Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: December 15, 2018
Ahh, the X4. Personally I don’t understand the appeal of the coupe-like fastback silhouette. I know it appears to be sporty but on a compact crossover it just looks odd and out of proportion. When there is more sheetmetal to balance out the sloping roof, like on the X6, it’s much easier on the eyes. The X4 however is visually confusing, the stubby rear end appears as if it’s carrying a loaded diaper, and I think the squared-up X3 looks ten times more handsome, mature, and professional. And looks aside, the X4 is equipped with less cargo room, inferior rearward visibility, and cramped rear cabin quarters.
When you sacrifice practicality for style, there better be lots of style. Unfortunately, in my eyes at least, the X4 is lacking, even with the M Sport treatment with wider fenders, bigger exhaust tips, and Cerium Grey exterior accents. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am certain there will be enthusiasts out there wondering if I’m legally blind, but by standard principles of automotive design, the X4 was handicapped from the very beginning. On the flip side, the rear end takes a welcome departure away from the traditional BMW language that we’ve seen on X3, X5, and even the X6. The wraparound taillights and bare trunklid panel appear much more fluid and inoffensive than the front and side view.
The interior follows suit with the recent changes on the X3. It’s nothing revolutionary and previous BMW owners will receive an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Some might find the lack of boundary-pushing a disappointment, but BMW has obviously played the safe game and revised what they (and we) believe to be a spectacularly functional cabin with enough glitz and garnish to still be considered modern by today’s ever more demanding consumer base.
The thin-rimmed steering wheel feels nice under grasp and all the embedded controls and buttons feel high quality. The optional head-up display is 75% larger than before, as is the infotainment unit perched up on the dashboard. The 10.25-inch screen utilizes both touch and rotary dial controls, and remains one of the friendliest and higher-definition examples in the segment, and has my vote against the systems in the Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Lexus NX, and even the Mercedes GLC.
I could do without that large plastic ///M badge flanking the center cupholders, and as great as digital gauges are, I do miss the analog gauges that previous BMWs have always done right. Gesture Control is a neat gimmick but after trying it out a few times, I never bothered utilizing it again. Pushing the volume button on the steering wheel is just less work than twirling your fingers to arbitrarily and almost blindly adjust the volume. The placement of the heated steering wheel button smack dab in the middle of wheel isn’t very aesthetically pleasing, and it doesn’t heat up very much either. BMW could learn a thing or two from American cars like the RAM or Jeep that take heated features seriously and get both the seats and wheel piping hot.
For 2019, the X4 is longer, wider, and rides lower than before. This aids significantly in interior space and pays off for rear seat occupants. Headroom is much better this time around, and surprisingly acceptable for my six-foot figure as I don’t have to hunch my neck to sit comfortably. Though legroom is a little scarce, it is better than before and average for this compact SUV segment. The panoramic sunroof is larger too, offering a heightened visual sense of space. That said, if you’re a taller family and value the extra space and trunk room, best to stick with the X3.
Rear visibility takes a dive due to the raked roofline, with a small sliver of a windshield that feels more like a peering out of a German bunker hole. Luckily the X4 does come equipped with an army of cameras, everything from a rear view camera to an optional 360-degree camera view that displays the car’s position in a bird’s eye view. It will even show you how much space the doors will need to open up, so you can take that into account when gauging parking distances.
The X4 M40i has always been a physics-defying SUV and BMW has made an effort to make it drive even better than the last model. Along with a wider track, the X4 has lost nearly 50 kg, comes with a lower center of gravity, and has reduced aerodynamic drag by 10%. Enthusiasts love to stick M badges on every BMW they can find, even if it’s not an M car, but if you see that M40i badge on the X4, don’t underestimate it. Its 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six produces 355 hp and 365 lb-ft through an 8-speed transmission, propelling the M40i from 0-100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. That’s 1.5 seconds quicker than the X4 xDrive30i, 0.1 seconds quicker than the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43, 0.5 seconds faster than the Audi SQ5, and a significant 1.7 seconds faster than the similarly priced Porsche Macan S.
