Thanks to the generous support of Geelong BMW, who organised to get us two cars from BMW Australia for Geelong Revival, I had the privilege of driving an X4M Competition and a M3 CS over the weekend – admittedly not for very long.
Both are very fine cars and I’d take either of them if they were a prize in a raffle. But if I had to put down my own hard earned cash, I’d take the M3 CS – it just more my sort of car and I understand that not everyone would agree (Jo Mawson being one!).
So, I’ll start with the M3 CS.
I like the look of the F80/F82 cars. Muscular and purposeful. In my personal view a distinct improvement on the rather bland E90/92 M cars. I’m not sure I would want the Frozen deep blue finish – I’m told the Frozen finish is easy to clean and it proved to be so when the seagulls repeatedly left their mark on the cars whilst on display at the waterfront – as I think it could quickly start to look like a neglected old car. But whilst new I concede it has a certain presence.
Opening the door reveals the first of the many weight saving features which are part of the CS pack- no keyless entry. I was a bit taken aback by this as I was standing right next to the rear door which has roller sun blinds!
Weight is down and power up with the suspension enhanced – must be good.
But the interior looks gorgeous, with sculptured seats and M-tricolour edged seat belts with CS etched into the dash. And it gets even better once seated.
The seats are firm supportive and very snug, instantly reminding me of the Recaro seats in my ’81 E21 323 JPS. I did not have the chance to drive for more than about 30 minutes at a time but I’m sure they will be comfortable on a long drive.
Oddly, given the weight saving ethos, there is full electric adjustment and memory for both seats and external mirrors. Given the strong family design theme still running from the ‘60s to today, getting a suitable setting was quick and easy. And now it felt very much like my ’05 E46 M3 – a theme I’ll be coming back to.
Leather trim on the upper dash, splashes of carbon fibre and an Alcantara trimmed steering wheel of what I think ideal thickness (some reviewers say too thick) but no centre arm rest and only single zone climate control (weight again). Odd, but lovely.
Press the (keyless) start button and a delightful burble erupts at the back with a meaningful hum at idle which cries “ready for action”. Snick the now classic M gear knob across to the right (yes- dual clutch transmission) and the gearbox defaults to auto mode. I’m sure that can be changed but I did not work my way through the thick owner’s manual which nearly filled the glove box. I was happy to see how well it worked as an auto.
I will freely admit that my M3’s SMG gearbox is a woeful auto but the M3 CS’s DCT works perfectly. At any time one can flick a paddle and assume temporary manual control just as with a paddle equipped “slush box” system. There is no creep at idle but nor is there any jerk when a touch of throttle is applied. Parking is a breeze and a creep mode can be induced if really required. This is all an improvement, minor in the most part, from the DCT implementation in the E90/92.
Once on the move the whole car feels alive and responsive. The steering has a wonderful weight and feel. I can not say what would happen when the car is stretched as I did not get to drive it out of town. But it gave me every indication that is was ready to party and was going to be good at it!
I’d say the F80 is more race suit and the E90 M3 more business suit. But a tastefully tailored race suit you could wear to work.
Switching to fully manual transmission control the gear changes are instant, smooth and delightfully executed. It will change up readily in a way my E46’s SMG just won’t. This is such a step forward I’m saddened that BMW are going to discontinue the DCT in favour of the “conventional” torque converter autos.
I liked it a lot. A real lot.
With a few more kays under my belt I really appreciated just how far suspension design and tuning has come in the last 18 years or so. The ride is surprising smooth and quiet, and yet those who know far better than I testify that this car corners flatly and with tremendous grip. It is astonishing how this can be achieved.
Oddly, despite all the M1 button presets for the ultimate personal choice of the many selectable parameters such a throttle response, suspension stiffness, steering weight, I get the impression that this is not a dual character car in the way that many “hot” cars are. It seems it will seamlessly move from comfy cruiser in a city traffic jam to an all out racer on a nice twisty road or possibly even race track.
In a word, brilliant.
So, what of the brightly coloured X4M.
For a start, I like the colour better, and I like the overall shape. The front end styling is sharp and dramatic with lots of nice black details. If one is going to have a SUV, sorry, SAV, at least have a curvy one. Yes, I know the idea of a coupe 4x4 type vehicle seems to contradict its very reason for existence, but the loss of functionality is minor compared to the improvement in styling – in my eyes at least.
It’s a bit of a step up into the X4M. Literally if not figuratively. I think I would find that tiresome but it’s a feature of the genre. But once behind the wheel it all looks and feels very BMW and, oh, so just right. The feeling is far more car like than I had expected and it has a nice commanding feel. The driver’s seat is supportive but not overly snug with plenty of provision for those with a wider beam.
The instruments, general dash layout and M-style gear lever action leave you in no doubt that this is an M-Car, and the exhaust burble on start up confirms this to be so. But otherwise it is a completely “normal” drive unless you active some of the sporty settings and spice things up. There is no doubt that it is smooth and powerful, but I did not feel the same level of “special” that I did in the M3 CS. On the move its composure and lack of excessive lean and wallow belie its height and weight. I’m pretty sure that on just about any piece of road you could name it would give the M3 CS something to worry about and still be comfortable.
One thing which I noticed very quickly is the shallow rear window, a by-product of that sloping roof line. Rear seat headroom is not overly compromised but I spent a bit of time trying to adjust the interior mirror before realising that it is the window which needed adjustment! A rear view camera does a wonderful job when reversing but the letter-box view took some getting used to on the road. Thankfully the large door mirrors give a superb rearward view.
And there is no getting away from the huge cargo space and commanding view.
If you like a SUV style vehicle, and you like a fast rewarding drive, this has got to be a good possibility for you.
Both cars attracted a lot of attention at the Geelong Revival and we are greatly indebted to Phil Curran and his staff at Geelong BMW for arranging to get these from BMW Australia and cleaning them etc ready for us to pick up. And thanks to BMW Australia for making them available to us.
Lawrene Glynn | Member #3
BMW Drivers Club Melbourne