $95,600
Peak Horsepower 503 hp @ 6,250 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 442 lb-ft @ 2,600–5,950 rpm   Destination Fee $2,480
Fuel Economy 16.6 / 12.1 / 14.6 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $110,675
Cargo Space 524 / 1,430 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$12,495 – Ultimate Package, $10,000; M Compound Brakes, $750; Carbon Fibre Trim, $850; Metallic Paint, $895