Track Testing the 4 Latest BMW Speed Machines
Out of this world.
With its latest initiatives, BMW has singled out all the speed-seeking nuts out there. You there, the one who wants a coupe with 600 horsepower? Here’s an M8 Competition Gran Coupe. For those parents who never want to miss a meet-the-teacher night or peewee hockey game, there’s the 500-horsepower X4 M. Think it’s time for a limousine-class SUV with enough power to outrun the paparazzi? Check out the Alpina XB7.
We set out on the track and autocross course at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park with BMW’s latest toys to see if they all meet the needs of its power-hungry clients.
Perhaps the most mundane vehicle we tested was the new M440i xDrive, which is all new for 2021. Mechanically, the new 4-Series shares a lot with the 3-Series, except with two doors instead of four. Despite being taller than the outgoing model, the new M440i features a lower centre of gravity, which helps it feel agile and responsive on the course. Somehow the car can hit 100 km/h in about four seconds, despite having a relatively limiting 382 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Thankfully the 48-volt electrical system includes a small electric motor that helps fill in the gaps in power delivery from the twin-turbo six-cylinder engine. This is how the coupe feels so responsive and exciting.
Visually, the new 4-Series stands out since the redesigned grille is so jarring to look at. From every other angle, however, the coupe looks like the 8-Series, which is a compliment.
X4 M Competition
Another awkward-looking vehicle from BMW, the X4 is an SUV that decided at the last minute that it longer wanted to be an SUV. The rear hatch is clumsily amputated, letting BMW call this vehicle a coupe even though it still has four doors. Fortunately, it has the spirit of a two-door speed machine, thanks to a twin-turbo six-cylinder that makes 503 horsepower, which is an increase of 30 ponies over the non-competition model. The effect this has is mind-boggling. Once you witness a 4,500-pound SUV sprint to highway speeds in four seconds (or less in the right conditions), you’ll spend the rest of the day picking your jaw off the ground.
That speed should be paired with a sharp-handling ride, which is why my love for the X4 M starts to wane. It takes a lot of engineering to defy physics. It’s not easy to make the X4 M dance around the track like twinkle toes. Get ham-fisted and aggressive with the inputs, and the big Beamer gets unsettled with too much weight transfer front to back and side to side. The rear can get light, threatening to swing out and ruin your line around a course. You need to be measured and careful to take it on-track, and only then will you be able to experience the full potential of the X4 M Competition.
M8 Competition Gran Coupe
While the other two vehicles have some curious styling, the 8-Series is an undeniable stunner, even in four-door Gran Coupe format, and especially so in M8 guise. This model features 617 horsepower and can sprint from 0–100 km/h in 3.2 seconds. Those numbers mean a lot, but the real story is how raw that twin-turbo V8 feels. As I head down the straight during our damp track day, I find myself easing off the throttle sooner than expected, wishing I had the right track to stretch the legs and reach the full potential of this burly Beamer.
Fortunately, this big grand tourer can swing its way around a few corners. Once you get familiar with the handling and power plant, the M8 even allows you to adjust the all-wheel-drive system to send more power (or all of it, for the truly brave) to the rear wheels, letting you hang the tail out with confidence.
With that in mind, I also enjoy the M8 off the track. It provides a stylish yet ultra-executive feel on the street. It has enough performance to turn a mundane commute into something more exhilarating.
Finally, BMW brought along a rare animal for us to play with: the Alpina XB7. When the mundane X7 won’t do, opt for an Alpina. BMW assembles the XB7 in South Carolina alongside other BMW SUVs, but it uses a specially sourced engine and suspension bits built in the Alpina factory in Germany.
A team of Alpina specialists put it all together, making a high-performance SUV with a wild personality that BMW’s M division doesn’t endorse. This is also the case with the 7-Series, as seen with the Alpina B7 and the lacking BMW M7.
Alpina models feature the most luxurious materials and the sort of seating that would put a private jet to shame. There’s beautiful open-pore wood trim, and the dashboard is covered in Lavalina leather, Alpina being the only automaker in the business offering such surfaces. You can’t enjoy all of these niceties from the driver’s seat; this feels like the sort of car you want to be driven around in.
But the XB7 is also imbued with performance manners that will surprise you. Put it on the track, and you’ll feel as if you’re piloting a presidential convoy while under attack. You’ll have the urge to shout “hold on back there!” as you tackle the first chicane, trying to put a gap between yourself and your imaginary chasers. Of course, the big three-row luxury sedan loses a bit of momentum in the corners, but the 612-horsepower twin-turbo V8 makes up for it and then some. It’s a luxury yacht that may not be made specifically for the track, but it more than keeps up and feels plenty special.