What are BMW xDrive and sDrive?

June 10, 2022 by

The sDrive and xDrive names pepper BMW’s model range, but what do these terms mean? We explain all

If you’re looking to buy a BMW, you may well have come across cars advertised as being sDrive and xDrive, with no immediate explanation for what these terms mean.

Simply put, the two terms are BMW’s way of saying whether the car is two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. sDrive models are two-wheel drive, whereas xDrive cars are able to send engine power to all four wheels. As with everything in life, though, the more you look, the more involved things become.

What is BMW xDrive?

Any BMW marketed as xDrive will have four-wheel drive – but not necessarily all the time. BMW markets xDrive as being an ‘intelligent’ four-wheel drive system, meaning that it can vary whether power is sent to the front or rear wheels, and how much power is sent to each, depending on where traction is required.

Different BMW models are available with different types of xDrive; some BMWs will have 40% of power sent to the front wheels and 60% to the back by default, with this being automatically adjusted depending on where grip is needed. Other cars will be two-wheel drive by default, with four-wheel drive mode being automatically activated when required.

xDrive is also able to send almost 100% of engine power to either the front or rear wheels, depending on where grip is needed the most. Many other car makers have comparable systems that bring in four-wheel drive only when necessary.

BMW originally developed xDrive for its SUVs, but the system is now available across the entire model range, save for the Z4 sports car.

xDrive is standard on some BMWs, such as the X5 SUV (although you could previously get an sDrive X5), and optional on other models. The BMW 5 Series, for example, can be had as a rear-wheel drive car or an xDrive four-wheel drive one, with BMW charging around £2,000 to upgrade a 5 Series to xDrive.

It’s also worth highlighting that BMW offers a different xDrive system for its performance ‘M’ models, and this is called M xDrive. In the BMW M5, for example, it is possible to use the infotainment system to force the car to send power only to the rear wheels.

What is sDrive?

As highlighted above, sDrive means a BMW is two-wheel drive, with no ability to have all four wheels driven. It used to be the case that all sDrive BMWs were rear-wheel drive, but the latest BMW X1 is front-wheel drive in sDrive guise.

Just to make matters a little more confusing, a two-wheel drive BMW won’t always be marketed as sDrive. The rear-wheel drive 5 Series and the front-wheel drive 1 Series are simply called the 5 Series and 1 Series when they are not four-wheel drive models, becoming the 1 Series xDrive and 5 Series xDrive when four-wheel drive is specified. The front-wheel drive BMW X1, on the other hand, is known as the X1 sDrive, while its four-wheel drive stablemate is known as the X1 xDrive.

One more quirk: the BMW Z4 is not offered with xDrive, being rear-wheel drive only, yet this car is officially known as the Z4 sDrive.

These naming conventions may well be to do with customer expectations about whether a car would be four-wheel drive or not, with BMW wanting to highlight when certain models of SUV are two-wheel drive, and the sporty Z4 is a rear-wheel-drive car, but it does make things slightly more involved than they might otherwise be.

Is BMW xDrive or sDrive better?

A two-wheel drive system may not be as good at putting power down in slippery conditions, but it will be cheaper to build and therefore buy, while fuel economy also tends to be better when only two wheels are being driven. On the other hand, those who frequently encounter mud and leaf-strewn country roads, or want to take their SUV across grassy car parks from time to time, will welcome the extra traction xDrive brings.

Change cars online with carwow

Whether you’re looking for an sDrive, xDrive, or any other type of BMW, carwow is the place to go. Our one-stop place to change your car will allow you to browse through the latest offers from all the big brands, while our sell your car service will see our trusted dealers bid on your current vehicle, leaving you to pick the best offer.