BMW keeps the lights burning brightly on the SUV coupe segment it helped pioneer, adding a performance twist to the new X4 range with the six-cylinder M40i.
Coupe-styled SUVs, like the BMW X4, are far from a new idea, yet as ever more manufacturers add swoopy SUVs to their ranges, the format remains controversial – from both stylistic and practicality points of view.
As unpopular as it may seem, I like them. I mean, they all look ungainly to me, and there’s little chance I’d ever own one, but I like that they exist and extend the power of choice. I like anything that gives customers a wider scope of options to suit themselves.
I also like anything that aspires to deliver performance car thrills to a mainstream audience. That’s where the X4 M40i enters the discussion.
In the body of an SUV coupe (really a mid-size hatch on taller suspension) lies BMW’s gutsy 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine good for 265kW of power at 6000rpm and 500Nm of torque between 1520 and 4800rpm.
The figures are big enough to rocket the X4 from standstill to 100km/h in a respectable 4.8 seconds. Quicker than the outgoing 340i sedan (240kW/450Nm and 5.2 seconds), so BMW’s not mucking about then.
As for bragging rights, the X4 M40i is also 0.1sec quicker than a Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe. That's it, the gloves are off!
Fuel consumption gets an official 8.9L/100km rating, which translated to a figure of 10.6L/100km on test.
The chassis underneath is largely the same as that of the BMW X3 (albeit with some minor detail changes) underpinned by BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Specific tuning at the hands of M Performance appears for the first time on the X4, with an M Sport rear differential, M Sport dampers, 21-inch alloy wheels, plus a slew of non-performance equipment like panoramic sunroof, ambient interior lighting, leather-look Sensatec dashboard, and heated front sports seats to stand the M40i apart from the regular X4 range.
Pricing for the X4 M40i starts from $109,900 plus on-road costs, with a long list of standard equipment from other members of the X4 range like three-zone climate control, powered tailgate, LED head, tail and fog lights, auto lights and wipers, adaptive suspension, keyless access, and a 12.3-inch instrument cluster thrown in for good measure.
Next to a similarly specced X3, the X4 is both longer and wider (by 36mm and 41mm respectively), but thanks to the fastback effect sits 55mm lower at the roof.
Despite a lower roof line, the impact on passenger space is minimal. The wheelbase remains the same and the interior keeps a familiar set of dimensions. There’s less head room front and rear, but unless you’re of pro basketballer dimensions, you’ll struggle to notice.
At the rear, boot space – although not quite as commodious as an X3 – still measures a very practical 525L to the rear seats, or 1430L with the seats folded out of the way. Down 25L and 170L compared with its higher-roofed counterpart.
Unfortunately, in this generation BMW has gone against its traditional arrangement of placing the driver’s seat low with a racy feet-forward reclined driving position. Instead, the X4 now adheres to a much more SUV-esque high-set seat and upright driving position.
BMW loyalists are likely to feel as if they’re driving a bus propped up so high in the interior, and that’s a big part of where the X4 M40i’s sporting appeal starts to come unravelled.
Certainly, the grippy seats are shaped the right way to keep front-seat occupants in place during a spirited drive. They’re hard to find a comfy position in, though, a little too firm, and despite a wide range of adjustments they're never quite the right shape for short drivers.
The benefit of being perched up so high is it's easy to see the corners of the car. The entire bonnet is yours to survey – something few cars can lay claim to.
BMW’s latest interior design makes its way to the X4. It's mostly made up of major components from the closely related X3, including the same dash and console, with a concentrated effort on bringing a more upmarket look and feel to surfaces and switches.
The design is a subtle evolution of past BMW themes, but the materials are a much larger step up. There’s a much more prestige ambience inside this X4 compared to the model it replaces.
BMW’s latest iDrive interface puts a 10.25-inch central touchscreen at the centre of the system, which is backed up by a rotary controller in the console and voice commands driving satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, ConnectedDrive Freedom online services (included for the first three years) and a 16-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
BMW has capped the information available via its digital instrument cluster, though there’s still plenty to take in, and instead shifting more data to the bigger, brighter head-up display.
While iDrive continues to be one of the most user-friendly and fast-loading infotainment systems available, it seems to not play nicely with some phones via Bluetooth (okay, my iOS 12 device in particular), being slow to stream, sometimes providing incorrect track info or not listing track names at all, and ignoring requests to skip tracks.
Perhaps BMW is subtly suggesting its subscription-service wireless Apple CarPlay would be the way to go instead?
While you’ve got your wallet open, BMW surprises with a relatively affordable after-sales program that sees basic servicing for five years or 80,000km priced at $1495, or a more inclusive program (including brake pads and rotors) for $4400.
Warranty coverage spans three years with no upper kilometre limit.
Safety inclusions encompass seven airbags, 'active protection' that closes windows and tightens seatbelts to minimise risk during a crash, stability and traction control, lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, steering and lane-control assist, surround-view camera and 'Approach and Pedestrian Warning with City Brake Activation ' – the name BMW gives its autonomous emergency braking system that operates between 10 and 60km/h.
At least a performance SUV should be at home on the road, and the X4 M40i does its best work when driven with intent.
The 3.0-litre inline six, with a twin-scroll turbocharger, features a healthy top end without feeling short of breath as revs rise. It sounds fantastic from outside the car too, yet the raw and raspy exhaust noise gets spoiled by cheap-sounding artificial augmentation inside.
There’s no shortage of traction for the rear-biased xDrive system, and should you happen to feel particularly enthusiastic, the rear end will emulate the playful nature of rear-wheel-drive BMWs.
Corral it into the close quarters of an urban environment and the X4 M40i feels less comfortable. Whereas the excellent corner control on a fast sweeping road plays into the performance spirit, the much firmer ride compared to regular versions, regardless of the damper setting, quickly gets tiresome.
Had a long day at work and looking forward to unwinding on the way home? The always-on M40i probably won’t agree with you. Fidgety ride and an engine straining to stretch its legs don’t always make for gentle peak-hour cruising.
Set yourself behind the wheel for an extended stretch, and the stiff-jointed ride's propensity to crash through every surface imperfection becomes unbearably frustrating.
The transmission prefers to be worked hard – great under high-load gear changes, but less polished shuffling through the urban crawl. It’s not filled with flaws, but could be smoother crawling through traffic and seems quaking between gears at part throttle.
Its super-light steering doesn’t find a comfortable groove either. It's easy to twirl in and around city streets, and a cinch to park, but lacking the requisite heft for engaged driving. Make no mistake, there’s a delightful input accuracy from behind the wheel, but hardly any involvement.
The end result is a little confused, with the X4 M40i not quite able to settle on versatility, style or performance as its prime directive. If you’re looking for a more balanced all-rounder, the less expensive and less powerful xDrive30i four-cylinder model covers more bases more effectively.
Of course, the M40i has a place in the X4 range, continuing the expansion of M Performance-branded offerings and providing impressive muscle in a somewhat unexpected package. As a flagship it can justify its own existence, and plays nicely with BMW’s niche-amongst-niches model strategy.
If it happens to fall short of your expectations, hold tight as an even more aggressive X4 M is promised for the future.