BMW X4M Competition: Drunk on petrol fumes

Shhh… Beware the fuzz… The peegees… The ludicrous law…

It is so easy these days to disparage cars like the X4M (Competition). Almost as easy as a Dischem loyalty card used at Total. Almost, but not quite.

When you look at it you have the choice to consider it as a ridiculously stupid car that doesn’t know what it is and where it is supposed to fit in with the nice and neat comfortable groupings we put cars into within our own mental framework.

But, and it is a big but (butt?), you also have the choice to frame it as a mould breaker, an innovator, a creator of New Things.

I’m not sure either way because it has certainly found me on the horns of a dilemma. How does one actually classify a ‘thing’ like this? The best I could come up with is that actually, what the X4M (Competition) really is, is a Muscle Utility Vehicle or MUV. You can have that BMW (I’ll take an EFT if you’re feeling kind).

Everything, but everything on this car when you fire it up appears to be an advocate for speed. I have absolutely no idea how many speeding fines I have been issued in it, but they will be numerous and inadvertent. Honestly, this really happened – I woke up in the middle of the night after a dream in which I was arrested for speeding at a mere 100 km/hr – the officer was cross due to what he called “over acceleration”.

Speeding fines are just going to happen. Build this into your budget should you be lucky enough to buy one – and stay tuned for one day when I load up both barrels to give JMPD a proper piece of my mind around speeding in general.

Speed is a big issue with this car and it is clear that the guys at M division went to town with the X4M. It is from top to bottom a technical geek fest of tweaking this and fiddling that to get more speed. And more of what you want. Customised to the Nth degree around you, the driver. Placed first and foremost in the vehicular experience that is the X4M (Competition). It’s all you, right?

Well, except… not really.

You see one of the wizardry black magics is this thing called Driver Assist Plus. What this is is what I like to call a brain. It gives the car an intelligence of sorts. Almost nanny like. For instance, the BMW chides you through the steering wheel for changing lanes without indicating. It keeps sensible braking zones with its adaptive cruise control. It moans if you drive without your hands on the wheel. It poses questions about your driving style that you didn’t even know were worthy of being posed. It demands your attention.

In short, it tries to make you a better driver. More courteous. Considerate. Safer. A bit less like you own the roads and everyone else should please just sod off.

These are all good things. And well done BMW. Pat on the back there. Good job.

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But at this stage I do need to digress a little here for some background information. Because I suffer from a slight decrease in my normally HD vision when it comes to seeing things that are far away I have taken to driving with glasses that my excellent optometrist who flits between CT and Jhb (at least pre Covid anyway) supplied me. I say excellent because the X4M (Competition) makes it abundantly clear that things that are far away are very much more important than you might think.

And that is because as it happens they are not far way for very long in this car, and you need to know what they are from a considerable distance if you are to avoid a very bad accident.

And all of this is because the X4M (Competition) undoes the good work it tries so hard to accomplish of making you a decent driver. It does so by simply whispering, and then shouting, and finally demanding like a petulant child stamping its little feet that really, really, you need to deploy the accelerator pedal. Fully. All the way to the presumably what is a drive by wire limit.

You know what?

At first it is kind of fun with the rev counter zooming around at a decent pace to about 3k rpm. You can feel a proper shove and  you’re just beginning to think that this could get exciting , there is certainly some kind of grunt here somewhere…What the…just happened?

Literally before you  know it all hell is breaking loose and things have gone absolutely crazy. Pedestrians are shouting at you, dogs are barking at you, or were, because you’re already in the next time zone by the time they wake up, cars near and around you have all disappeared and warp speed has been engaged as the gearbox smashes through 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th – I never buried it long enough to get to 7th or 8th – I have a dicky ticker as it is.

It produces 503 BHP (editor’s note: that’s 377kW in our money). 503!!

This means that those far away things are now either inside your frame of reference, up close and personal like, and if your glasses are lacking even in a minor fashion you are going to have these far away things inside the car’s cabin with you. It won’t be pretty and I’d avoid that if I were you.

It is insane. I don’t know how many people I pissed off and truly, I am somewhat sorry – but you know, you were just too slow… Nothing personal about it – and really when it comes down to it all I was trying to do was to make some daisies happier than they would have been had I not come past. Daisies like CO2 and I’m a giver after all. Even though I tried to drive around in eco mode most of the time I still had a fuel consumption high enough to embarrass an 18 wheeler. Lots and lots of happy daisies all around town.

That said, the X4M (Competition) will turn even Buddha into a Bad Boy and slightly ‘off centred unhinged don’t poke the angry bear leave us alone’ types simply don’t stand a chance I’m afraid to report. It’s so much fun it should be illegal. And the car practically begs you to let it get on with things. It asks so nicely that how can one refuse it?

