All-wheel drive is pretty much non-negotiable if you live in Canada. We get it. Even in Toronto, those 10 or 12 days a year when the city gets hammered and the snow banks might as well be Mt. Everest, you want — no, need — all-wheel drive (AWD). The thing is, there’s a certain sect of car geeks and driving purists who think less is more. They say — and, frankly, we often agree — that all-wheel drive makes a car dull. It numbs the steering, makes a car feel heavy, and induces understeer, which makes the front wheels feel like they doesn’t want to turn. (Case in point: the all-wheel drive Lamborghini Huracan versus the special rear-wheel drive Huracan.)
So, when it comes to sporty cars — and we’ve driven pretty much all of them here at SHARP — we generally find they’re better au naturel, as the automotive gods intended: rear-wheel drive (RWD).
All of which is to explain why we were quite skeptical when BMW announced that, for the first time ever, the venerable M3 and M4 would be available with AWD. (What! Has the M4 gone soft? Has it grown up and got boring? What was BMW thinking…?) Thankfully, BMW also sells a classic rear-drive M3 and M4. Obviously that is better right? Not so fast.
Not every all-wheel drive system is created equal. BMW’s system is called xDrive, and M cars get the fancy M xDrive system to put power to all four wheels. The system actually debuted on the M5 in 2017. Essentially, it sends power to the rear wheels. Then, if the road is slippery or you’ve got the car out of shape, an electronically-controlled clutch hooks up and automatically sends power to the front wheels to pull you out of trouble. It’s seamless. There’s also BMW’s frankly miraculous electronic M differential, which parcels out torque between the rear wheels. Don’t worry if that all sounds like Latin to you; the important part is how it feels to drive.
On the road
Although the new M4 looks mean and angry, it’s much more civilized than the old version. The steering is meaty and the front wheels simply go where you point them; they seem to resist understeer no matter what kind of ham-fisted maneuver you pull. The level of grip, in both a straight line and when cornering is immense. It’s like there’s Velcro sticking it to the road.
That doesn’t mean boring though, quite the opposite. Switch the AWD system into the frisky 4WD Sport mode, and you can feel the rear wheels squirming and just-barely smearing across the road on corner exit. On a track, it’ll drift for days. In the default 4WD mode, there’s less fidgeting and drama from the rear wheels. Acceleration is ferocious; BMW claims 3.5 seconds to 100 km/h, but independent tests have confirmed the car is even quicker than that.
If you really want to turn the rear tires into smoldering molten-rubber donuts, you can switch off the AWD system and put the car in 2WD mode. Then you’ve got 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque going to the rear wheels alone. The suspension does such a miraculous job of pushing the tires into the ground, however, that the M4 never feels like a menace. This is a supremely well-sorted chassis and engine.
In terms of steering feel, there is not (surprisingly) a significant difference between the AWD and RWD M4. In both cases, steering is accurate, beautifully weighted, if slightly aloof. It doesn’t fully come alive until you’re pushing the car to its full potential, and you’ll need a racetrack for that.
The M xDrive system adds 50 kilograms of weight, which most people will never notice. The ride is a bit stiff for city driving, which is a minor annoyance. Fuel economy isn’t an issue though, with AWD only increased the combined average consumption by 0.1-litres per 100 km. The biggest problem is that you can’t get an M3 or M4 with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission. It’s one or the other, and that’s a highly personal decision. You can’t go wrong either way though.
Having a car that can do it all doesn’t come cheap. The 2022 BMW M4 Competition xDrive will set you back $91,600. Add some nice Merino leather ($2,500), metallic paint ($895), and all the high-tech luxuries that come bundled into the Premium Package ($6,300) and you’re looking a price just over six-figures before tax.
For the money though, there’s simply no other track-day weapon that’s as capable, versatile and competent in so many areas. It’ll handle snow and ice, and winter grime without complaint. And it’ll tear up a racetrack or mountain pass like that’s what it was born to do. Does AWD ruin sports cars? Maybe, but in the case of the M3 and M4, it only makes them better.