I’ve always been a fan of the BMW X3; sitting between the X1, and X5 in size, it feels like the Goldilocks of the range. The X5 is an excellent SUV, but it’s definitely on the large side of things. The X1 is a great little driver’s car, but for a Daily Driver, for me it’s on the smaller side.
The X3? Just right.
I’ve driven the X3 M40i in anger, and it’s brilliant. It sounds superb, snarling and barking at you, and the handling is very surprising. Grip? Awesome. If there’s one thing the 265kW X3M40i doesn’t need, it’s more power. But that’s not what BMW felt, as we headed to Adelaide to the launch of the X3M Competition and X4M Competition models.
What about the X4? I’m not really sold on this model. It doesn’t seem that practical, going for form over function. Does that matter? To some people, not at all. Similar to the X3, there’s an X4 M40i model with the same powertrain as the X3 model. So BMW decided to throw more power at the X4 as well, to create the X4M Competition.
Power to the people and all that, and either model will get you to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. That’s not mucking about.
Before driving the new M models, we’d get a chance to sample the new X7, and spend some more time behind the wheel of the X5 getting from place to place in the outback of South Australia.
We eventually landed at a small airfield in Hawkins, South Australia, then jumped into a bunch of X5s for the 30-minute ride to our overnight stay, at Ikara Safari Park.
We wouldn’t be given any information just yet, and instead given occasional teasers about what the next day had in store. We did know we’d be heading to ‘M Town’ in the morning, but where that would be and what we would do was still very much a secret. That night wasn’t too hard, with kangaroos jumping around in the safari park, and a full moon. It’s a stunning park, and a shame we’d only spend one night here.
Up at the crack of dawn, we headed to breakfast in the X5s again, and then after breakfast, moved into a mix of more X5s and X7s. The X5s are the same models that we get in New Zealand; today we’d be driving both the base X30d model, and the awesome quad-turbo M50d.
It was much the same for the new, longer X7. The two models we’d be sharing had the same engines as the X5s; X30d and M50d. I had to take a hard look at the X7; other than the slightly wider grille, it’s not that much longer than the X5. Careful spotting of the rear three-quarter window gives the X7 away, but it didn’t seem as imposing as I thought it would be.
My co-driver and I grabbed an X30d X5, loaded it up with our stuff and hit the road. When I say ‘road’, I use that word lightly. After only a few minutes of seal, we followed the lead car onto a track of a road, and headed north. It was picturesque, sure, but I did cringe at the condition of the road we were on in these $130,000 cars.
But the X5 did bloody well. It’s such a great all-rounder, and the ride was excellent too, for the type of road we were on. We stopped at one point and I jumped in the driver’s seat, and good memories of the X5 came back to me. It’s so easy to drive, even if it is pretty bulky.
After twenty minutes, we got back on the seal, and ended up at a small town called Parachilna for a car change. This time we scored an X7 M50d – it was time for some quad turbo driving. The luxury of the X7 over the X5 is pretty obvious, with superb seats, finished in brown in ‘our’ car.
The X5’s seats are very good, but these were on another level. The second row of seats has power folding up/down, and power adjustment too. We can’t wait to get one to review, as the pricing of this 7 seater is very reasonable in comparison to others in this segment.
With the temperature outside at a nice 21 degrees, we hit the road again, to head towards M Town. After some more miles of boring, straight roads, we spotted a sign that were pretty sure was for us.
We headed inland on another rocky and then sandy track, and arrived at our first destination. Not M Town yet, but a historic woolshed, on Nilpena Station. Nilpena Station is around 800 kilometres square in size – it’s massive. There’s been no rain for three years (!) and for that reason, they don’t run any livestock. But it is the location of some of the oldest fossils in the world, and they have scientists from all places coming to study them.
But it was time to learn more about the X3M and X4M. Right outside the old woolshed sat an X4M finished in Toronto Red, and it looked amazing. With the outback behind it, the colour popped out like no other.