So perhaps I need to revise the MUV nomenclature in lieu of a more accurate one – the Fast Utility Vehicle. Or FUV. You can use that one too BMW – note that eWallet gratuities are accepted gladly. Cheers, thanks a lot.

I am sure that you can see where this is going by now.

MUVa FUVa – this is one hell of a car.

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Aren’t I clever? In my creativity I have added the ‘a’ for artistic effect. It can in fact represent a number of different words. Ask your children to come up with a few and pick the best to keep when referring to this car in front of your friends. Fact is that sadly your circle of friends will become smaller as they slowly peel off and leave you out of their social circles thanks to your endless droning on and on about your new car. You know what? That’s OK – if they don’t get it then they weren’t your friends to begin with. Happily you can and should go and get some new ones.

The X4M (Competition) is maybe, perhaps, on a good day possible to drive with restraint and caution and you can be a good little boy (or girl) going about your daily commute. In which case just don’t buy this one. It would be pointless – and you can still have all the wonderful BMW toys in the conventional X4.

And I tried to be good with it. I petted it. I cuddled it. I gave it stern talkings to before I got into it. And I was brave and strong and resisted its wicked temptations. Look. If I can do that, then it can be done. And even better, the sheer exuberant unleashed sense of terror does fade after a while.

The car can be set into ‘good’ mode and a sense of normalcy can return to the driving experience. As an urban cruiser then it can and does tick the boxes that make sense. Thank heavens. It starts to come together as a capable car preparing you for worsening roads that soon the super saloon simply will not be able to traverse without gutting its undersides.

And actually, quite surprisingly, I really enjoyed the X4M (Competition) when not hurling it at a squillion miles an hour. It really is a comfortable place to be, with actively vented seats and technology that works. More or less anyway – the gesture control thing I didn’t manage to master. But the rear view camera is a party trick all on its own and will really piss off your flaky friends because they won’t have one. It’s great!

The ride is exceptional with decently taut handling in line with what it is. There is no suspension jarring or annoying vibrations and even on the hideous “newly refurbished” bridge on the M1 near the Selby offramp the ride was unruffled and even mildly enjoyable. It is almost as good as a Land Rover Discovery – and that is high praise.

I suspect some electronic wizardy is at hand in the cornering stuff but I don’t see the X4M (Competition) as being a high speed bendy twisty weight shifting speed demon. It will do it – if asked to but there is no escaping that it is big and bulky and heavy and that direction changes, hard braking and heavy cornering is not what it was built to do.

However, it is still surprisingly agile and I never took it to adhesion limits that it was uncomfortable with before I was (which is probably a mind over matter thing). In fact the X4M (Competition) is remarkably un-boat like and clearly the chassis underpinning it is one that BMW have made properly. You can of course put two and two together as to why that is the case so I won’t expand on that further here.

The handling on those massive but luscious 21” 265 tyres is as you would expect – excellent. They’re not stupidly thin such that the ride comfort is compromised, and neither are they too fat such that the tyre moves off the rim in a corner.

Grip is way beyond needed for anything much more than a track and the brakes are massive – truly massive. They need to be. The speed factor simply means bigger braking distances. The resultant brake pad bill is going to be substantial (thanks Motor Plan). Physics is what it is and rather than save weight everywhere the engineering philosophy has been such that to get the job done more braking capacity has been thrown at the car.

That said I never pushed the car hard enough on multiple accelerate and brake tests to induce brake fade – it’s not mine after all and I find such tests pointless. Around a track I think brake fade might become an issue – that motor will write cheques all day long that the brakes might end up battling to cash. I feel bad about making such a pointless observation because I’m not sure it qualifies as a track day car. It is just too big, too heavy, too unwieldy for that. Taking it to a track day would be for educational fun and not for lap times.

Else I couldn’t see the point of matching what is a MUVa FUVa with something that its not. You wouldn’t put a square peg in a round hole would you? The X4M (Competition) is designed to be an executive space rocket with an urban context with the occasional road trip down to the coast (I’d give my back teeth for a week with it for exactly that).

Before I run out of column inches I think we have to talk about the thorny issues that is the gear box.

What can one say? Its utterly fantastically fabulous. For me its easily the best thing about the car – leaving the engine aside for a moment. Having a rudimentary understanding of what gearboxes do. Gearboxes are the things that blow up in your newly engined (at vast expense) small modest racing car. They are where bits strip off gears and cogs thanks to the power increase. They chew themselves to death in a metal grinding machine formally known as your 4 speed manual gear box whilst you sit at the side of the track contemplating another monstrously expensive bill.

Not this one.

And it’s not as if I am not used to a DSG box (oops) from the VW/Audi brigade and they are good, but this one is in another league entirely. It deals with the power effortlessly, as if all the horsepowers were merely a trifle with seamless and by that “I do mean seamless Turkish” shifts that are faster than you can say the “ho” part of the word holymolythatwasfast. Better, it is as smooth down as it is up, at any power output. I have no idea how BMW do it but this gearbox on its own is worth at least a quarter of the asking price.

