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luxury automakers are seeking out every niche they can find, and the latest niche is the high-performance small suv. bmw is joining the party with its new 2020 x4 m. this new m vehicle sets a high bar for what a small suv is capable of.
if you've never thought about taking an suv to a racetrack for some lapping sessions, the 2020 x4 m competition is out to change your mind. it's also out to change the mind of sports-car drivers. and judging by the way it accumulates speed over any good road or track, we think it's going to make quick work of preconceptions.
that, in large part, is thanks to the nearly all-new twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine. in this competition spec, it takes the standard x3 m's 473 horsepower and digs up an additional 30 horses for a faintly ridiculous 503 hp. there's also the not-so-small matter of 442 lb-ft of torque, which is available from as little as 2,600 rpm. perhaps even more impressive is how smoothly and readily this engine makes power. it's mostly free of turbo lag and absolutely devoid of power spikes all the way up to its 7,200 rpm redline.
of course, it's one thing to demolish straightaways and quite another to make it around the next bend. but the x4 m competition has that covered, too.
taking a step back from the performance side of things and ... well, there's really no way to do that in this vehicle. the x4 m competition is simply in attack mode at all times. the ride, even in the poorly named comfort setting, is fairly stiff. and when the various engine, suspension and transmission settings have been cranked up, the x4 m is intense, bordering on insane.
we had a chance to sample the x4 m on both road and track and were almost always in a state of disbelief. traction, aided by the m active differential, is excellent, and x4 m will even allow for a little powersliding out of slower corners. the shifts from the eight-speed gearbox are quick and authoritative. capability like that comes as no surprise since a lot of the hardware is largely lifted straight from the monstrous m5. but the x4 m competition isn't just a parts car. there's a multitude of specific chassis stiffening, bearings, bushings, suspension parts and even a special, more aggressive alignment to get this suv to do what it does.
but this mini monster can be driven more sedately and credit must go to the customizability of the x4 m competition. rather than simply grouping suspension settings, steering weight, ride and shift quality into singular modes, every parameter can be adjusted separately to suit the personality of the driver and the road. after which, two of those settings can be saved and called into immediate use by one of two m buttons on the stering wheel.
there's also the now de rigueur exhaust button for the competition-specific muffler. from the outside, the exhaust sounds much more like an older, non-turbocharged bmw six-cylinder engine. that exhaust can drone a bit on the highway, so it's great to have the option to quiet everything down.
the standard x4 is already a fairly nice place to be, and the x4 m competition adds suitably sporty touches to match with the exterior styling. the rear seats are essentially the same ones fitted to other x4s, but front-seat passengers get to enjoy specific full leather competition seats with deeper bolstering and perforated leather for improved breathability. there's even an illuminated m logo at the base of the headrest. further interior options are available through the bmw individual line.
in front of the driver is a thick steering wheel, which will be familiar to many bmw owners. but this one has two red preset buttons labeled m1 and m2 for quick access to preselected driving modes. there's also an x4 m-specific digital gauge cluster, but it's not the same one available in the new x5 or 3 series. we're happy to see it has more traditional round dials, even if they are virtual.
the gear selector is also special to the x4 m competition, and it's the same one from the monstrous bmw m5. atop that lever is a rocker switch for selecting various transmission settings, while alongside the lever are the buttons for selectable modes for suspension, engine response and steering weight.
as much as the performance has changed, it hasn't come at the expense of cargo space, which remains at 18.5 cubic feet of capacity. that's still considerably less than its x3 m sibling but so is the visibility. that's the price you pay for that rakish and sloping roofline. the x4 m competition still gets 40/20/40-split folding rear seats, and the cargo area has handy sliding tie-downs for your stuff, which will inevitably get tossed around once you start driving. there's a useful amount of small-item storage as well, with bins deep enough to keep things in place during spirited driving.
this x4 is likely not the only bmw we're going to see using this engine (it's known internally as the s58) in the future, so it's been designed and engineered from the get-go for some fairly extreme duty. the engine block uses what's called a closed-deck design to ensure extremely high levels of rigidity and the ability to handle more power in future applications. all of the big internal parts, such as the pistons and the crankshaft, are forged for added strength. the cooling and oil supply systems have been tried and tested in some of bmw's racing efforts, with a lot of effort going into the oil pan to ensure the engine never runs out of oil even if you find yourself on, say, the n¨rburgring. hey, it could happen ...
the chassis and suspension are also upgraded. the m gets redesigned underhood bracing, a new strut tower bar, and additional bracing that's been baked into the firewall itself. and if you needed more proof this isn't some casual hop-up, the rear suspension's lower control arms have also been redesigned, as have the front and rear stabilizer bars, all of which are specific to the competition model. there's also a multitude of redesigned bushings and swivel joints to improve steering feel as well as a more aggressive alignment for this model.
if you're not familiar with this category, it might seem unbelievable to learn this 503-horsepower suv actually has competition. the mercedes-benz amg glc 63 s coupe matches the power of the bmw but offers a more stylish interior. and though it's not yet been officially announced, a porsche macan turbo should be out before the end of 2019 and should be priced and powered competitively.