We headed inside, and were shown the details for the new cars. BMW say Australia and New Zealand are one of the strongest markets in the world for M sales, apparently due to our ‘petrol head culture’ (no arguments there).
The first half of 2019 has already exceeded last year’s sales of M cars at same time, up 17% globally. The increase for Australia and New Zealand? 51%. That’s a huge difference. For X models sales in Australia, they now account for 51% of all BMW sales (2018 figures).
The new top of the X range X7 was covered, both countries get the same engine options; the X30d with the 3.0-litre straight six diesel. Much to my sadness, we won’t be getting the twin-turbo V8 petrol model that they do overseas. Basically, that car has the M5 motor in it. Word has it that New Zealand will eventually get that model.
Still, the X7 M50d model can still move it, getting to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds.
- X7 xDrive30d $146,200*
- X7 xDrive30d M Sport $162,800*
- X7 xDrive40i M Sport $164,900*
- X7 M50d $199,900*
At last, we got to the new X3M Competition and X4M Competition. These are both more powerful models of the X3M and X4M that we won’t be getting, but the view was that X3M and X4M buyers are simply going to want the most powerful model anyway, which is the Competition version.
There’s a brand new engine for these cars, with the engine code name S58. It’s a 3-litre straight-six, twin-turbo petrol engine, that manages to output a healthy 375kW – or nearly 500 horsepower in old school numbers. It makes me wonder if a BMW engineer took an X3 to the pub one night and stood looking at it, thinking, “I’m sure I could get a straight six with two turbos and nearly 500 horse power in there”. And so they did.
Torque is excellent too, at 600Nm. Maximum power comes in at 6250RPM, and maximum torque at 5950RPM, so keeping the car above 5000RPM is going to be key to a fun drive. Redline is at 7200RPM.
With that much power, much attention has been made to the cooling system, which is apparently race-track ready. There are 4 independent cooling systems, with radiators for engine and turbos, intercooler, engine oil, and transmission oil.
0-100km/h is stated at 4.1 seconds, but according to BMW, this is a conservative figure, and sub 4-second times are achievable they say.
With that much power on hand, thankfully xDrive AWD is standard, and it has rear wheel-drive bias (whoop whoop!), with two modes of drive: AWD and AWD Sport. There’s just the one transmission, an 8-speed M Steptronic, with an Active M differential.
Torsional rigidity is key to the car’s development too, with added stiffness to rear suspension, and 4 strut braces up front in the engine bay. Brakes haven’t been overlooked at all, with 4-piston callipers up front, with discs at an enormous 395mm. The rear callipers are single piston, and rear discs 370mm.
Naturally, it can’t be an M car if it doesn’t make snarly noises. This is taken care of with an M Sport Exhaust, and is electronically controlled for an ‘emotional M specific sound’. Yeah, baby.
The steering wheel on both cars has the M1 and M2 buttons, just like an M5, and there’s a lot more configuration for car settings for driver to select. The heads-up display has been improved, and you can now get both the tacho and SatNav directions up at the same time.
Of course, there’s a red start/stop button, illuminated M seat badges, and the transmission selector is the same as the M5 Competition model.
There’s a good list of standard features for the price, and we’ll list these out in full when we get a car to review.
After all this talk, we could only see X3M and X4M so far, and we wouldn’t be driving them until another 16km trek on more dusty tracks in the X5s and X7s.
But it was nearly time for M Town.
- X3M Competition: $178,900
- X4M Competition: $183,600
M Town: “Where too much is just right”
Once we got to the end of the dusty as hell track, all was revealed. BMW had set up a rally stage on a huge, hard clay area of the station. We had a countdown timer, start/stop boards, and markers to guide us around the stage.
Lined up were a number of X3M and X4Ms, ready to go. A quick driver’s briefing about the cars and the track, and we were all set. The track itself was 2.5km long, with a tight as hairpin at the halfway point. The M1 and M2 steering wheel buttons had been preprogramed, so all assistance systems were in place for M1, and Sport+ would be the balls-out mode for M2. “Start with M1” was good advice.
