BMW X4 M40i: SUV with a sports car’s heart

BMW X4 M40i: SUV with a sports car’s heart

The concept of a sports utility vehicle with more athletic intent than utilitarian capability is no longer unusual. But the BMW X4 M40i takes it a step further by proving that an SUV can be a sports car at heart – even if it involves some compromises …

Sports utility vehicles come in all shapes and sizes these days.

What started out as a specialised product category with limited, function-focused appeal has ended up as one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments, embracing an almost bewildering array of interpretations.

One of the genre’s more unusual developments links coupé-inspired aesthetics to the raised stance and beefier presence more typical of traditional SUVs. Pioneering that formula was BMW’s in-your-face X6, which was greeted with some scepticism when it debuted back in 2008.

A decade later, the SUV coupé niche has become a well-established one. The X6’s success not only spawned rivals from other brands but also encouraged BMW and others to create more compact variations on the theme.

Already in its second generation, the BMW X4 is the smaller sibling of the X6 and follows a similar stylistic path: a smooth, sloping roofline, high waist, swooping bonnet and aggressive, upright grille.

Launched last year, this latest X4 might look similar to the original, but the aesthetics are more cohesive, and thus more convincing. It’s less chunky and more streamlined, with sculpted flanks and powerful haunches promising a dynamic appeal.

That’s particularly true of the current flagship – the overtly athletic M40i. The M designation already indicates this X4’s dynamic intentions, confirmed by the big 21-inch wheels wrapped in ultra-low profile rubber.

Up front, there’s the snarl of those large kidney grilles and the unwavering stare of the slim LED headlights, while gaping air intakes and an integrated front splitter add to the X4’s sporty demeanour.

BMW claims a 204mm ground clearance, but pronounced sill extensions, the big alloys and a bold rear diffuser create a hunkered-down impression quite at odds with normal SUV expectations.

Narrow taillight clusters are intersected by the X4’s tailgate, which opens down to bumper level and features a neatly styled, spoiler-like lip, while a pair of chrome-tipped exhausts poke out assertively from the rear.

Open that extended bonnet, and you’ll reveal a piece of automotive engineering art: a straight-six 3.0-litre, resplendent in mainly aluminium and egged on by a twin-scroll turbocharger.

The result is the whole stud of eager horses: 354 of them to be exact, or 260kW in metric terms. Add the 500Nm of maximum torque to the equation, and it’s clear that the dynamic promise of the exterior treatment is likely to be realised in practice.

The turbo allows much of the engine’s torque shove to come on song from close on idling speeds, but without restricting the six-potter’s free-revving nature: it willingly spins to 6,500rpm and beyond.

True to its SUV origins, the M40i is all-wheel driven, although the objective here is more about getting all that power down effectively and efficiently, rather than providing off-road traction. It’s rear-biased too, meaning that this X4 should feel more responsive when cornering, while a limited-slip diff adds further grip.

Factor in the upgraded brakes, a tauter suspension set-up, and those fat-rubbered wheels, and you can expect the M40i to match the exterior’s show with plenty of get up and go.

The X4 M40i’s mechanical credentials are echoed by a cabin that’s dressed up in equally sporty apparel. Bolstered bucket seats, a grippy leather steering wheel, shift paddles, alloy pedals, and lots of M-badging create a cockpit with a distinctly performance-flavoured ambience.

Unsurprisingly, the execution is latest-generation BMW, with a clear ergonomic focus on the driver. The digital instruments retain a no-nonsense analogue approach, and the centrally located screen for the infotainment system is still coupled to the intuitive and effective iDrive controller in the centre console.

Despite all the tech and loads of features, there’s nothing intimidating or clunky about operating the X4, and even BMW novices will soon feel at home. It’s very much a premium space, too, so you get all the bells and whistles typical of a flagship model.

By the same token, comfort levels are high for both front and rear occupants. This latest version offers substantially more legroom for those ensconced at the rear – but that sloping roof still compromises headroom for taller passengers.