I am too scared to find out how close I am to that figure. I won’t be far off I’m pretty sure. But no matter because it is a source of wonder and amazement and marvellous engineering. With the foot down and the horizon approaching it is a technical tour de force. Nay, it is more than that. It is a genuine modern wonder of the world to feel that box shifting in sequence instantly from cog to cog. I honestly think it would give that Ferrari thing a run for its money (call that a subtle hint Ferrari, if you’re reading this).

I have never experienced anything remotely as good. Perhaps I need to get out more.

So, what about the looks then Mr Kelly?

Well, to be frank about it they’re not great. The lines from the roof down to the rear are, at best, shall we say, awkward? Being a hatch back (with a very decent sized loading bay) gives the X4M (Competition) an odd look from the rear three quarter view. Split lines are BMW standard – uniform, tiny and perfect.

The front blacked out kidney grilles I really quite liked but then I hated the side gills in black. Colour matched to the car I think would look better, or perhaps black alone on a white car. It is entirely subjective of course. The wheels though are magnificent, but on this car I’m not sure what else would really work other than what BMW has done here. They are correct.

I suppose that the point is that with a car like this no one gives a toss what it looks like. I don’t happen to think it’s pretty – but hey, from certain angles and in a certain light it could be accused of having a muscular rugby player attraction. Albeit from a distance. Not for me. But you might like it.

As I have learned looks are not the point (fortunate for the likes of me). You don’t buy this car for the looks. You buy it because it’s a sledgehammer with the proverbial mailed fist wrapped in a velvet glove. 503 horse powers and 0-100 in around 4.1 seconds (claimed) – I never burned launch control on the car (you’re welcome BMW) and the vast array of electronic toys and driver focussed customisation stack up at the other end of the scale to the point where the looks are completely superfluous, outshone by all the other stuff.

So where does this leave us with the X4M (Competition)? Little annoyances include the exhaust button that remains on every time you turn the car on. I have a love hate relationship with these buttons – I accept that I am on the losing side of history at the moment and that all hot cars have to have one.

Happily however the X4M (Competition) is not all that shouty as it turns out, which I appreciate. It makes a noise, but it’s not a “head turning finger wagging tut tutting look at that hooligan running over small much loved Fluffies all over town with a look at me, I demand that you look at me and all my money and noisy car noise” mainly because, like the dogs, by the time you hear it this car is already long gone.

I suppose I could moan about the price. But I am not going to. It is approximately more or less, kind of perhaps, fair value these days. Cars are expensive. Full stop. Nice cars are really expensive. Which is why you should spend with discernment and discretion.

I could moan about the fact that stripped down to bare bones it is just a heavy bruiser. And when you have the pedal to the metal it has all the subtlety of a rhino charging through Cresta mall annoying all the shoppers. But that’s also what I loved about the X4M (Competition). The genuine sense of excitement walking up to it, getting in it and knowing you’re about to have an occasion. It pulls it off. Every time.

So, quite unlike the front wheel drive diesel thing at just under half the price that I slated the other day because I hated it for many, many reasons, this car poses an entirely convincing argument that in this pricing segment I think that the X4M (Competition) makes sense.

Did I really just write that? I must be going soft in the head. Drunk on petrol fumes or something.

But let’s face it. You are not going to be dropping this kind of dosh on anything less than spectacular and as it happens in this price point you are lucky enough to be ludicrously spoiled for choice.

For me, it comes down to this. I used to think that when it came to an SUV I’d be in for a Rangie, or a Rangie, or a maxxed out Defender, or, yes, you guessed it, a Rangie. All of which are proper SUVs. With pedigree and real off road capability, and real refinement and luxury. They are precisely not some model stuffing adding to an already well stuffed range of trumped up BAM brigade poser SUV wannabes. If you want an SUV, you go to Land Rover and give them all your money and that’s an end of it. Pedigreed supreme off-road capability and urban compatibility thrown in for free.

But now? Dammit. You’d have to be dead not to consider this contextually ridiculous yet wonderfully sublime in your face automobile. This is urban supremacy with what I suppose is some modicum of off-road compatibility thrown in for free (did I mention it is AWD?).

It is AWD. Oops. That does explain why the X4M (Competition) is so unbelievably planted in getting away when under the whip.

So it is both a terrible and an awful choice. I can’t make it. I won’t make it. All that I can say is that if I ever did opt for the Rangie one day when my tenderpreneur days cash me out with a wonderfully magnificent pay day, I know for certain fact I would never want to see an X4M (Competition) for as long as I live. MUVa FUVa.  And that for a car that I’m still not even sure that I know what it is.

It is really that damned good.

Go and drive one (you can thank me later with beer and/or preferably cash).

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