Test Drive: 2016 BMW X4 M40i

“Cool – does it come as an AWD wagon?” asked my dad, when I showed him the new BMW M2.

In M40i trim, the X4 is a hot-rod luxury wagon-ish thing.

He likes the M2, but likes the idea of an AWD M2 wagon even better. Dad wishes every sports car came in an AWD wagon, for his skis, and February commute, and stuff like that.
“No,” I replied.
“Well, sort of, actually.”

The X4 M40i is about as close as dad might get to the AWD BMW M2 wagon that BMW won’t build for him.

Oh, so many little utility vehicle niches to fill. But fill them BMW will, and the X4 xDrive M40i is one brightly burning example of the trend. The standard X4 is a sort of high-style alternative to the X3, set apart by a sloping rear roofline, which gives it a coupe-cum-fastback shape and calls to mind a more elegant and swoopy alternative to a typical crossover. So, the X4, among other things, is a styling statement, and a way for BMW to put some of the X6’s crossover-coupe design into the smaller side of the utility vehicle spectrum.

And, for Papa Pritchard, in M40i trim, the X4 is also a hot-rod luxury wagon-ish thing. A lifted, high-performance hatchback. A BMW M2-powered slope-back rocket-ute based on the 3 Series. Or, in simpler terms, BMW’s $61,000 alternative to such competitors as the Porsche Macan S ($59,000) or GTS ($73,000), and the Audi SQ5 ($58,000).

If a desire for an all-season performance machine has you itching like a tweed bathrobe, and if you can’t decide between a sedan, a wagon or a hatchback or a coupe, and if you value a healthy dose of go-fast and stick-to-the-road-even-in-crappy-weather goodness, the X4 M40i is one way to scratch the itch.

On board, it’s the typical BMW driving environment. High-tech blended with luxury touches. A familiar instrument cluster, controls, consoles and central display, with some updated graphics and functions this time round. It’s less formal-looking and more energetic an environment than a comparable Benz, slightly less futuristic and more luxury-conventional than the comparable Audi, and more rich with detail and high-tech doodads and flair than the Porsche Macan S.
Functionally, the sloping rear roofline limits the height of transportable cargo at the rear of the X4, though the cargo hold is wide, and near-flat-folding seats add flexibility as needed. Rear seats see occupants sit deep within the cabin, and headroom is surprisingly decent beneath the aggressively swoopy roof-dome, as is legroom. Front seats are firmly comfortable, accommodating, and hug your man-lats just perfectly, if you have them.

The X4 M340i achieves ignition with a blurt, then a raspy purr that settles into a quivering idle, and then into a deep hum. As modern turbo engines do, this 3L straight-six puts a mountain of torque at the tips of your toes. With 349 lb-ft available from just off idle, oozing through traffic requires little throttle input, and even fewer revs. Without the oft-present exhaust tone seeping gently into the cabin, you’d hardly notice it shifting gears, or working very hard at all, in around-town driving.

Performance, honest and true: 2016 BMW M2 Test Drive

And like its cousin the M235i, the X4 M40i allows a measured amount of sportiness through. The exhaust is muted, but almost always audible, at least slightly, humming away smoothly, and responding to even light throttle inputs. Even in a softer setting, the shocks only offer a dab of around-the-edges smoothness, so the ride is unmistakably sporty-firm at all times, though not uncomfortably so. The steering is capable of go-kart stiffness in a sportier drive mode, but even in the mildest one, it’s still fairly heavy, quick, and far from syrupy.

Many a sporty luxury rocket-ute can be fully silenced, softened in the steering, and subdued in the suspension to play nice in traffic and parking lots and on secondary roads. The M40i can’t. Not fully. If you’re a fan of a sports car / SUV / wagon that is always reminding you, at least a little, that it’s a sports car / SUV / wagon, you’ll like what’s going on here. Even selecting the mildest-possible drive mode doesn’t turn this little beastie into a motorized glob of Miracle Whip.

Sport mode: engage. The M40i turns from a casual jogger into a total gym-bro. It’s louder. It grunts shamelessly. It’s all puffed up, flexed and tightened, and over-stimulated like it’s just downed a triple-dose of MUTANT FREAK pre-workout powder. And though the M40i won’t slam its weights down, yell loudly, and go kick over a garbage pail after a heavy set, it does have this riled-up, primitive side that engages with a click. The power-steering fluid and shocks feel like they’ve just been replaced with nearly hardened concrete, too.

