The 2019 BMW X4 M40i is the sportier, lengthier, wider, lower version of the X3, a crossover that at low speeds is as soft and benign as a bear in hibernation. But believe it or not, on track it actually wakes up an angry, nimble grizzly of a car that can bite back if you’re not too careful.
(Full Disclosure: BMW kindly flew me to South Carolina to drive the new X4, both on the state’s winding roads and at its track at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg. The company also put me up for a night and fed me.)
The people buy these things! I don’t make the rules.
The “all new” X4 is upgraded for the 2019 model year with a variety of tweaks, both exterior and interior. Yet, if we’re being perfectly honest, the new X4 is not all that different from its predecessor when it comes to the important stuff like the powertrain, which is a turbo inline-six that produces a claimed 355 horsepower bolted to an eight-speed automatic. We’ll talk more about this later.
One of the big differences you will notice however, is the rear, which looks sleeker than the old one. The taillights giving you more of a wink than the first-generation’s wide-eyed wonder. There’s also an updated grill, which is toothier than the old one while still managing to appear classically inspired:
Inside, the new, bigger 10.3-inch infotainment display comes standard on all X4s, in addition to a front collision warning system and automatic emergency braking at low speeds.
Optional are lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, a heads-up display, and a moonroof. But what stands out inside is that display, which dominates the center console in a way that the first-generation’s display can’t compete with. It’s all, comparatively, both a bit busier and more polished at the same time:
“But enough with this nonsense about the interior and exterior,” I can hear you screaming, “How does this damn car drive?” I’m getting to that! I promise!
Let’s start with the engine, the 3.0-liter turbo straight six, which has been around since 2015 and according to BMW creates the same amount of horsepower (355) that its first-generation predecessor made, though BMW somehow coaxed 22 more foot-pounds of torque out of it.
The engine, in other words, is far from new, which is less of a knock on BMW so much as a practical choice since engines are expensive to develop. And when you have a good one, like X4’s inline six, you’ll want to stick with it. The power level strikes a very nice balance for a car that weighs 4,323 pounds–it’s enough juice to satisfy, but not so much as to get you killed or jailed. And it’s enough to get you from zero to 60 in a spicy 4.6 seconds.
Think of it this way: Engine cycles, an engineer told me, generally last about five years at BMW, meaning this particular six is solidly middle-aged. Still, after hours on the road with the car and several laps around the track, I can say that it’s not yet over the hill. It gets the job done, and 355 HP is still enough to do it.
Since this is a German crossover, the X4 also strives to be all things to all people and I’m happy to report that better than some other cars in its class, it generally succeeds. You can drive in four different modes: Sport+, Sport, Comfort, and Eco Pro, setting tweaks in suspension stiffness and the stability control.
That’s probably one mode two many—do we really need Sport and Sport+?!—but I have to admit the difference between them was palpable, as the car went from being a smooth, almost sleepy daily driver in Comfort mode to a rough, grippy, attitudinally challenged bully in Sport+.
With Dynamic Stability Control turned on, the car was planted going around turns at speed on the track, and reassuringly so since the X4 generally felt a little top heavy. Without DSC, in the car’s purest “racing” mode, the top heavy feel was further accented, giving the X4 a genuine air of a danger. (An instructor warned us multiple times to be careful, citing times when prior X4 drivers had been too aggressive with the first turn and put it in the grass.)
The eight-speed automatic transmission in any mode felt effortlessly smooth, so much so that I almost forgot it existed at times. It shifted through the gears like a video game, with no lag and immediate power.
Finally, let’s go back to the rear again, where I’d like to point out a detail you might’ve missed: the rear spoiler. I have no idea how it affects aerodynamics or downforce, but what I do know is the subtlety of it is pure class.
Outside of that nice-looking rear spoiler, BMW’s people said that aerodynamic improvements have been made elsewhere, by adding underbody cladding and active air flap control, reducing aerodynamic drag by 10 percent. I’ll take their word for it I guess!
BMW’s infotainment system, called iDrive, has been lauded for its usability after early versions of it garnered pretty much the opposite reaction. Yet I still don’t like it that much, since it takes up far too much of your attention to perform basic tasks while driving, even if the bigger screen helps somewhat in that respect.
Also, I’m not the first person to say this, but using the M badge on fast crossovers like the X4 M40i or the X2 continues to feel like a mistake, a dilution of an icon that’s wasted on a car that is definitely quicker and grippier than the cheaper X4, the xDrive30i, but not miles so. Some things should remain sacred.
And yet! I don’t have much to complain about here. The 2019 X4 M40i isn’t cheap at a base price of $61,445, but it’s not a ripoff, either. This is properly what a $61,445 should look and feel like.
The company line at Jalopnik has been a bit confused: On one hand you’d expect us to hate crossovers and yet, as we’ve pointed out, that feeling is ahistorical.
Logically, crossovers make little sense, since you should probably just buy a wagon if you want space for your family, or a true SUV if you want decent ground clearance.
Still, the new X4 represents the ideal of what you think crossovers might be at their best, if you want to have your cake and eat it too. It can definitely be fast, an athletic, husky new kid on the block who just wants to be liked. But it can also slow down and be your friend, a pleasant tube with which to spend several hours when you don’t feel like driving like a maniac.