I’ve been thinking about the late, great Leslie Neilson, lately. The Canadian-born actor, who served in the Royal Canadian Airforce during World War II, went on to become a respected and serious dramatic actor. He starred in dramatic television roles, such as several Alfred Hitchcock-product shows and even the Twilight Zone, among many others. However, in the ’80s, he took an abrupt and unexpected turn to comedy, in the classic film Airplane!, which drastically changed his career.
When dramatic film and TV buffs saw Neilson in a silly, over-the-top comedy such as Airplane!, they felt as though Neilson was slumming it, that his career was over. However, instead, Neilson continued to star in silly comedies and spoof movies for many years to come and became one of the most iconic comedic actors of all time. Roger Ebert once called him “the [Lawrence] Olivier of spoofs”. Neilson’s Naked Gun movies are still some of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and they only work because of his brilliant deadpan delivery.
Why am I talking about Leslie Neilson? Because the BMW M4 Competition xDrive reminds me a lot of his career, specifically his jump to comedy. Much like the dramatic film snobs that mocked Nielson’s comedy career, BMW purists will lament the M4’s addition of xDrive to its portfolio, claiming all-wheel drive ruins the purity of the BMW M experience. However, those purists need to get over themselves because, just like Neilson, this M4 is brilliant when it tells the snooty purists to kick rocks.
Same Car Just Less Risk
Drive the standard BMW M4 Competition on a damp day and you’ll soon learn the limits of rear-wheel drive. The M4’s 3.0 liter twin-turbo I6 makes 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque and is easily capable of overwhelming its rear tires, even on dry tarmac. In the wet, it’s a proper handful. However, the BMW M4 xDrive, with the same engine and same power, isn’t. Not only isn’t it a handful, it’s faster and allows you to push it harder.
BMW has worked wonders with this new M-style all-wheel drive system. Even in the dry, and on super sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, I was able to kick the tail out at will through some of the twistier corners near my house. And yet, because of the brilliant xDrive system, I never feared it would bite. Instead, it allowed me to just keep my foot in it, hold my admittedly unimpressive angle, and the xDrive system sorted it all out. The xDrive system is a safety net that M3/M4 owners have never had before and it’s one that’s welcome.
I found myself snaking corners together, pushing the car harder and harder, and never once fearing it would throw me off the road. There’s a sure-footedness to the M4 xDrive that the rear-drive model simply cannot match,
For some enthusiasts, that might sound like a deviation from what the M Division is about — M cars were always sort of scary, maybe intentionally so. However, the lack of fear actually makes the M4 more enjoyable. I like to go fast but I also want to go home to my kids. Having xDrive gives me the piece of mind to enjoy the former and still have the latter. Plus, it makes faster. A lot faster.
The standard M3 and M4 are capable of spinning their rear wheels, under full throttle, in third gear. There’s just so much power and torque on tap, overwhelming the rear tires can be done at will. With xDrive, however, you can plant your foot to the floor, pretty much whenever you want, and the only thing you’ll get is brutal acceleration.
Its extra grip is most noticeable off the line, though, for a couple of reasons. One of which is obviously the added grip. The other is the fact that, with launch control, the M4 xDrive launches in first gear, whereas the rear-drive car launches in second, as only two rear tires can’t handle first. With launch control active, some owners have seen 0-60 mph in under 3.2 seconds. Though I tried launch control several times, it wouldn’t engage (BMW’s launch control always seems to have a mind of its own). With my own launch, I managed 3.8 seconds to 60 mph on a very sandy, deserted road. I know I could shave several tenths off that time on a better surface and with launch control.
If you still want to have a bit of pure, rear-wheel drive, tire-smoking fun every once in a while, though, you still can. Just like in the M5, there’s a 2WD mode, which switches off the front axle and turns the M4 xDrive back into a standard M4, for as long as you want. There’s a bit of a caveat, though — all stability and traction control systems are switched off in 2WD mode. So it isn’t recommended on public roads. However, if you want to be a hooligan, the BMW M4 Competition xDrive will absolutely allow it.
Does it Feel Different?
Fans are naturally worried that the addition of front driveshafts and driven front wheels will ruin the steering of the M4. However, fans needn’t worry, as the M4’s steering is every bit as immediate and direct as it is in the rear-drive car. Maybe, if I were to drive both cars back-t0-back, I could notice a bit of a difference but, if there were any difference at all, it’d be negligible.
Like the rear- drive car, the BMW M4 xDrive’s steering is almost absurdly precise. Initial front-end bite is razor sharp, as it is in all M3/M4 models. Which means it turns in like a supercar and that’s not hyperbole. In fact, I’d be willing to bet there are some supercars that don’t turn in as well as the M4.
That said, just like all other M3/M4 models, the steering in the all-wheel drive BMW M4 is completely devoid of feel. It’s an odd sensation, to have almost no steering feel to speak of but also instant, hyper-responsive input. If it had a bit more feel, with a bit lighter steering weight, it’d be as good as the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio’s and that’s a grand compliment.
More importantly, the balance of the car feels completely unaffected by the xDrive system. It feels rear-driven all of the time, even when xDrive is sorting things out.
All of the Benefits, None of the Drawbacks
With xDrive all-wheel drive, the BMW M4 Competition is far more of a complete package than ever before. Now, the M4 Competition xDrive is more usable in the wet and in the cold, which makes it more of a four-season sports car than any other M3 or M4 before it. It’s faster, it’s safer, and it’s more usable. And yet, there’s no noticeable downside.
Interestingly, there aren’t even any xDrive badges on the car, so if you don’t want purists to know you drive an all-wheel drive model, they literally never will. BMW most likely kept xDrive badges off so as to reduce the badge clutter on the back of the car but it has the added benefit of hiding it from annoying critics.
If there’s a single “but” about the xDrive, it’s the added cost — the M4 xDrive ($78,800) is $4,100 more than the standard M4 Comp ($74,700). However, it’s absolutely worth the extra few thousands dollars.
It’s the Better Choice
If it were my money, and I had to choose between the cheaper rear-wheel drive model or the more expensive all-wheel drive model, it’d be a no-brainer — gimme the xDrive. The BMW M4 Competition xDrive is a better sports car than the rear-wheel drive version. It’s a rare have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too vehicle, in that it has all of the benefits of all-wheel drive; added grip, added safety, and added performance; without any of the drawbacks; worse chassis balance and duller steering.
Fans were, and maybe still are, apprehensive about the idea of an all-wheel drive BMW M4. But I’m here to tell you that there’s no need for apprehension. The BMW M4 Competition xDrive is a brilliant all-around sports car package that’s simply better than its rear-wheel drive model.