The tall-ish seating position defies the X4’s handling, since usually you’re sitting much lower to the ground in a machine that’s this capable of turning g-forces into grins.

Handling and steering give the M40i a relationship with the road on par with cellophane’s relationship with just-reheated microwave lasagna: it sticks and clings with ferocity. And as hard as you’d push a crossover, and then some, the reaction is entertaining, rewarding, and feels (as fast BMW’s usually do) as if the responses from each system are carefully balanced off of the responses of all others.

The steering is expertly weighted against the tuning of the suspension, which feels nicely set against the size and weight of the machine, itself propelled by an amount of on-demand thrust that doesn’t unbalance the handling or steering or braking sides of the equation. Mostly, it feels finely honed, fine-tuned, and dialed-in. Small steering inputs require heavy effort, but create big changes in direction, and the M40i stays flat for all of them. A quick throttle-lift in a fast corner sucks the front in. A quick throttle prod rotates the rear a little, right away. So, on its feet, when pushed hard, the M40i feels smaller and lighter than it is.

Brakes are powerful and abrupt in terms of initial bite, though not BMW’s most precise where pedal feel is concerned. The AWD system, when forced into action on a dry surface by a heavy boot, isn’t as refined or invisible as the Porsche: it lurches and scrubs slightly, but finds grip and uses fancy torque-vectoring witchcraft to keep the nose pointed where you’d like, at almost all times, nonetheless. It feels like it’s ripping through corners, rather than gliding fast around them.

“BRAAAAAAPHT!” Second. “BRAPPPPPPPPPPPPPHHHT!” Third. Click the paddles for a redline upshift, and the exhaust pops, blurts and snaps, as the turbo straight-six fires the M40i along with right-now torque in abundance when called upon. A semi-exotic howl that’s loud but beautiful sounding is your reward for stuffing your foot into the carpeting. She’ll nearly keep up to a BMW M2 in a drag race, too, according to 0–60 mph figures that’d see the M40i fall behind by a mere fender.

Other notes? The adaptive LED lighting is dazzling after dark – with among the furthest reach, brightest white hues and best peripheral illumination on dark highways I’ve seen yet. Highway cruising at a healthy clip sees mileage land well under 10 L/100 km – relatively thrifty. And the colour of the tester, perhaps more than the vehicle itself, garnered numerous commenting crowds wherever it rolled up. It’s an $895 option, worth it if you’d like to make a splash.

After all, the M40i is a bit of an attention-grabber in this scene. The SQ5 is more conventional and discreet-looking, the Macan S even more so. Where both of these machines are designed with an understated sportiness that exists on the sly, the hopped-up X4 uses dramatic air openings, highly defined creases and sculpts, depth galore, and even its unique shape itself, to communicate its intentions to those with eyes on it. If it’s sports-car reflexes you’re after, from a machine styled to convey its capability, the X4 will appeal strongly. If you want to fly under the radar a little, the Porsche or Audi may make a better choice.

Your writer's pick? The Macan S.

It’s not as hardcore, hyperactive, or as all-out bananas to drive the pants off of. It’s less exciting to look at, and it has fewer standard features for the price. We’re talking, like, halogen lights here.

But where the M40i is always in sports car mode, at least moderately, the Macan S serves up a more relaxing highway or around-town cruise when needed. It’s better at playing nice and chilling out, if that’s what you’re after, which, at least once in a while, you will be. And though the X4 M40i does a remarkable job of both looking and feeling like a proper performance machine, the Macan charms just a tad more, with its understated looks and nearly-as-sharp driving experience. I love me a sleeper, after all. If you don’t, you’ll probably gravitate towards the more raucous-looking BMW.

It’s always nice to have options. If you’re driving any one of these machines, be sure to drive them all.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi SQ5
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
Porsche Macan

2016 BMW X4 M40i
2016 BMW X4 M40i
Base Price $60,700
Optional Equipment Premium Package ($5,700), Executive Package ($3,500), Technology Package ($2,200), Headlight Washers ($250), Speed Limit Info System ($350), Wireless Charging Package ($600), Metallic Paint ($895)
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $2,095
Price as Tested $73,400
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.2
6 Exterior Styling
8 Performance
8 Interior
6 Comfort
8 Fuel Economy