We drive BMW’s first-ever all-wheel drive M3 ahead of its Australian arrival.
This, for the first time in the BMW M3’s history, is an M3 with four-wheel drive. The BMW M3 Competition xDrive sedan, also available as an M4 coupe, has had additional traction added because the latest-generation car, which we like a lot, has 375kW and 650Nm from its 3.0-litre straight sixengine. Rather big numbers. I think BMW supposes the rear tyres might need some help from the fronts under acceleration. Something akin to Audi RS levels of security.
Certainly the figures suggest the xDrive 4wd system is effective. With only the rear wheels driven, the M3 can go from 0-100km/h in 3.9sec. In this xDrive form, that drops to just 3.5sec, a fairly whopping gain.
In everyday driving, though, the idea is that you won’t know the system is there a great deal. Normally, drive goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, just like it does in the regular, rear-drive M3. But with xDrive there’s a multi-plate clutch ready to send power forwards too, through drive shafts and to a front suspension redesigned to accommodate the half shafts.
The amount of power diverted forwards varies depending on how much slip the rears would otherwise have, but can be adjusted by the driver too, through three modes – normal 4wd, Sport 4wd (which is slightly more rear biased), or if with stability control switched off then it can be abandoned altogether and the M3 returned to rear-wheel drive, complete with its nifty system for rating how well the driver can drift.
As an xDrive, the M3 Competition costs from $160,900, a $16,000 premium over the regular M3 sedan with rear-wheel drive. The system adds 55kg to the M3, making the kerbweight 1780kg.
Without a direct back-to-back comparison during laid-back road driving I think you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference between the rear-drive M3 and the xDrive. I had a two week gap between drives and couldn’t.
Which I suspect is partly the idea. M3 is M3. That means it’s quite big these days, at 4.8m long and 1.9m wide across the body, and has a classy and solid-feeling interior. The user interface for the infotainment retains a separate dial and array of buttons, too, thankfully – not the sort of thing you should overlook as a daily proposition. Superb driving position, too.
The engine’s strong, with a little lag at low revs but eager to rev out, and snarly while it does it. And the eight-speed auto transmission is slick too.
The ride remains firm. Even in the softest of three suspension settings body control is given a higher priority than comfort and, actually, absorbance doesn’t seem to suffer if you move from Comfort through to Sport on the chassis settings. If anything, there’s less lateral shift and just shorter vertical movements, so it’s no more brittle. I’d be tempted to leave it there most of the time. You can also select how angry you want the engine, how heavy you want the steering and how responsive you want the brake pedal too – all horses for courses.
In no mode, mind, does the M3 ever glide quite like an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the benchmark sports sedan. Nearly all performance cars are too quick for the road these days but the Alfa Romeo, as well as greater chassis deftness, gives more pleasure back at the modest road speeds that are the norm. The M3, though, wants to go more quickly before it comes alive.
Do so on poor surfaces and that’s where this new xDrive system comes into its own. Away from junctions and slow corners where a regular M3’s torque would trouble its rear tyres, the xDrive is far more secure and capable, with hardly a scrabble or a flash of the traction control light. When you do want to go quickly, by gum the M3 doesn’t half go quickly. This is a very serious performance car.
Is the M3 Competition xDrive more fun as a result of gaining 4wd? I don’t think so, but given the M3 finds itself as a daily driver in all kinds of conditions, it only enhances the appeal of a good super sedan.