We’ve already driven 2.0-litre petrol and diesel-powered versions of the BMW xDrive 3 Series, but this is the first time we’ve seen how the 4x4 system copes with having 254bhp and 560Nm of torque sent through it from BMW’s 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbodiesel.
At 1,750kg, the xDrive version of the M Sport-spec 3 Series Touring estate we’re driving weighs 65kg more than the two-wheel drive model. But the car feels considerably heavier.
Slot the auto gearbox into D, and there are no complaints about how quickly the car shoots off the line – the extra grip trims two tenths from the 0-62mph time – but you do hear the engine’s metallic growl more obviously, as it works harder to overcome not just the extra weight, but the extra friction of the drivetrain.
Opting for xDrive also means the lowered, M Sport suspension upgrade isn’t available, although adaptive dampers are optional. In comfort, the setup is surprisingly bouncy over higher-speed bumps, and there’s a fair bit of roll, too. However, you can’t complain about the way the four-wheel drive boosts confidence, especially on a wet motorway, where it feels every bit as sure-footed as an X5.
Switch to Sport+, and show the car some corners, and the xDrive system is of definite benefit, helping the car’s nose to cling on aggressively through the apex of a bend, and resisting oversteer from the rear when you accelerate away as the road straightens up – even when you unleash all of the engine’s power.
The xDrive system is very smooth, too. It sends 60 per cent of drive to the rear wheels most of the time, but quickly shuffles power front to back depending on which wheels the traction control decides have the most grip.
On snow and ice, with winter tyres fitted, you can feel the system adjusting the power delivery smoothly, even though the engine’s extra grunt is giving the transmission plenty to do. Occasionally, you get a slight jarring through the normally smooth gearbox, or a knuckly clunk through the steering, but the whole powertrain works extremely smoothly overall.
The only slight concern is the steering. It’s pretty heavy regardless of driving mode, but feels a bit lifeless, making it hard to work out exactly how much grip there is. Keener drivers will get more satisfaction from the sDrive model here.
Likewise, those with an eye on running costs will note that the xDrive system ups CO2 by seven grams and drops the mpg claim by 3.1mpg.
However, although the xDrive model feels a little heavier and perhaps isn’t quite as pure a driving experience as the rear-drive model, it’s more stable and secure at high speed, and gives an extra level of peace of mind when the weather turns that makes the extra £1,515 the four-wheel drive costs a worthwhile investment.