- What’s Good: Powertrain and handling
- What’s Bad: Snug interior, the X3 exists
Every day, I’m finding myself more and more amenable to these “performance-lite” models that manufacturers are trotting out these days. Wasn’t always that way, of course; when BMW rolled out the “M-Sport” line, or when Mercedes started releasing “AMG” models that didn’t meet the original “one man, one engine” ethos, I guess it got up my back a little. I suppose I found that it reduced how special or unique a car was, and even though I was never lucky enough to be in the market for one, it ticked me off a little as a car guy who has always subscribed to isms like “numbers matching” and “original paint”.
After spending some time with the X4 M40i, however – as well as other Bimmers in its vein like the M235i and M550i – I can see the appeal. In the case of the X4, it has to do with the fact that it’s a strange automobile that doesn’t look spectacular – though it takes its X6 big brother to the cleaners in the styling department. It helps that for 2019, the second-gen X4 is now lower and wider than previous, and more aerodynamic as a result. Still, you’re left thinking “well, it may be a little proportionally odd – especially on skinny snow tires like these—so it had better perform”.
Thanks to the M-Sport makeover, it does.
It starts with the engine; in M spec, the engine gets two extra cylinders over the base xDrive 30i version for a total output of 355 hp and 365 lb-ft; that’s a lot of power when you’re hauling around less than 2,000 kilos, and it’s quickly transmitted to all four wheels via an eight-speed auto, your only choice. It’s quick off the line, and while turbocharged, you can pick up a hint of those classic BMW straight-sixes of old. You’ve gotta listen for it, but it’s there.
Since it really is a sports hatch on stilts, sitting behind the wheel it does feel like you could be in a 3 Series. The M-specific sports seats are deep and supportive, further helping drive home that feeling. Also doing its part in all this is the dash and centre stack, which as is the case in most Bimmers, is all nicely canted towards the driver for an even more ensconced feeling. The far edge of the ultrawide iDrive display can be tough to reach and see, though; luckily, the centralized iDrive controller does all the work so you don’t actually spend much time reaching for the monitor itself.
Of course, if a single display is not enough for you, a heads up display – now 75 per cent larger than previous — comes as part of the Premium Package Enhanced on my car; it will run you an additional $5,500, but it also provides satellite radio, digital instrument display, gesture control, WiFi hotspot, ambient lighting, and even better storage. Most of that stuff’s good, but I’m still not sold on the gesture control. It feels weird to be moving your hands around like a symphony conductor just to change the volume; it’s on-hand to make it so you’re not reaching for the controls too much, but even BMW will tell you that your hand’s supposed to be in a certain position for the system to function properly, and said position – at the base of the centre stack-ish – isn’t actually that far from the controls themselves. I never used it – except in error, since I’m a bit of a hand talker—much preferring to use the traditional console or wheel-mounted controls.
Review: 2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic+ Coupe
The monitor’s width, of course, means everything’s displayed there in large format, from the back-up camera to the power pages, which provide whizz-bang stuff like hp meters. Since my car had the $2,900 Advanced Driver Assistance Package, I also had BMW’s top-down surround view monitor, which, if you’ll look below, I found to be very helpful. Adding to the electronic driver aids for 2019 is the standard fitment of lane-departure warning, blind spot warning, auto emergency braking, rear cross-traffic warning and rear collision prevention.
Unfortunately, the rear set also doesn’t feel that different from a 3 Series space wise even though the new X4 is longer than the previous version. Since you’ve got that ultra-slanted rear deck, the headroom is, let’s just say, at a premium even though the panoramic sunroof is larger than it once was. The steep hatch – it is a hatch, not a trunk – also means the view directly backwards is compromised because the rear window’s angle means there’s less of an opening to look through. Hence the need for that surround view monitor I talked about. Helped a lot with parking, though it won’t do anything for you when on the move.
The best way to avoid issues like this? Well, find a nice, windy road that has you spending more time looking forward, and less time checking your blind spots, of course!
This is where the M40i really begins to shine; for starters, it comes with adaptive dampers as standard, as well as enlarged brake discs (with blue “M”-badged calipers, of course) plus a number of drive modes that affect performance and handling. It should come as no surprise that with a performance model like this, “Sport” mode is the way to go; it paves the way to much quicker throttle response, while the transmission is more inclined to hang on to a gear as you move through the rev band. It also changes the exhaust note, but be cautioned: you’re going to get a lot of pop-pop-popping on overrun in this mode, and I mean a lot. It’s not just when you shift gears, either; it’s to the point where as soon as you release the throttle, you’re going to hear it. The first time it happened to me, I actually thought I’d run over something – which was weird, considering I was on a wide-open road that I’d driven hundreds of times prior. I know where most of the potholes and road imperfections are here, so you can see how it caught me off guard.
Dynamic Elegance: 2018 Range Rover Velar
Once I figured it out, I guess you could say I found that it added a little more oomph to the proceedings; like the classic inline-6 wail I mentioned, you can picture any number of old car videos where something chrome and wire-wheeled and guttural is carving its way through a coastal road, each upshift punctuated by a blat! from the exhaust. It’s cool for that but as zippy as the X4 M40i is, it’s not wire-wheeled and chrome-bumpered so after a while, I found the overrun popoff to be just a little much. A switch to “comfort” mode immediately rectifies the situation.
I do have to admit, however; even with all those exhaust farts and whatnot, the X4 M40i is mighty fun when you’re really on it. In sport mode, the steering gains a nice weight and precision that makes the X4 a real, car-like treat through the twisties as the AWD system routes power to better help the little trucklet rotate through curves and keep the nose pointing forward. I have no trouble likening the handling and powertrain to other M-performance cars I’ve sampled, and that’s a very good thing in the case of the X4.
Of course, the real question remains, how will the X4 separate itself from the sales floor from the likes of the X2 and X3, the latter one of the hottest-selling BMWs in Canada? Well, that coupe-like profile is a start, and if you couple that with all the safety nets – both real and perceived by buyers – of its SUV/CUV underpinnings, you’ve got a unique proposition, that’s for sure. “Unique” stuff doesn’t tend to sell in droves, however, so while the X4 will never really compete with the X3 on the sales front, it may just manage to squeeze a few more youthful buyers – or empty nesters – into BMW dealerships across the land; of course that’s if we forget that the much – much – bigger Lexus RX L starts at around the same price. Forget that, and the foot traffic the X4 generates may just be enough.
First Drive: 2019 Porsche Macan