The M badge is something that BMW has used quite stingily in the early decades of the performance division’s existence. And it was with good reason too, as cars fettled by the guys over at Garching were nothing like their stock siblings in terms of performance or character. If you wanted to be seen associated with the revered badge, you had to pay a huge premium and you were assured of the very best in high performance motoring. However, things changed with the introduction of the M50i variants of the X5 and X6 in 2009, which heralded a more lenient approach towards the use of the letter M on cars that didn’t feature the extreme performance characteristics of all-out M models. Over the subsequent years, demand for vehicles modified by BMW Motorsport but that are not full M cars, shot up exponentially, prompting the carmaker to set aside apprehensions on the badge’s gravitas being watered down and come out with many such variants. These, the M Performance models, are now available across the line-up including the 1 Series, 2 Series, 5 Series, and the 7 Series.
The latest of this kind to be released in our market is the X4 M40i, which, as the name suggests, is a souped-up X4, just stopping short of being a full-blown X4M. But that doesn’t mean it lacks in excitement or performance. In fact, it’s quite an interesting sum of three different parts that are brilliant on their own. For one, all of us know that the X4 is a more stylish, albeit slightly less practical brother of the X3, which in stock form itself is one of the best crossovers to drive in its class. This in turn means the X4 has the same underpinnings as the current 3 Series. And to top it all, it gets the same great 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six that powers the perky little M2. But do these make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts? That rather depends on your perspective. The 3 Series is a great saloon, but doesn’t offer the ride height that SUV lovers crave. The X3 is an SUV all right, but it isn’t as stylish as the X4 with its sloping roofline. And the M2, as remarkably engaging as it is to drive, doesn’t offer the practicality or flexibility of any of the aforesaid cars. So that makes the X4 M40i a combination of the agreeable traits of all these other models.
As I mentioned earlier, it is powered by the same engine as the M2, however, at 360bhp, it puts out five horses less than the smaller car while sending the same 465Nm of torque to all four corners through an eight-speed M-Steptronic automatic gearbox. Floor it, and it hastens to 100kph at a pace that seems quicker than the official time of 4.9 seconds. It’s very loud, too, in a very aurally pleasing way. While it’s relatively subdued in Comfort mode, flicking it into Sport or Sport+ brings out a riveting soundtrack peppered with crackles and pops on the overrun. This adds to the overall driving experience considerably in comparison to the non-M variants of the X4. The ease with which the X4 M40i darts ahead belies its nearly two-tonne heft. The M Performance suspension with its stiffer springs and electronically controlled shocks specially tuned by M engineers add to the overall dynamics. The steering doesn’t feel artificially weighted as many of the new electromechanical set-ups do, and is generally precise in its feedback. While it’s firm enough at highway speeds, around town, the steering is light, making the car easily manoeuvrable. However, the suspension feels a bit on the firmer side even in the softest mode, which is baffling considering how the M5 manages to transform itself from an extreme machine in Sport+ into one of the most comfortable saloons in Comfort mode.
The X4 M40i can seat four adults in comfort, although adults of above-average height could find the rear compartment a bit confining, especially as the sloping roof eats into the headroom. But customers who specifically went for this car wouldn’t complain, as it is obviously the coupé SUV body style that appealed to them. And it’s still more utilitarian than a 3 Series saloon.
So, if you don’t mind the ever-so-slight compromise in practicality over an X3, but would like more performance and driving fun than a regular X4, the X4 M40i is your best bet. It justifies the Sports Activity Coupé moniker better than the other X4 variants do, and despite the onslaught from new models like the Mercedes GLC and the Porsche Macan, is inarguably one of the best-driving crossovers on the market today.