Unobtainiu-M It’s not UK-bound but the X4 M40i is still pretty appealing. British buyers can’t get their hands on the new X4 M40i, but should they be disappointed? Words: Shane O’ Donoghue. Photography: BMW.
Nearly two years ago we brought you the first drive of the new X4 ‘SAV’ and the first variant to be tested was the xDrive35i M Sport model. Did we come away suggesting it needed more power? Did we think its cornering ability needed more work? No, no we did not. It was found to be unflappable in the corners (if a little immobile and lacking in adjustment) and faster than any SUV needed to be.
In fact, we pretty much dismissed that model as an irrelevance for the UK market, as there are no petrolfuelled examples officially sold here at all. And yet, BMW has gone and developed a faster and more driver-focused variant anyway, called the X4 M40i.
For those in the know, the badging reveals that this car has been developed under the watchful eye of BMW M GmbH, though it’s one of those M Performance Vehicles rather than a full-on M car so we should expect it to sit between the M Sport versions and the M models in terms of approach and hardcore-ness. Nonetheless, the specification makes for interesting reading. For starters, the M40i essentially uses the same single-turbo 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder petrol engine as the new BMW M2, complete with M3/M4 components such as the pistons and crankshaft bearings and an extra oil cooler. Power output is down a tad on the M2’s, at 360hp, but it’s produced lower down the rev range and it’s backed up by the same 343lb ft of torque, on tap between 1350-5250rpm, again at lower engine speeds. Though there’s no mention of an automatic overboost facility here. BMW says it took the X4 xDrive35i’s engine as this car’s basis and retuned the intake manifold, upped boost pressure and increased maximum fuel flow to allow the higher outputs. It seems a lot of work was done on the exhaust, too.
The whole system is new, with ‘optimised’ back pressure and a map-controlled electronic valve to alter the sound. It genuinely sounds ace, though those outside the car are treated to the best of it. Still, in the Sport modes there are plenty of characteristic pops and bangs on the overrun to keep the kid in us all entertained.
Unsurprisingly, the only gearbox option here is of the automatic variety. It’s the excellent eight-speed Steptronic sports transmission we know and love, with gear change paddles behind the steering wheel. It has been reprogrammed to suit something with the letter ‘M’ on its rear end, but it still manages to be civilised and smooth when you need it to be. At the other end of the spectrum, it lets its greasy hair down with a launch control function and a manual mode in which the gearbox won’t automatically change up for you, even if you make full use of the rev limiter. Even when in auto mode and the Sport+ setting has been selected the changes are faster than usual and it’s more keen to change down when you’re decelerating hard. You’ve got to admire this level of detail and commitment to driving enjoyment, even in a big and heavy SUV like the X4.
Power goes to all four wheels, of course, through the standard xDrive system but with more of an emphasis on the rear axle and, thanks to BMW’s ‘Performance Control’ function in the rear differential, the split between the rear wheels is also variable according to conditions. Pushing the X4 hard through a wicked series of switchbacks reveals that it does indeed feel more rear-drive than any other model in the line-up, which makes it feel far more agile and wieldy. The Dynamic Stability Control system (DSC) can be switched off (in the dry) without fear or repercussion as there’s so much grip on offer. This is the first X4 we’ve driven that can be adjusted precisely on the throttle. It’s good fun and immensely capable, though the suspension seems to struggle with the weight of the wheels at times when the going gets bumpy, regardless of the driving mode you select, resulting in an off-putting bouncing sensation.
In fairness, the test cars were fitted with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels and lower profile tyres, so the standard 19-inch items might be better. BMW has done a considerable amount of work to the chassis of the X4 to turn it into the M40i, including increased camber and stronger wishbones up front (apparently to the benefit of steering feel), along with stiffer springs and anti-roll bars all-round. The X4 M40i also comes as standard with an electronically controlled damper system, tied in with the usual Driving Experience Control options, plus variable sports steering that alters the ratio to make the car feel more agile the more you turn the steering wheel without adding twitchiness at higher speeds in a straight line. The best thing we can say about the latter system in the X4 is that you don’t really notice it at work – the M40i just feels more nimble than any other version.
It’s no slouch either. #BMW
quotes 4.9 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint, which should be possible almost regardless of conditions thanks to the #xDrive
fourwheel drive traction and launch control. However, the X4 impresses more for its mid-range punch, making it all but unnecessary to furiously tap up and down through the transmission with the paddles, regardless of how twisty the road is. The gear change paddles are not the same as those found in ‘proper’ M cars, unfortunately, though the three-spoke leather steering wheel isn’t very different and, mercifully, BMW still resists market pressures to fit flat-bottomed wheels to its sporty cars as many rival marques do.
Elsewhere in the cabin, the M40i is differentiated from regular M Sport versions of the X4 by additional ‘M ‘and ‘X4 M40i’ logos, on the instruments, on the silver door sills and on the gear lever. It remains a high quality and spacious cabin and there’s a lot of equipment as standard, including dual-zone climate control, sat nav, Park Distance Control and leather upholstered sports seats up front. The rear seats accommodate three, though the middle seat occupant has to put up with the high transmission tunnel, as before. The seat back splits and folds, expanding the 500-litre boot to an Ikea-pleasing 1400 litres of volume.
From the outside, it’s not that easy to spot the M40i. As ever, Ferric grey is the accent colour of choice of the M Performance Vehicle division, and it adorns the door mirrors, vertical elements of the kidney grille and the outer edges of the deep front bumper. It needs the optional 20-inch two-tone alloy wheels to look its best, though there’s still too much air between the tyres and the body for our liking. At the rear, there’s a ‘Chrome Black’ finished exhaust outlet on either side of the bumper and a prominent ‘X4 M40i’ badge on the hatch.
But you won’t be seeing any of those on UK roads any time soon, as BMW UK has no intention at this time to offer the M40i for sale in right-hand drive. Will it be missed? Maybe by a handful of buyers that like the idea of an indecently fast SUV with engaging road manners and a little rarity on its side but who are not worried about the running costs. After all, this X4 officially returns 32.8mpg on the combined cycle, so it’ll do well to hit mid-twenties at a cruise. Porsche seems to have found plenty of homes for its Macan, though, and although most of those have diesel engines there are still a few high-performance petrol options in the line-up.
And really, in spite of the more engaging dynamics and evocative engine note of the M40i, there’s plenty of talent in the diesel-engined X4 range. The xDrive30d, with its 258hp six-cylinder diesel engine, is probably the best all-rounder in the line-up and decent value in xLine specification at £45,510, but we reckon that the range-topper, the xDrive35d M Sport, is a good foil for the M40i. It’s not that far down on power (313hp vs 360hp) but it eclipses the petrol car’s 343lb ft of torque with a peak figure of 465lb ft so it’ll be quicker in most real-world scenarios – if not for the benchmark 0-60 and top speed. On top of that, it returns 47.1mpg and emits just 157g/km. Best of all, it’s available to buy right now.
The X4 impresses more for its mid-range punch.
TECHNICAL DATA #2016
ENGINE: Straight-six, #TwinPower
MAX POWER: 360hp @ 5800-6000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 343lb ft @ 1350-5250rpm
TOP SPEED: 155mph
0-62MPH: 4.9 seconds
PRICE (OTR): Not on sale in UK
In the Sport modes there are plenty of pops and bangs on the overrun to keep the kid in us all entertained