Gidday from BMW’s Outback M Town
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The first attempt at BMW’s M Town Downunder was in Queenstown in July where no snow meant no driving, so instead the brand moved to a location where they are sure to have temperate weather – the Outback.
Set at the Nilpena station northeast of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia where there had been no rain for three years, chances of snow would be breaking news.
But the station wasn’t just any farm; it was 800sq km and it its former lake, now a clay base, had been turned into M Town with a rally stage set up comprising of 23 corners and one straight.
M Town is a marketing campaign “where too much is just right” and to prove that tagline it used two special BMW’s to launch at the event and drive on the rally set up.
BMW has created the X3M and X4M Competition models – that are not your average SUVs. The X3 and X4 sit in the middle of the BMW off-roader family but the Competition models aren’t just any siblings, they are more the rebels.
The X3M and X4M Competition share the same engine: the new 3-litre, twin power turbo, six-cylinder petrol producing 375kW of peak power at 6250rpm; and 600Nm of torque from 2600-5950rpm. They are paired with an eight-speed auto transmission plus BMW’s xDrive system.
Both go from 0 to 100km/h is 4.1 seconds but there have been posted times of 3.8/3.9s by journalists.
BMW has been working on the X3/X4 Competition vehicles since October 2014 when the engineering team in Munich was working on the X5M and X6M performance vehicles.
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After finishing work on them, they went straight on developing the X3/X4 M vehicles.
The X3 is your standard SUV shape, while the X4 is coupe-like. They are similar in physical size with the X4 just 32mm longer (at 4758mm), 30mm wider (at 1927mm) but the X3 gains 49mm in height at 1669mm.
They both weigh the same, 1970kg, but the X3 has more room at 550l (compared with 525l).
The BMW X3M Competition (below) is priced from $178,900 and the X4 version is $183,600.
For that you get a multitude of features including M Sport exhaust (the louder the better), 21in M light alloy wheels, a panorama glass sunroof, and the new head up display that includes navigation, speed and sign recognition plus tachometre.
Inside, the car gets all the luxury you’d expect including Merino leather upholstery with heated front seats.
It also gets the specifically tuned M xDrive system that sends most of the car’s drive to the rear tyres while BMW has added the M-specific suspension with electronically controlled dampers.
The X3M/X4M gets two red M-mode buttons on the steering wheel that have two individually selected setting suites. M1 has the powertrain, suspension and steering to Sport+ mode while the BMW driving instructors M2 where the suspension and steering are in Comfort while the engine and transmission are in maximum Sport+ and ESC is tuned down.
The X3M Competition and X4M Competition’s servotronic steering has a turning ratio of two turns lock-to-lock that means it’s easy to instigate the Scandinavian flick around the cones. Which of course we did. And the outcome, pure delight as the X3 and X4 (below) went sideways around the 23 corners.
Then you power down on the straight to get up to 150km/h before hammering on the brakes.
As there was no stock on the station due to the drought and only wild camels to look out for, the lakebed at Nilpena was ideal to spend hours rolling through the X3 and X4. The X3 was our favourite of the two as the larger rear helped it flick around cones.
But you have to like dust, really like dust (below). The fine red dust was capable of seeping into vehicle’s “airtight” sealing and filling the cabin and it can even get into tyres.
The moment you step on the gas you create a huge cloud of red mist and with a slight wind across the lakebed there was no escaping being coated in the dust.
Okay, so what was the point in M Town? No it wasn’t to see how much dust one person could acquire in a single standing. Instead it was to show the performance of the nearly 2000kg SUV. The engine kicked into action without hesitation while the eight-speed notches through the gears better and faster than we could.
The suspension coped with the rutted surface and the vehicle-unfriendly dirt surface that by the end of the driving sessions resembled a beach.
But it wasn’t only the X3 and X4 M Competition vehicles in action. The night before we’d flown from Adelaide to Hawkins near the Flinders Range and glamping overnight at Wilpena Pound. Our transportation to Nilpena was the X5 40i then 30d, before heading from the station to Hawkins we were in the X7 M50d.
The drive from the station house itself to M Town was more like desert racing and bouncing along sand dunes where we had to say out loud “momentum is my friend” as the X5 struggled to get through deep ruts if the rev counter dipped.
The routes in and out of Nilpean itself aren’t easy. Leaving our accommodation at 7am we had to be wary of kangaroos, emus and even hawks on or near the road. While the posted speed was 110km/h we kept to 70km/h or slower if we saw a mob of roos near the road.
Turning off the bitumen, we followed a riverbed and through a canyon to the nearby settlement of Parachilna where the pub was owned by Nilpena’s family. With no stock on the station, and M Town in residence only for a few days for Australian and Kiwi journalists, they needed some way to make money.
Once word gets out about M Town Outback we’re sure other BMW markets will be desperate for it to reopen. As long as they like dust.