The audible character of the X4 M Competition may be a little reserved, but the car’s handling character is a lot more lurid – and being present right on the surface of its driving experience makes it seem all the more so. It’s as if this were a car tuned never to be more exciting than to a slightly disinterested driver navigating a roundabout at 43mph.
The steering is quite fast-geared, medium-heavy and delivers some but not much feedback, but it isn’t one you’d describe as particularly intuitive. Working in tandem with BMW’s uncompromisingly firm suspension, it makes the X4 M considerably more agile at low speeds than you expect something so big and tall to be. With familiarity you become used to the snappy directional responses, but none of our testers ever became totally comfortable with them.
BMW M’s menu of driver-configurable systems is thankfully present, and by dialling down the engine, transmission, suspension and steering systems to their most becalmed settings, it could just about be massaged into something with the drivability and good manners to be used every day.
Even so, some testers found the car’s handling to be quite tiringly high-strung and frustratingly contrived even thus configured and, while they might have recognised it as a fairly authentic M-car in its wilder moments, would have hesitated to call it a typical luxury BMW in any of them.
During those wild moments, the car exhibits plenty of grip and traction and has all the body control and handling balance needed to sustain lots of cornering speed on a smooth surface. That the chassis declines to understeer as you accelerate beyond the lateral limit of the tyres but can snap quite suddenly into oversteer if you rein in the electronic stability controls makes it not unlike its immediate rivals from Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-AMG: finely balanced almost to a fault and exciting with it – but not particularly stable-feeling or inviting to drive quickly. Such are the problems that remain inherent in attempting to make big, tall, heavy SUVs handle like super-saloons, even in 2019 and with the very latest torque-vectoring four-wheel-drive systems involved.
The car’s stability on B-roads is considerably less impressive than on flatter surfaces, its ride becoming unyielding and excitable when given bigger, sharper inputs to deal with, and its on-board comfort levels deteriorate quite starkly. Someone who bought a performance SUV expecting a car more suited to rougher topography than a sports saloon certainly wouldn’t find their match with the X4 M.