Great car, this, the new BMW X4 M40i. Completely pointless, too.
You could think of the X4 halo model loosely as a fatter M2 — growing up it couldn’t quite help itself from reaching for the M parts shelf and gorging on all that sweet speed candy. Except what you end up getting is not so much a performance X4, as it is a compromised M2.
BMW released the M40i earlier this year (on sale in the UAE now) with a load of M parts tacked on because marketing guarantees wild success — X4 sales are on the up since launch and with the M40i the numbers will only grow (in 2015 it was BMW’s second bestselling SUV after the X5, with 55,050 shifted globally, which is about 10,000 more than X6 sales.) For young families who have no use of a coupé any more, but prefer to keep portraying an image of a coupé lifestyle, the X4 M40i is supposed to make sense with its Sports Activity Coupé tag.
Of course it makes little sense. Off road, well it’s just about as capable as a BMW saloon there, too. Look at those 19in wheels and 40-section rubber band Michelin Pilot Super Sports. How much do you think those low-slung M-specific bumpers run for? No one’s chancing MoE’s kerbs in this thing.
And with all that expansive crossover bodywork? Well, let’s see — you get 8mm less rear headroom than in a 3 Series, 36mm less shoulder room, much the same story up front, and 100 litres less cargo volume.
It weighs two tonnes. As much as a V8-engined Audi S8. Two hundred kilos more than a V12-engined DB11. Which is baffling, because it’s tiny inside.
Those are the facts.
So where all that weight and size went, I have no idea. You get poor rear visibility. A cocooned driving position feels nice and snug, even if you’re not confidently aware where the front wheels always are. However, trying to get into the back is a chore because the opening is so narrow and awkward I’d almost call it a novelty door like you get on an FJ Cruiser or the old Mazda RX-8. Once you’re in you have to slouch the whole way on the tall seats and beneath the sloped roof straining under its coupé pretence.
A cocooned driving position feels nice and snug, even if you’re not confidently aware where the front wheels always are.
The engine’s great. I’m sure it is, because it’s practically the same unit in a full-bore M2 I tried earlier, so it has to be. The 3.0-litre single-turbo six has a forged steel crank lifted from an M3, and uprated pistons, fuel injection, exhaust system… It’s just kind of subdued into the background, despite 360 horsepower (5bhp short of an M2) and 465Nm of torque.
It steers and handles like a BMW, this X4, and in general there’s an awareness of structural integrity behind the wheel of an M40i, as there should be, seeing it weighs more than a bunker. The steering is light and thankfully free from too much artificial weighting — M boss Frank van Meel says customers in general are asking for less effort. This, then, could well be the quickest, best-driving crossover on the market.
If we reasonably expect a sports crossover to deliver performance, practicality, usability, and economic sense, the M40i nails only one of those.
However, the X4 M40i represents more than a mishap in BMW’s lineup, something way bigger than a single car. If the X4 M40i is basically an M2 with all-wheel drive and a tall seating position, which it is, then that means we’ve actually reached a critical point.
Crossovers are growing globally at double-digit rates to supplant the saloon as the pattern car. Yes, double digits, in the biggest markets in the world like India and China (where saloons are stagnant), and last year for the first time in history the crossover became Europe’s largest segment, which means traditional hatchbacks and estates are fizzling out too.
Crossovers are niche-ing out at such a state that designers will just forget about all other body styles and pattern everything off crossovers, until we have cabriolet crossovers, which we already do, and hyper crossovers, and GT crossovers, and then they’ll just continue putting on stockier body kits and bigger wheels and racier tyres and they’ll persist with the stupid coupé rooflines, and then they’ll forget what they were supposed to be doing and just keep at it, moving on to roadster crossovers and mid-engined crossovers, and estate crossovers, and minivan crossovers, and pick-up truck crossovers, and rear-engined crossovers, and cars will just be crossovers, and all the while they’ll keep compromising their inherent crossoverness, designing them closer and closer to the ground until one day a 2057 X4 M40i will just look like an M2 again and we won’t even see the irony in it.