What is BMW xDrive?

Not sure what BMW xDrive is or whether it's worth paying extra for? Read on to find out all the pros and cons

Sam Naylor
Aug 30, 2021

Let’s start with the easy answer to the question 'what is BMW xDrive?'. This is the term used by the German car manufacturer to refer to its four-wheel-drive models. If you’re looking at two seemingly identical BMW models and one has xDrive in the name, that’s the one with four-wheel-drive.

This is opposed to BMW’s two-wheel-drive models, which are sometimes referred to as 'sDrive' versions. You can read about those here.

That’s really all most people will need to know about BMW xDrive, but you’re here because you want to know more, right? Here we look at some of the details of the system including how it changes the way cars drive, the pros and cons, plus some of the best models with xDrive.

What is BMW xDrive?

BMW primarily uses xDrive as a marketing term - just like Audi does with quattro and Mercedes does with 4Matic. It distinguishes cars with four-wheel-drive from the front- and rear-wheel-drive versions in the range. It’s not just for the SUVs and off-roaders in the BMW range, as nearly all models are available with four-wheel-drive these days.

The way the system works does vary depending upon the model, because BMW’s engineers tune it to work best with each car. SUVs like the X5 are more likely to be used off-road, so the system is tuned for that, whereas a 3 Series saloon is tweaked to be best on the road.

In general, though, xDrive sends 40% of the power to the front wheels and 60% to the back wheels - though using sensors, the car’s computer can vary the amount and put power to the corner of the car that has the most traction. This ensures the least possible wheelspin and the greatest possible control.

BMWs are known for their sporty driving feel, so the BMW xDrive system is designed to provide a more enjoyable drive than some other four-wheel-drive systems. It’s made to feel like rear-wheel-drive most of the time - offering precise steering and good traction when accelerating - but to add extra grip when needed as well.

This is useful for off-roading but it’s most likely to be used on tarmac roads, where it helps to keep the car stable when cornering, especially in wet and snowy weather.

There’s also a version of xDrive on BMW’s high-performance M cars such as the M3, M4 and M5 - this is a specially-tweaked version that focuses on making the car faster in bends, but can also be switched to rear-wheel-drive-only for use on a racetrack.

Pros of BMW xDrive

The main benefit of choosing a BMW xDrive model is that it will be more secure in bad weather. If you’ve experienced a snow day in a rear-wheel-drive BMW you’ll know that it can feel treacherous and difficult to even leave your driveway, but in a four-wheel-drive model, it will be a little easier, with power going to twice as many wheels, meaning you have more chance of progressing forwards rather than just spinning power away.

However, be aware that fitting winter tyres will bring better grip in snow and even wet, cold conditions than simply having a four-wheel-drive car, so it's worth considering this if you're thinking about four-wheel-drive simply for driving in winter conditions; a two-wheel-drive car with winter tyres could be perfect for your needs and may end up being cheaper overall than going for a four-wheel-drive model.

In most cases, the xDrive versions of BMWs feel very similar to drive to the two-wheel-drive models, so you can enjoy the handling and comfort with the knowledge that poor weather conditions will be a bit easier to navigate.

Cons of BMW xDrive

There are plenty of reasons to avoid xDrive models, depending upon what's most important to you. The main drawback is that four-wheel-drive adds weight, which reduces efficiency. As an example, a BMW 320i returns around 44.1mpg according to official figures, but a 320i xDrive returns 41.5mpg and emits more CO2 as well - so it’s more expensive to fuel and costs more for company car drivers to tax.

BMW xDrive models cost more to buy in the first place too, so value for money is not a strong point for these versions. While grip when pulling off is better in xDrive versions, when you look at our example above with the 320i, the xDrive model is slower to accelerate, so performance is worse as well.

Then there’s the extra complexity four-wheel-drive brings. With more parts in the vehicle, there’s more to go wrong and more to maintain, so in the long term, it’s going to cost more to run even if all else is equal.

Best BMW xDrive cars

If you’ve decided you do want a BMW with xDrive, which are the best ones to choose? Here are three of our favourites - including an SUV, estate car and a saloon - all available now on Buyacar.co.uk.

BMW 320d xDrive

Used deals from £14,980
Monthly finance from £332*

The extra low engine speed punch and efficiency of the BMW 320d’s diesel engine means that even the four-wheel-drive model is really economical and picks up speed easily, so the drawbacks of xDrive listed above are less obvious in this model.

As a result, the 320d xDrive is a brilliant all around car, with a pleasant cabin, comfortable seats, enjoyable handling and lots of space inside. If you often drive on slippery roads or in an area that regularly gets hit with snow, and want a relatively affordable but also comfy and upmarket car that will give you extra confidence in these conditions, this could be it.


BMW X5 xDrive30d

Used deals from £26,830
Monthly finance from £451*

The BMW X5 is a large SUV and although it’s expensive, there are good deals available on used models that make it far mroe affordable and it’s incredibly practical. There’s a huge boot and loads of passenger space, plus it’s really comfortable and full of tech.

The X5 isn't the toughest of 4x4s - if that's what you're after, a Land Rover or Range Rover model is likely to be a wiser upmarket SUV choice - though since nearly all X5 models come with xDrive and have reasonable ground clearance, it offers more than enough off-road ability for most drivers. 


BMW 520d xDrive Touring

BMW 5 Series Touring front

Used deals from £22,500
Monthly finance from £402*

A BMW 5 Series Touring sits somewhere between the 3 Series and X5, bringing the fun handling and road-based comfort of the smaller saloon with the spacious interior and huge boot of the SUV.

In 'Touring' estate form it’s one of the most practical, comfortable and capable cars you can buy. The boot is large and easy to access, while comfort levels in front and rear seats are very high, making this a desirable large family car.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:

48 monthly payments of £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


Latest car buying advice

  1. What is a good mileage for a used car?

  2. What is a car finance broker?

  3. Car finance for drivers with a provisional licence