I think it was the point I experienced wheelspin in fourth when sampling the G82 BMW M4 Competition that I started to come round to the idea of the then-incoming xDrive versions of it and the M3. Before then, the idea of an all-wheel drive M3 just didn’t sit right with me. These cars are supposed to be about driver engagement above everything else, and being a bulky car to start with, dumping extra weight on top to turn a traditionally rear-wheel drive car into one with all-wheel drive seemed pretty egregious.
Fast forward to today, and I have the keys to an M3 xDrive and am more interested in this than any other G80 M3/G82 M4 derivative. Could this actually make a great deal of sense? Before deciding, let’s take a look under the skin.
The new xDrive system is bespoke to the new M3/M4 Competition models. At its core is an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch that can fully vary the distribution of torque between the front and rear axles. Drive only goes to the front when necessary, and as in the G30 M5, you can make everything go to the back all the time via a ‘2WD’ mode.
There’s a crucial difference here, though. While you still have to hold down the stability control system to bin off all the electronic aids (ABS aside, of course) before selecting 2WD, the M3 lets you add some of the assistance back in 10 stages. Set thusly there’s also the option of a more rear-biased ‘4WD Sport’ mode, which the car allows you to select in the halfway-house M Dynamic Mode (MDM) too.
To go with the new system, BMW has fiddled with the front suspension geometry and changed the steering ratio. In terms of weight, you’re looking at a rise of 55kg, giving a new EU kerb figure of 1855kg. A light car this is not, although it doesn’t feel anything like as obese as it should.
It’s more than happy to change direction quickly with little complaint, and in isolation at least, the added bulk isn’t noticeable. The same is true of the steering – it’s maybe not quite as communicative as the rear-wheel drive version, but we’d need to drive the cars back-to-back to tell for sure.
The differences become much more noticeable when putting your foot down. Doing so in a rear-drive M3, as we’ve discussed, tends to result in a whole lot of wheelspin. Or with the electronic stuff on, a wildly flickering traction control light and a lot of missing power. But here, it just hooks up and goes. And fast. 0-62mph is done and dusted in only 3.5 seconds.
In this traction-happy setting, we’re happy to look upon the ‘S58’ twin-turbo inline-six much more favourably. It lacks the aggression and top-end excitement of the F80 M3‘s S55, but when you’re able to deploy all of its 503bhp whenever you want, a newfound sense of drama is added. You form a much greater appreciation for the shocking mid-range clout on offer.
The base 4WD mode is, as you’d probably expect, pretty neutral. But not to the point where the M3 feels like some Audi RS products, where a dash of understeer lies in wait once the supply of traction runs dry. It feels pointier than that, but you are missing out if you don’t switch to 4WD Sport.
On the road, this is best combined with MDM. This allows for plenty of slip at the rear, making the M3 xDrive behave just like an M car should. Even with the extra security blanket of those front prop shafts, this is still a car that demands attention and respect – get greedy with the throttle, and it will want to move around.
2WD mode was briefly sampled, but after getting used to the way the M3 xDrive blends impressive traction with an entertaining rear-led driving attitude, it feels like a retrograde step. The car is more than feisty enough in 4WD Sport with the ESC turned off entirely, to the point where I’d say the M3 xDrive would as good as offer the best of both worlds even if there was no 2WD mode. It’s a nice option to have, though, even if I can’t imagine many buyers bothering with it all that often.
As for the other settings, expect it to take time to nail down what you prefer from the thousands (yes, thousands) of potential combinations. 4WD Sport is our chosen xDrive mode for most situations, and everything else is as per our rear-drive M3/4 preference.
So that’s Sport Plus for the engine to deliver maximum straight-six drama, full automatic gearbox aggression, Comfort brakes and steering, and finally, Sport suspension since Sport Plus is way too firm away from the track. On some roads, we dropped the latter to Comfort, which is still pretty sturdy and capable of fending off any notable body roll.
Is that too much complication? Undoubtedly yes. This is one of the less successful elements of the car which is shared with the rear-wheel drive version, along with those divisive looks (which we’re getting used to – slowly) and an automatic gearbox that lacks the outright immediacy of the old dual-clutch. It’s a triumph for the most part, though, and with a premium of just over £2,000 for xDrive, this version seems like a no-brainer.
There is the nagging thought in the back of our minds that such a thing might not be necessary had BMW shown more restraint with the power output, but that’s a debate for another time. For now, you just need to know that the best current M3 is the one with all-wheel drive. Come at me, purists.