We all know BMW’s tactic by now. Try and explore ever little niche possible, or simply create one if it doesn’t exist. They practically invented the performance SUV market years ago with the X5 and X6, and they’ve been at the top ever since. With new, smaller SUVs from Audi and Mercedes however, BMW needed a reply. And reply they did, with the X4. The car slotted right between the X3 and the X5, although naturally, it resembled the X6 thanks to BMW’s even and odd nomenclature. The car proved to be successful… until the SQ5 and GLA45 AMG arrived. BMW needed an answer fast, and this is what they came up. Welcome to the X4 M40i.
Recently we had the opportunity to test the car in Munich, at BMW’s driving academy. We drove it on their test track as well as the road, and the results are what you might call unsurprising, but more on that later. Let’s just say that the S and AMG have a lot to fear. From the outside, the M40i doesn’t really look that different to a standard X4. Yes, there are differences, but it will take a keen eye to spot them. For starters, you get satin chrome accents below the fog lights, just inside the grille. That unique grey color is also featured on the side mirror caps. The large, 20-inch M alloy wheels come in the same color too, but they are optional. We think they’re worth it just for the cool-factor alone. Go around the back, and you find two dual tailpipes finished in what BMW calls Black Chrome. The dead giveaway as to this car’s true potential becomes apparent even to non-enthusiasts once you look at the rear hatch. More specifically, the rather pronounced M40i badging complete with BMW M’s little logo in its traditional colors.
Walking up to it, you’re sort of amazed at how well-proportioned it is. The blue color is really nice, and it complements all the other exterior accessories nicely. As you’re walking up to it to get in, the closer you get the more aggressive and menacing it appears. It might even pass as what you’d call a “sleeper”, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, looking at it from a far. Get up close and personal with it and it’s immediately apparent that this isn’t an ordinary X4. It really does look like a smaller X6. Like they took the X6, shrunk it by around 20 percent or so and just put it on sale. That’s not a bad thing however, as the X6 is by no means a bad looking car. The sloping roofline gives off a coupe-ish silhouette, although it’s so tall that it’s not fooling anyone.
Stepping inside you find the usual plethora of BMW materials and gadgets. The X4 standard design is present, there’s the same central dash, a great iDrive screen slapped in the middle and small buttons for the HVAC functions. The latest iteration of the iDrive is miles better than systems of old. Although you can still criticize it for being a tad complicated, once you get used to it, it’s better than its rivals’ systems. Elsewhere, there’s an M steering wheel wrapped in leather, an M gear shift lever, better, sportier seats to hold you in place and of course, the door sill badging letting you know you’re not getting in the run of the mill X4. If we’re being honest, the interior isn’t as changed as some of you might have hoped for, but consider what the M40i is for a moment. It’s not a full-blown M car like the X6M for instance. It’s a sportier version of the standard car, and for that, we can’t nitpick at it at all.
The dynamic capabilities, like we said at the start of this review, are typical BMW, which is to say brilliant. BMW gave us the opportunity to really push the X4 M40i to its limit at their test track. We conducted an acceleration test, a braking test as well as a slalom course, all on wet pavement, and the grip the X4 has is simply unbelievable. It’s difficult to get your head round the fact that a relatively small SUV such as the X4 can behave in such a way. We’re talking about a tall, legitimate four-seater SUV which can beat supercars from just 20 years ago. The braking was fierce, you simply would not believe how ferocious it stops once you stomp on the brake pedal. Cornering speeds were even more impressive, mimicking that of most performance sedans. This is one of the most agile small SUVs on the market.
To test out the car’s full potential, we took it out on the road to get a feel for what it’s like in the real world. The 3.0 liter TwinPower straight six-cylinder unit is a gem of an engine. It’s the same one found in the standard X4, as well as most other BMW products, but here it produces 55 hp and 43 lb-ft torque more. For what is effectively the same unit, that’s a big power bump. The increase comes from a slightly higher boost and high-flow fuel injectors to match. A free-flow exhaust allows the engine to breather better, and a tweaked air intake manifold guarantees optimal air flow. To maintain the same temperatures and make sure it doesn’t overheat, BMW fitted a separate oil cooler.
At first, we forgot that we’re in Germany, so we only drove as fast as the speed limit in most other places allows us (120 km/h). When the realization that we’re on the Autobahn kicked in, we floored it, and the beastly straight-six just woke up. You get a whopping 343 lb-ft of torque from just 1,350, and they run all the way to 5,250. From there, the 355 hp take over, topping out at 6000 rpm for the full potential. It recalibrates what you think is possible from a vehicle of this class. The 0-100 km/h sprint is dealt with in just 4.7 seconds, and it will go on to 250 km/h (electronically limited).
Flooring it glues you back to your seat. But it’s a refined kind of fast. It’s a constant surge rather than a kick, riding the wave of torque before the mountain of power takes over. Because it’s so stable and quiet, you don’t notice the speed too. It’s only when you look down and see triple figures beginning with a 2 at the front do you realize you’re really eating up kilometers. The BMW X4 M40i has to be one of the best SUVs of its type ever built. It’s not that its rivals are bad, far from it. The BMW is just so good that it moves the game to a whole new level.
By: Tarek Hawchar | Photos: Natali Leonova