The M40i treatment continues with larger M Sport brakes with blue calipers, an M Sport differential, larger wheels, a revised gearbox, standard Launch Control, an adaptive suspension with electronically controlled dampers, and a loud and proud M Sport Exhaust that lets out a goosebump-raising growl on ignition. Fun tip for an even louder start-up: set the car to Sport mode before ignition so the exhaust flaps stay open. You’ll become one of those neighbours.
The larger brakes have good stopping power but are too sensitive on the last 5% of the pedal when coming to a complete stop, making it tricky to operate smoothly and consistently. It’s a bit more apparent when the engine start/stop and auto hold parking brake both kick in. Perhaps too many hands trying to do too many things at the same time.
The M40i offers five distinct driving modes to choose from: Adaptive, Sport, Sport Plus, Comfort, and Eco Pro. They’re all fairly self explanatory but unlike other SUVs, you can actually differentiate the changes that each mode offers on the road. Adaptive is clever in that it uses GPS information to pre-load the dampers and transmission for upcoming scenarios, such as twisty turns. In Comfort, the X4 excels as a supple and absorbent daily driver, soaking up bumps and imperfect road surfaces with little drama.
Sport on the other hand thoroughly alters the X4’s behaviour. No longer is it a gentle, pleasant, and comfortable SUV. Now it’s turned the stakes up to Defcon 1. The dampers are now much stiffer, body control is tighter, the engine revs much quicker, gears are held longer, and the exhaust opens up to let out the signature straight-six soundtrack that we’ve all come to love. In fact, that exhaust is what is going to sell this SUV. It sounds just like the M240i, and comes mighty close to an M2. For an SUV, that’s ludicrous.
In this mode, the X4 M40i is an attack dog that tempts you to drive fast and aggressively - perhaps not a fact you want to share with your disapproving spouse. It rewards speed, hard cornering, and will leave you with a smile after stimulating both your ears and heart. The X4 M40i drives incredibly well for a heavy and tall SUV of this stature. That wider track and lower center of gravity is definitely felt here, and performs with less top-heavy lean than the outgoing model. It’s like an M240i but with a higher seating position. Okay that might be an over-exaggeration but you get where I’m going with this.
The steering still lacks feel but the nose points more eagerly than the X3 and rather than acting independently, the rear axle follows exactly what the front axle is doing, giving drivers that sense of confidence and control that makes them feel like a hero, even when just cruising around at low speeds. Let’s just say that power oversteer isn’t out of the question either, and is easier to induce (even with full stability control) than you’d expect.
And not only is the X4 powerful but it executes the delivery in a smooth and suave choreographed dance. Acceleration is potent but never abrupt enough to throw you off guard. Even the engine start/stop system, which shuts the engine off when idling to save fuel, is buttery and nearly imperceptible when igniting and shutting off. There are no vibrations felt or unwanted lag between letting go of the brake pedal and forward movement. It’s frankly one, if not the, silkiest start/stop examples on the market.
Don’t need that extra power? The xDrive30i model will suit you just fine, and is frankly the better value deal with an equally smooth four-cylinder engine that punches out a respectable 248 hp and 258 lb-ft. All-wheel drive is also standard but the brakes are gentler and easier to modulate, it's going to be more fuel efficient, and it comes off as a more cohesive package that isn’t trying to be part sporty and part luxury.
That’s not to say the X4 M40i doesn’t balance the best of both worlds. It’s rather adept at that and is a mild improvement over the outgoing model with better rear seat accommodations, sportier on-street performance, and an impressive powertrain to match. The entry price of $66,000 is steep and from an ergonomic and practical perspective it may not make much sense, but there will always be a type of consumer that buys with emotion and values style above all else. Without them, the X4 would not exist.
Model: 2019 BMW X4 M40i
Paint Type: Famenco Red Metallic
Base Price: $66,000
Price as Tested: $77,145
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,762 / 1,938 / 1,620
Curb weight (kg): 1,960
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged inline-six
Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 365 lb-ft @ 1,520 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 11.2
Tires: Pirelli Sottozero