THE PROS & CONS
- What’s best: Terrific performance
- What’s worst: Less practical than an X3
- What’s interesting: All X4s are made in BMW’s South Carolina assembly plant
MONTEREY, CA.—BMW’s new performance X4 makes no sense. They’ll sell a billion of them.
It’s an SUV, except it isn’t. It’s built on a platform adapted from the X3, the German maker’s popular compact sport utility. But because it’s an X4, it has the roofline shaved down at the back to make it look a bit like a fastback coupe. This means it loses about a third of the cargo space of the X3.
And it’s a sports car, except it isn’t. BMW’s taken the basics from the X4 35i engine, with its six cylinders pumping up and down in three litres of bore, and made it very far from boring, adding 55 horsepower and an extra 43 lb-ft. of torque. The M40i now makes 355 horsepower and 343 lb-ft. of torque, and it finds that grunt at just 1,350 rpm and all the way up to 5,250 rpm.
So, it should be very sporty, except it’s sitting on a Sport Utility Vehicle frame — and that’s supposed to be practical and utilitarian.
Ah — but this is where BMW goes its own way, and why it’ll sell a billion of these things. The X4 was never an SUV but an SAV, apparently — a Sport Activity Vehicle. Now it’s morphed into an SAC, for Sport Activity Coupe. There’s supposed to be a difference.
What does it matter? Call it what you will, the SAC is dumb but successful. The larger X6, which is more expensive but shares the same design and philosophy, has sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles since its introduction eight years ago. Now the X4 is more powerful than before, tweaking at the macho heartstrings of men everywhere that are desperate to keep their delusions of sporting appeal even while advancing age forces them into practicality.
A little harsh perhaps, but true. I’m one of those guys. I like to think thinning hair suggests intellectual intelligence, while an extra few pounds just makes everything more solid. And I like to look the part with a sporty vehicle, but I still need space for the kids and the dog.
Until now, it’s been the four-cylinder X4 28i that’s walked the walk while the six-cylinder X4 35i talked the talk. The smaller X4 starts at $47,350 and the larger X4 at $56,000. Now BMW’s beefed up the chassis and pumped up the engine to increase the X4’s performance still further. The 28i reaches 100 km/h from standstill in a very respectable 6.4 seconds while the 35i does it in 5.5 seconds. The M40i, which starts at $59,700, shaves that down to 4.9 seconds.
How does it drive compared to the others? I couldn’t tell you — I didn’t take it on a track. Out on public highways here, it cut through the roads’ corners, flattening the bends and powering ahead on the rare straights. It held the highway flat and sure.
Actually, that’s a direct quote from my review of the X4 35i two years ago in Spain. The point is, away from a racetrack, the difference in driving between the two Bimmers is imperceptible. They both have power and handling to spare on the highway.
BMW says the M Performance engine is newly-developed and making its world premiere in the biggest X4, but it’s still based on the original, with Twin Scroll Turbo technology and all the other wonderment under the hood. The upgrades in this edition are very similar to those in the new M2 coupe, with a forged steel crankshaft, pistons with a modified top ring, and the turbocharger integrated directly into the exhaust manifold. Boost pressure and fuel injection are both increased, and there’s a separate oil cooler to discourage things from blowing up.
All the power is sent to all four wheels all the time, with a rear bias. The X4’s slowed down with bigger brakes. The suspension includes stronger wishbones and stiffer springs. The only transmission is BMW’s eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Do you really need all this? You do, if your neighbour just bought a Porsche Macan GTS or Turbo, or a Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG, and you have an inferiority complex.
Actually, you also do if you want to take your X4 to the track and tussle it up on a lapping day, but let’s face it — how many SUVs, or even SACs or whatever they call themselves, do you ever see on the closed asphalt? Pretty much none — that’s how many.
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It doesn’t matter. A vehicle like this is all about bragging rights and looking the part, even if you don’t want to actually use what’s on offer. That’s why the X4 M40i comes with macho Ferric Gray accents and sport seats and an M leather-wrapped steering wheel. The door sills say “X4 M40i” on them to make you feel good as you step inside. The whole package works remarkably well.
More to the point, it’s less than an extra $4,000 to say you have the most powerful Sports Activity Coupe of them all. You’ll load it up with options of course. But at this price level, the M40i is a very tempting upgrade to just have the whole “mine’s bigger than yours” issue done and dusted.
I’m a guy — I understand this completely. It makes no sense, but that’s not the point. They’ll still sell a billion of them.
2016 BMW X4 M40i
Base price/as tested: $59,700
Add-ons: $2,145 Freight and PDI, plus $595 “retail administration fee”
Type: Five-passenger “Sports Activity Coupe”
Propulsion: All-wheel drive
Cargo: 500 litres, or 1,400 litres with rear seats flat
Engine: 3.0L inline-six, Twin Scroll Turbo
Transmission: 8-speed automatic Steptronic
Power/Torque: 355 hp/343 lbs.-ft.
Fuel consumption (L/100 km, premium required): 11.3 city, 7.0 hwy., 8.6 combined (European results)
Tires: Front 245/45 R19 98W/Y, rear 275/40 R19 101W/Y
Standard features: Park distance control, Xenon adaptive headlights, LED fog lights, Intelligent Emergency Call, Bluetooth
Competition: Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG, Porsche Macan GTS and Turbo
Looks: Very sporty and sharp
Interior: Comfortable and refined
Performance: All you want and then some
Technology: Cutting edge, but mostly optional at extra cost
What you’ll like about this car: It’s more practical than a sports car
What you won’t like about this car: It’s less practical than an SUV
Freelance writer Mark Richardson is a regular contributor to Toronto Star Wheels. For this story, his expenses were paid by the manufacturer.
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