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?