I had just spent the past 20 laps at Thermal’s South Palm track in the BMW M4 Competition xDrive and I was convinced. Despite loathing the concept of an M4 with xDrive, lap after lap I became more convinced that the system not only made sense on the new M4 Competition but was the future for the brand. The car delivered enormous grip and performance yet somehow still delivered the type of M car precision we’ve love for decades. But the epiphany was how it delivered that rear wheel drive feel at the limit. Then I stepped into an identical BMW M4 Competition in RWD form and everything changed.
First lets back up for a minute. This new generation M3 and M4 have taken some major steps in every performance category imaginable. At the center of that improvement is the S58 twin-turbocharged inline six. Producing 503 hp and 479 lb-ft in Competition spec, it’s that rare turbocharged engine that feels both elastic in its power delivery while incredibly quick to rev.
Where BMW deviated from it’s typical formula is by adding xDrive. It’s no secret that cars like the Nissan GTR have ushered in a new performance era 15 years ago thanks in large part to the grip from high-tech AWD systems. That technology has now proliferated across the performance spectrum putting enormous pressure on the M Division with these new M3 and M4s. So how could BMW possibly go all in on performance without losing the rear wheel drive and manual transmission so beloved by some enthusiasts? The answer was simple – create multiple M4s.
For outright speed there’s the 503 hp and 479 lb-ft 2022 BMW M4 Competition available with optional xDrive and automatic. And for classic M car engagement there’s the 473 hp 406 lb-ft standard BMW M4. Why the difference? The six speed manual Getrag that BMW has been refining for years can only handle 406 lb-ft of torque without sacrificing longevity.
BMW M4 Competition xDrive Vs RWD – The Winner
So which M3 and M4 is better? We had a chance to spend some quality time with both Competition models recently in the canyon roads outside of Palm Springs and at the Thermal Club South Palm course and came away with some clear answers.
First and foremost these new M4s are both the fastest and most usable ever. As M3s and M4s have done for generations, they find that perfect balance of performance and every day usability that is so difficult to achieve. But it’s not just performance that makes these cars so satisfying. The feel and feedback in this new generation of M4s is what makes them immediately feel superior to their processors.
And then there’s the performance. Simply put we have never driven a BMW with more accessible high performance. Even the track day special M4 CS aren’t close to what the 2021 BMW M4 Competition can deliver (as evidence by ‘Ring time 8 seconds faster).
That’s especially true in the BMW M4 Competition xDrive which at the track had a clear edge over the RWD car in grip at the limit and it’s ability to make use of that 503 hp coming out of corners lap after lap. However most impressive was how easy it was to get consistently quick lap times. With the AWD and M Differential doing its magic, the BMW M4 Competition xDrive is inherently a forgiving machine that’s easy to exploit. Case in point, even at 9 in the morning (with barely a single cup of coffee) I was able to jump in a straight away set blistering times lap after lap.
I love the classic rear wheel drive formula and have long feared the day the M3 and M4 would go AWD. Yet here I was not just methodically nailing apexes but enjoying the experience lap after lap. It helps that the xDrive system is predominantly rear wheel drive giving the car the balanced feel that we all love in M cars.
So how could the rear wheel drive BMW M4 Competition compete? The truth is it can’t in terms of performance. Yes it’s 99 lbs lighter but that benefit is quickly overcome by the grip offered by xDrive. Where it shines is how it feels and what it delivers in terms of driver engagement. You feel it the second you turn in as the front feels both more eager and isolated giving you greater levels of information. Part of that is due to the weight distribution which is close to that classic 50/50 that we all know and love about older M cars. But more than anything it’s the 100% rear wheel drive nature of the experience that creates a lasting impression. Even with MDM mode engaged there’s a care and modulation required to get the most out of this car. And if you misjudge things in corners it’s utterly predictable up to and beyond the limit. In other words this thing drifts like a champ. As much as the xDrive will happily allow you to break the rear lose, the RWD version of the M4 Competition can’t help but do that by default. There’s less computer trickery going on here and instead old-fashioned physics at play.
It’s also quite a bit cheaper with a MSRP 4,100 less than the M4 Competition xDrive allowing you to spend your money on a few tasty options like ceramic brakes (which are shockingly good on track).
It’s perhaps an inevitable conclusion for many BMW enthusiasts that the RWD version of the new M4 would be the one to get. But I honestly wasn’t sure after my time in the BMW M4 Competition xDrive that there was a need for the RWD car – it was that good. But the simple equation of (near) 50/50 weight distribution, 500 hp and rear wheel drive is still magic after all these years. Even with all the modern microprocessors and algorithms there’s just nothing quite like it.