Prestige brand’s racy twins fit for the family
Build it and they will come.
The world and Australians are equally obsessed with sports utility vehicles, so it was simply a matter of time before the hardcore makeovers arrived.
BMW had been slow of the mark in this realm. Porsche has seen sales of the Cayenne and its small Macan sibling soar, Alfa Romeo has its crazy QV, Jaguar boasts some quick cats, while Mercedes also offers souped-up AMG derivatives of the mid-size GLC.
Aussies love sporty derivatives, and the BMW X3 and X4 M pairing appeal to those wanting performance with practicality.
They are designed to look, sound and perform just like a sports car — but with the convenience of an SUV shell.
While the looks may appeal to many, the price tags ensure exclusively. The X3 M is $172,150 drive-away, while the coupe-looking X4 M adds another $7000.
Sales prove we can’t get enough of cars that go quick. That’s why both variants come with the ‘Competition’ package as standard.
Among the basic gear is a dual-branch M Sport exhaust with 100mm wide tailpipes, massive disc brakes big enough to shame dinner plates at posh restaurants, 21-inch alloys running on low profile rubber, while complementing the look are front and rear aprons, wheel arch surrounds and side skirt edges finished in body colour.
Other kit includes satnav, wireless phone charging, quality leather trim, three-zone climate control, a 16-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system, 10.25-inch touch display, power tailgate and panoramic sunroof.
There are still options, with heated front and rear seats $700, TV function $2250, and a massive $623 for Apple CarPlay (Android Auto still isn’t an option).
Six colours are available. White is standard, while metallic finishes include red, black, two shades of grey and sunstone. Cabin leather colour options include beige, orange, grey and black, plus a range of trims.
Prestige carmakers are holding firm at three years and unlimited kilometre warranties (mainstream has moved to five years). BMW falls into line. A $3991 basic ‘Service Inclusive’ package is available to cover servicing for five years or 80,000km. That’s about double what’s paid for the non-M variants.
Five stars were awarded by our safety authority, ANCAP, to both vehicles in 2017.
All the boxes are ticked in terms of modern expectations, like a head-up display which projects speed and other information like satnav directions onto the windscreen, an ability to steer within the lines if the driver is distracted, radar cruise control to maintain a set distance from other vehicles and automatic braking if a frontal collision is detected.
There is front cross traffic warning if vision is impeded by other vehicles or when coming from a laneway, but it doesn’t apply in reverse. Surround view with 3D functionality is standard and a great asset when parking.
With family commitments ends the sports car dream. Yet the athletic SUV realm is designed to offer the best of both worlds.
Throughout the cabin are ‘M’ designations as constant reminders that this is something special. A ‘Competition’ badge in the centre console is further proof of its underpinnings.
The high-riding position, along with expansive cabin space in both of these M variants make them useful family allies. Boot space surpasses 500 litres, and the 40-20-40 folding rear seat means it’s easy to fit in bikes, surfboards and other sporting equipment.
Dual cup-holders and door bottle accommodation, combined with a centre console, ensures the common-sense practicality aspects are well covered.
Navigating your way through the systems is relatively simple, but the fact Apple CarPlay isn’t standard is a major omission. It’s functionality standard on some sub-$20,000 cars.
Those accommodated front and back have impressive levels of head, leg and knee room. The couple-like rear of the X4 means less head space, and the rear doors are also smaller to make entry and exit more challenging.
You know it’s fast when even the start button is red. Two M toggles for quick access to sportier driving dynamics are also on the steering wheel.
From the moment the twin-turbo six-cylinder engine comes to life there is no doubting its sporting lineage. The burble is brilliant.
Step on the accelerator and it lives up to a sub-five-second sprint to 100km/h. Possessing a rear-biased all-wheel drive system, the sports automatic transmission hammers through the cogs with ease. Steering wheel paddles are available for those who like to change gears old-school.
Changes in direction are handled with ease, aided by a vice-like grip from the 21-inch rubber, and it’s easy to forget it’s an SUV — or a SAV, that sports activity vehicle in BMW marketing speak. Three driving modes, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, alter the dynamics of the engine response and suspension settings, as well as the steering feel.
And it likes to rev. It’ll happily work to the redline with fierce propulsion.
Be warned, the ride is firm and far from cosseting as soon as you step off carpet-like bitumen. While fine on the highway and in good conditions, potholes, bumps and undulations can feel brutal.
During a challenging stretch of less than ideal bitumen twisties, the X4 was thrown around, bobbing and struggling for any ride compliance. By comparison, a Nissan GT-R on the same road was composed and carved through with far greater comfort.
Our family lives life in the fast lane. We’ll be the first to get a rock star park at Nippers.
You had me at start-up. It’s the same engine you’ll find in the new M3, and this will keep up with some of the best sports cars going around.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio QV ($164,530 D/A)
Alfa’s flagship SUV may not be the most polished luxury soft-roader but it nails the performance brief. When the going gets tough, the Stelvio QV gets going. Powered by a 2.9-litreV6 twin-turbo that matches the Beemers’ 375kW/600Nm.
Mercedes-AMG GLC63S ($180,200 D/A)
AMG brings muscle car performance — and sound — to the civilised world of SUVs. Just updated, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 generates 375kW and 700Nm. Seductive appeal with the sound of a mighty V8.
Racetrack worthy, the go-fast versions of the X3 and X4 look quick and can walk the talk. Performance and practicality combine, but get on average bitumen and the compromise becomes apparent.
AT A GLANCE
BMW X3 M and X4 M Competition
PRICE X3 $172,150, X4 $179,500 (top of the SUV tree)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 3yr unlim km (expected), 5 services $3991 (hefty)
ENGINE 3.0-litre 375kW/600Nm turbo 6-cyl (hang on)
SAFETY 5 stars, six airbags, active cruise control, front cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assistant (OK)
THIRST 9.0-10L (on test)
SPARE None, repair kit (expected nowadays)
BOOT 550/525, seats down 1600/1430 (good)