Aural Pleasures

By Andrew Clarke
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The BMW X4 M40i is lighter, quieter, and clearly all about the drive

To understand the BMW X4 M40i is to enjoy the drive. Yes, this is perhaps the most attractive of all the cars in the Sports Utility Coupe market—the one with high-riding SUVs and a hatchback rather than a wagon rear end—regardless of manufacturer, and underneath the skin it lives up to the visual hype.

It has plenty of grip, and when you unleash the power in Sport mode it sounds amazing.

Based on the X3, the updated in 2018 X4 is lighter and quieter (when you want it to be) than the previous model while enjoying a raft of other changes. The M40i is effectively the top of the range, but with a gorgeous turbo-charged in-line six cylinder engine that pops and crackles on the overrun it is much more than that. It is the sort of car that defies logic, with its cornering ability and acceleration beyond what a high-riding four door car should have.

The Package

The interior is perhaps the juiciest part of the upgraded model, and that runs across the board. The previous model was criticised for its lack of quality feel and some down-market trim, not this one.

The cabin layout reeks of class and ergonomically is as good as anything you will see. Every button falls to hand, the infotainment systems is simple and logical and the dash clean and simple. I still have issues with the latest trend for attaching the centre screen on top of the dash like it is after thought, but at least this one is super wide.

There is inductive charging for your phone in a holder inside the centre dashboard, only it is too small for an iPhone 8 Plus. Figure I’d have to upgrade to an X if I bought the car, probably could afford it too if I could pay the $120k or so it takes to get one of these in your garage.

The BMW App is also quite good, but would be perfect if you could start the car too. You can pre-load your SatNav and turn the fans on in the car prior to entry, and there’s a few other little goodies, like access to the car’s various cameras, that make it a good party trick.

The new X4 is built in the USA but it appears on these early builds that the quality is there to match the German built models from BMW. There is a good warranty and you can opt for a five-year/80,000km BMW Service Package which costs $1495 for Basic or $4400 for Plus (which includes new front and rear brake discs and pads, new wiper blades, and other wear-based items if worn by normal use).

Exterior paint colours are limited, which is a good and a bad thing. Aside from white, there are no shockers with black, grey, charcoal, silver, white and the Flamenco Red on the test car which was a gorgeous metallic red.

The M40i’s sports front buckets are both nice to look at and great to sit in. The driver’s seat has pretty much everything controlled electrically with a storage system to accommodate 2 drivers. It is easy to get the seating right, and to stay warm with seat heaters but not cool with a lack of cooling.

The deeply set rear seating is best for two, but can take a third if they don’t mind sitting on a hard hump. It must be what it is like to ride a camel, but the other two seats are great although a little restricted in headroom thanks to the sloping roof line. That said, it does take a 185cm plus person with a little clearance left.

Load capacity in the boot is limited by the hatch nature of the vehicle rather than the wagon (the X3 is virtually the same car if you need to carry a dog or something) but there is a huge covering storage bin where the spare tyre would normally live, since these cars have run-flat tyres. I hear lots of journos criticising run-flats, but I have no issue and I am also yet to do a back-to-back test on the same car with different tyres to truly see the difference.

Driving

Which brings us to the drive, what is it really like. The heart of the M40i is the engine, and it dominates every discussion on the car. It is quick but it is not really a soft ride for cruising around town, it is always on the firm side even in Comfort mode. Maybe that is the tyres, but maybe it is just the way the car is tuned.

BMW is famous for its inline six cylinder engine, and this one is a turbocharged gem. It is subdued in Eco-Pro or Comfort modes, but is transformed in Sport mode, offering power delivery that thrusts with the sort of aural excitement you want from a sports car, you even get a popping and crackling on the overrun, which I really like. Even in the normal modes it is fast.

The engine is perfectly mated to an 8-speed gearbox with paddle shift on the steering wheel as well as a stick on the centre console. The ‘stick’ is sometimes a but clumsy but I think you’d get used to it and not be stuck doing a 3-point with a box of neutrals.

The idle-stop system worked well although I have read other reports to the contrary but that was not my experience in Eco-Pro and Comfort modes. It doesn’t operate in Sport mode.

So, back to the drivetrain. The sheer muscle of the M40i’s engine is intoxicating. It has an M Sport exhaust system (hence the sound) and also an M Sport differential which allows front and rear torque splitting as well as the left and right on the rear when that is the dominant stance. It is why when you are in tight turns it has such amazing poise when you make a lot of noise, it just grips and goes the way it should. Have a look at the video on our Facebook page to see it in action.

It is a really fun car to drive fast, and that is not normally something you’d say about a high riding car of this size.

The steering also changes on the various modes, and when you switch into sport you feel it tighten up. And the good thing is, you can set an Individual Sport mode which allows the drivetrain to operate in its perky, barky setting while dialling down the suspension firmness. Or you can rely on Adaptive mode that’s stiffer than Comfort, but manages to switch between the parameters of all settings on its own accord, and works well on not-so-bumpy faster roads.

Conclusion

I really didn’t know what to expect with this car. I remember when BMW released the first vehicle of this type in the world, it was the X6 and it was like, ‘why?’ In the X4, I think it comes together better; it doesn’t look odd, it looks balanced and visually it works. In M40i mode it is enhanced by the fat tyres and big wheels and some other visual cues, but it works on all models in the X4 range.

So what you end up with in the M40 is a very fast car that is as competent and safe as anything on the market in its price range. But it does it all with a little bit of flair and enough excitement to let you know you are driving something special.

 

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