The boot, however, is capacious by compact SUV standards: at 525 litres, you can stow a lot of luggage. Fold down the rear seats, and the resulting 1,430 litres of cargo space will give most double cab load bays a good go!

However, for many X4 M40i owners, practicality will be a less important consideration than the vehicle’s performance pedigree. And yes, it does live up to the expectations of that M badge.

Call it compact if you like (and it is, compared to the X6) but the X4 still tips the scales at over 1.7tons. So it’s just as well that the six-cylinder turbo has all that muscle.

Flooring the throttle illustrates how eager the Beemer is on pull-off: with all four wheels providing traction, the effect is slingshot-like acceleration. It feels fast, despite the elevated driving position –the factory-claimed 4,8sec sprint time from 0-100km/h seems entirely feasible.

There’s even launch control, further proof that the X4 is saturated with sports car DNA. But in reality, you don’t need it to get off the mark with neck-wrenching zeal.

Perhaps more telling is the X4’s in-gear acceleration. There’s so much midrange urge that overtaking becomes almost ridiculously easy, even without flooring the throttle or kicking down a gear or two.

For all its straight-line prowess, it’s the X4’s appetite for cornering that impresses (and entertains) most. Again, the raised stance of the BMW would normally tend to over-emphasise any propensity for lean, yaw or roll as you tackle a twisty route.

However, the M40i remains resolutely composed, allowing a build-up of lateral forces to rival BMW’s own high-powered sedans. The combination of four-wheel traction, tenacious grip form the performance rubber, and that firm suspension ensures admirable handling.

The downside is a ride that borders on the uncompromising, especially on poorer surfaces. Enthusiast drivers will be happy to trade ride refinement for handling prowess, but their passengers might not agree …

There’s also a certain remoteness to the steering that robs the driving experience of some engagement. It doesn’t get in the way of the X4’s cornering capabilities, nor its manoeuvrability, but it does dilute the entertainment value.

Do you really want to swap tar for gravel in an X4 M40i? Not many owners will, given the vehicle’s road-biased, low-profile rubber. But it certainly has the traction and the clearance to cope with mild off-road conditions.

Realistically, the turbodiesel X4 xDrive 20d, equipped with a slightly more rugged wheel and tyre combination, might be a better option for those intent on all-terrain usage. In fact, the more practical X3 with that 2.0-litre diesel drivetrain would be an even better (and more affordable) bet.

In the M40i context, the X4’s sportier, more exclusive positioning makes it a good match of the performance-oriented drivetrain and dynamic prowess on offer. It’s certainly the more aspirational model, with a price premium to match – the X3 M40i is more than R100,000 cheaper.

With SUVs a dime a dozen, even in the premium category, the BMW X4 M40i delivers a more distinctive presence and sleeker styling than its X3 sibling. It also rivals the 340i sedan in point-to-point performance, and despite being taller, is more sure-footed, too.

I might lean towards the extra value and the greater practicality of the X3, but if aspirational appeal and pulse-racing performance are the priorities, the X4 M40i delivers the goods. DM


Distinctive, aspirational and sporty, with a drivetrain to match. A significant step up from the previous-generation model.


Aspiration comes at a price. Rear headroom remains compromised. Steering could be more engaging.


BMW X4 M40i
Engine In-line six-cylinder, 2,998cc, turbo petrol
Power 260kW @ 5,500- 6,500rpm
Torque 500Nm @ 1,550 – 4,500rpm
Power-to-weight ratio 142.46 kW/ton
Gearbox Eight-speed Steptronic auto, AWD
Wheels/tyres 21-inch alloy, 245/40 (f) 2745/35 (r) R21 tyres
0-100 km/h 4.8sec
Top speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel tank capacity 65 litres
Fuel consumption (claimed/tested) 9.1/12.7 litres/100km
Operating range (claimed/tested) 714/512km
CO2 emissions 205g/km
Retail price / as tested R1,143,679 / R1,297,879
Warranty Two years, unlimited distance
Service/maintenance plan Five years, 100,000km

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