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

By Sam Naylor

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 £12,999
Monthly finance from £232.56*

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 £21,995
Monthly finance from £360.17*

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

Used deals from £12,990
Monthly finance from £269.77*

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.


What is BMW sDrive?

To put it in simple terms, sDrive is a marketing term used by BMW to describe their two-wheel drive models. Cars with sDrive are either front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive, while cars marked with the term ‘xDrive’ are BMW’s four-wheel-drive models.

There’s no immediate way to tell whether an sDrive BMW is driven by the front or rear wheels, but as a general rule of thumb - the smaller, less expensive models are usually front-wheel drive, while more expensive and sporty cars often use rear-wheel drive.

Front-wheel-drive cars are among the most popular on the road, as they are efficient, easy to drive and their positioning helps to free up additional space in the cabin. On the other hand, rear-wheel drive cars provide a sportier drive and an improved steering feel - something which BMW’s are renowned for.

For example, the BMW X1 is the smallest SUV in the range, and if you don’t choose an xDrive (four-wheel drive) model, the sDrive model is front-wheel drive. It’s the same in the X2, because this is a sportier version of the X1, with a different body shape.

However, in the Z4 range, which is BMW’s two-seater sports car, the sDrive versions are rear-wheel drive. The stylish 8 Series Coupe is available in sDrive and xDrive forms - and the sDrive version is also rear-wheel drive. This is because rear-wheel drive is more commonly found on sportier cars with more powerful engines.

Not all BMW cars with two-wheel-drive are labeled as sDrive, but all four-wheel-drive models from the German car-maker will have xDrive in the name. In the next sections, we’ll look at the pros and cons of sDrive as opposed to xDrive, but it applies to all two-wheel-drive BMWs - even the ones without sDrive in the name.

Pros of BMW sDrive

A BMW with sDrive will be far lighter than those with the more cumbersome xDrive system, and therefore improve overall fuel economy. This is the biggest selling point of BMW sDrive. For example, a BMW X1 sDrive20i returns around 42.8mpg fuel economy, while the xDrive model with the same engine returns 40.4mpg.

BMWs with sDrive are also cheaper than those with xDrive - the four-wheel-drive variant costs around £1,500 more when new. It’s not as easy to judge the price difference with used cars, but sDrive variants of the same model of car are often slightly more affordable. Two-wheel-drive cars are also cheaper to maintain because there are fewer parts and less complexity, so there’s less to go wrong.

If you enjoy driving a car with great handling, a rear-wheel-drive version will prove more dynamic and enjoyable. When the front wheels are not being driven by the engine you can expect more accurate steering and a predictable response on the throttle. No matter how hard you accelerate, the steered wheels - the front ones - will never spin or cause the wheel to tug in your hands as they lose grip.

Cons of BMW sDrive

sDrive models often lose out when it comes to acceleration, especially under slippery conditions because only two wheels get traction when putting down the power. The 0-62mph times of many xDrive cars are faster than sDrive equivalents as they power all four wheels, so there's less chance of any of the wheels spinning with an xDrive model, as the same amount of power is shared across twice as many tyres.

Also, rear-wheel-drive cars often struggle for traction in poor weather. Snow is a particular problem for rear-wheel-drive cars, although winter tyres can mitigate this to a large extent. A four-wheel-drive car, though, will offer greater grip and acceleration in poor driving conditions.

Best BMW sDrive cars

If you’ve decided you do want a two-wheel-drive BMW with sDrive, which are the best ones to choose? Here are three of our favourites, all available now on Buyacar.co.uk.

BMW X1 sDrive18d

Used deals from £11,500
Monthly finance from £223.62*

We would recommend that you go for the sDrive version if you are interested in a BMW X1, because it’s more efficient, just as good to drive, and cheaper than an equivalent xDrive model. The X1 isn’t much of an off-roader, so you’re not really missing out on anything by choosing the front-wheel-drive models.


BMW Z4 sDrive30i

Used deals Limited stock

Sports cars are all about having fun while you’re driving, and rear-wheel-drive sDrive models make a lot of sense in the Z4. This stylish and fast car is great to drive and sDrive models are the best value choice as well as being cheaper to run than the pricey xDrive versions.


BMW 840i sDrive

Used deals Limited stock

If you’re looking for a long-distance cruiser that offers top-tier comfort, the BMW 8 Series Coupe is a fantastic choice - and the 840i model is stunningly fast, great to drive, and has a luxurious cabin packed with tech. There’s really no need to choose the more expensive and complex xDrive model, so go for the sDrive version instead.


*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.