Somehow I managed to get out first, which often no one wants to do. I had an X3M to start with, and was looking forward to see if there were any differences between the cars; Other than the body style, the X3M and X4M Competition models are mechanically identical.
Just starting the car was a blast, the usual story with crackles and pops. Once I got the green light, I hit the gas and shot to the first corner. The clay track may be hard packed, but there’s still a lot of dust everywhere. But the X3M didn’t care, it gripped and went, and in seconds I hit the first right-hander, with more pops and crackles from the exhaust.
The track then curled left right, left right, the instructors encouraging us not to straight line anywhere, just get it sideways and have fun with the car. So I did. Still in M1 mode, the car did bog down a bit coming out of some of the tighter bends, as the traction control systems tried to rein me in. I hit the short straight at a 100 or so, then used the paddles to wash off speed as quickly as possible for the hairpin.
As usual, too much speed, as the car went wide on me. Next time, I’d get my speed down a bit more before the hairpin (famous last words). A few more lefts and rights, then a long sweeping left where you can really get the tail to hang wide for what feels like ages.
Then it was a right hander, and then the finish line. I don’t think my grin could have got any wider, and this was in M1 mode. I lined up for another run, stuck it in M2 mode, and hit the gas.
Much better. No more bogging down, but also a lot less control as it was now me driving the car, and trying to control the wheel spin. But this was a whole lot more fun too, and talking to others they all stuck the car in M2 mode for their second lap, and left it there.
M2 mode really transformed the car from an easy to get around the track mode, to a balls-out drift mode. I really stuffed up a few corners on this lap, as I tried to get more control of my left foot, which seemed to want to stay hard down.
I got back to the start/finish line, then jumped straight into an X4M Competition. This drove sort of the same, but there did seem to be a small difference in driving it hard out, feeling a bit more in control of the car. Could it be the slightly lower centre of gravity? Not sure, but the difference was pretty subtle.
More snarly popping exhaust noises, and the X4M and I shot around the track as quickly as I could manage it. Lap 2 in this car was much better, as improved my cornering techniques. It was hard to try and forget about a best time, and instead just hang the tail out to see what the car could do.
Control is the word that kept leaping up at me. Even in M2 mode, the car still feels controlled and safe, although you have nearly 500 horsepower under your right foot. I was now hitting just under 130 on the short straight, and still braking enough to get around the hairpin tidily…most laps. Others, I just stuffed up.
Sometimes on that short straight, the wheels would be going left and right as you steered it as best you could, but again, there was no stress or panic; you knew the car was going to end up where you wanted it to go.
For a bit of light entertainment, watch me trying to do my best with an X3M.
After too short a time, the Kiwi journos got out of the cars, and the Aussies got their turn. I managed to walk the entire track (carefully watching out for snakes, I have to say) and took a few photos. From the outside, even with all the dust flying, you could still see how much in control the drivers were of the cars.
Sure, this isn’t what the X3M and X4M were designed for, but the fact that they did incredibly well on this track really shows what an amazing car it is.
As every car got back to the start/finish line, dust had to be scraped from the rims, as it was making the wheels go out of balance. That freaking dust was simply everywhere; brake callipers were packed, the interiors were thick with it, and so were we. To see these cars so full of dust was bordering on sad, but it also made them feel like they could handle anything.
Post lunch, I headed out for some more laps, improving more and more, and yeah, still stuffing up some corners. I checked the fuel economy of the X3M I was in; 30 litres/100km. A little high, but understandable. We were all caning these cars.
As always, eventually the day had to come to an end. Grudgingly, we got out of the cars – no one really wanted to go home at all. We jumped back in the X5 and X7s, and headed to the airport.
Did taking the X3M and X4M Competition models on to that ‘track’ prove anything? To me they did; if they can go that well on that track – especially with the dust coating every inch of the car – imagine what they are going to be like on the road.
I think I know the answer to that already, but you know how it is – let’s get behind the wheel for a week and drive it somewhere other than a track, and see what the car is truly like.
I live in hope it’s just as awesome as it was this day in the outback.