BMW’s Test Fest is always an exciting event, allowing us to test the full lineup of new BMWs in just one day, on both road and track, in the always-beautiful Palm Springs, California. Some years are better than others, with more new and exciting performance models, and this year was one of those years. There were several thrilling new performance cars at the ready, for us to flog at will, but the ones we were most excited to test were the new BMW M3 and M4 Competition xDrive models.
For the first time ever, BMW is offering xDrive all-wheel drive on the M3 and M4. Despite its all-wheel drive competition from Audi, the BMW M3 has always been a rear-drive-only sports car. It’s the way enthusiasts wanted it, too. However, with all of the power of this generation M3/M4, all-wheel drive actually seems like a very welcome addition. So what are the first-ever all-wheel drive BMW M3 and M4 like to drive?
Only Comes in One Flavor
If you want all-wheel drive on your BMW M3 or M4, you can only get it one flavor — Competition-spec. That means the powertrain and drivetrain for both the four-door BMW M3 and the two-door BMW M4 are identical. Both cars come with the same 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged inline-six, making 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque, paired to an eight-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive.
Interestingly, BMW doesn’t put any xDrive badged on the outside of the car, so there’s no way to tell if a BMW M3 or M4 has xDrive unless you dig into the iDrive menu. We don’t know if BMW will change that for production models but it was a bit odd to see in Palm Springs. BMW reps had to know which was which; rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; by the color scheme. Also, given how much BMW loves exterior badges, typically slapping “M” badges wherever it can, it’s surprising to not see any “xDrive” badges on the exterior of the cars.
On The Road
I drove both the BMW M3 Competition xDrive and the M4 Competition xDrive in Palm Springs but split my time with them between road and track. On the road, I tested the BMW M3, while I spent my time in the M4 on track.
As expected, neither the BMW M3 nor M4 felt particularly all-wheel drive. BMW always does a great job of hiding its xDrive all-wheel drive system, by sending most — if not all — of the power to the rear wheels until the fronts are needed. That’s still the case with the BMW M3, as the xDrive wasn’t noticeable on the road unless it was pushed really hard. Even if you do push it hard, and the tail starts to spin, the xDrive system will step in and keep you on the right line quickly. You can, of course, adjust how much the system will intervene, by using the 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, as well as MDM mode, but even in its loosest setting, it’s far safer to push hard than the rear-wheel drive model.
However, where the xDrive really comes in handy is when you want to drive quickly on slightly slippery surfaces. Many of the roads surrounding Palm Springs’ Thermal Club can be covered in a bit of sand. On those sandy roads, I could floor the gas pedal and the tail still wouldn’t spin. The traction control light didn’t even come on. The xDrive simply managed the power perfectly and gave me the grip I needed to not only keep the car safe but also effectively put the power down. There’s no question, the BMW M3 Competition xDrive is the most capable all-weather M3 ever.
In cold climates, where snow and icy rain can accompany winter months, that xDrive traction will be very welcome and should be the definitive choice. There’s very little trade-off, as it feels rear-driven most of the time anyway and mostly is during warmer months and dry conditions, but you gain a ton of extra usability. Plus, if you want, you can switch to 2WD mode and roast your rear tires to your heart’s content.
There is a weight penalty, though. The M xDrive system adds 110 lbs (50 kg) of weight, which isn’t insignificant it’s also no enough to negate the grip advantage. BMW’s pro drivers on hand at the Thermal Club, Bill Auberlen and John Edwards, both preferred the xDrive models on track, not only because they were faster but because they were more fun. You can put the power down earlier and more often with the xDrive models, without worrying about going sideways, which simply means you can go faster.
During some drag races, the xDrive models were faster in every run, even with a 30 mph rollout. So while there’s a bit of a weight disadvantage, it doesn’t seem to affect the car in any noticeable way and the grip advanatage of all-wheel drive far outweighs any sort of penalty.
Track Driving Impressions
On track with the BMW M4 Competition xDrive, you don’t need to be a great driver to go fast. The added grip allows you to use all of its power, without going sideways. If you’ve driven the new M3 or M4, you know they can bite if you aren’t careful but the xDrive models feel far safer, especially on track. I drove both the rear-wheel drive M4 and M4 xDrive on track and I was definitely faster in the latter model. I was also a better driver, using fewer steering inputs and corrections, as the car did what I asked of it more often.
I also tested the M4 xDrive in 2WD mode on track and it absolutely will get sideways easily. You don’t even need high speeds to do it, as there’s so much power on tap that, without DSC on (2WD mode disables DSC), it will easily drift the rear end. You can still slide the xDrive model around in the 4WD and 4WD Sport modes engages but you have to work harder to do so and the car will reign things in quickly.
In our video review, you can see how Bill Auberlen was able to be extra aggressive in corners with the M4 xDrive, without worrying about constantly maintaining the perfect line because he knew he could put the power down earlier and use it all.
Conclusion — Would I Choose xDrive Over RWD?
The answer, to put it simply, is I would absolutely choose the BMW M3/M4 xDrive over the standard rear-wheel drive models because they’re more usable in more conditions. I live in a snowy area and it would absolutely be safer and more fun to drive in winter months with all-wheel drive. I honestly think the only reason I’d get a rear-wheel drive model is, for nostalgia, to get the standard M3 or M4, with the six-speed manual. But given the area in which I live and my lifestyle, the BMW M3 Competition xDrive would be my choice.
2022 BMW M3 / M4 Competition xDrive
Exterior Appeal - 7.5
Interior Quality - 8.5
Steering Feedback - 9
Performance - 9
Handling - 9
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 9
Price Point - 8
I would absolutely choose the BMW M3/M4 xDrive over the standard rear-wheel drive models because they're more usable in more conditions. I live in a snowy area and it would absolutely be safer and more fun to drive in winter months with all-wheel drive.