BMW was the first manufacturer to take the "U" out of SUV. By that I mean that they minimized the vehicle’s practical aspects in favour of style and performance. First they did it with the X6, followed next by the X4. Obviously, this winning formula inspired many other manufacturers to follow suit with rival vehicles. Cases in point include the Porsche Macan and Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, which directly target the X4. Thus far, only Audi has bucked the trend, perhaps because they believe, and rightfully so, that the SQ5 can also play this role.
Luxury SUVs are very popular. There are more and more models available for customers who want to stand out with a unique product. That's undoubtedly why, this year, BMW is offering seven SUVs, from the X1 to the X7—and the X4 is already undergoing a complete makeover despite being introduced in 2015.
BMW drew direct inspiration from the X3, using most of the same features: same powertrains, same structure, same driving position. You’ll also notice that the front end of the X4 is in every way identical to that of the X3, with the visual difference coming primarily from the sleeker, more plunging tail end.
The 2019 BMW X4’s style piques curiosity, insofar as a more muscular and less traditional approach speaks to you. Last year, nearly 1200 Canadian buyers preferred this approach to that of the X3, which nonetheless remains five times more popular.
Like the X3, the X4 comes in two versions: the xDrive30i and the dynamic M40i. Yes, again with the letter M, which BMW loves to use and overuse. Why? Because this formula sells, but also because Audi and Mercedes-Benz are doing the same with the S and AMG versions.
And so I found myself at the wheel of the M40i to take on the amazingly mountainous, winding roads of South Carolina. I’ll start with the cabin, which I believe is one of the best designed in the segment. Obviously, space is more limited in the trunk and visibility is sometimes problematic because of the roofline. The dashboard, which is angled toward the driver, is simple, efficient and attractive. BMW finally managed to make its iDrive system a model of ergonomics. It’s very intuitive and not at all confusing. They even offer Apple CarPlay that works without you having to plug in your mobile device. Simply place it on the wireless charging station and—if it’s compatible—presto!
The materials used on board are more luxurious and appealing than those on the previous version. And I would add that the firm and enveloping seats are absolutely fantastic as long as you aren’t significantly overweight.
Beyond the power
Let’s be honest, BMW is first and foremost an engine designer. Their engines are most often very efficient, high-performance mills with surprisingly good fuel economy. The M40i’s inline six-cylinder turbo is no exception, offering generous torque, linear power and a captivating sound. The engine’s response time varies, depending on the selected driving. That being said, it’s not jarring and you might even forget about it if you don’t put the pedal to the metal.
Paired with a highly efficient automatic gearbox complete with a manual mode, this six-cylinder produces 355 horsepower, which is slightly less than in the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe. However, it offers more thrills and faster accelerations—BMW claims that it clocks 4.6 seconds in the 0-100 km/h sprint (with launch control engaged).
The real beauty of the 2019 BMW X4 M40i remains its handling. Of course, it is heavier than an M2 coupe and doesn’t have the same centre of gravity either. Nevertheless, several elements play in its favour and contribute to a more fun and sporty ride. Its track width is 30 mm wider than the X3, which is relative to the M adaptive suspension and the variable assistance sport steering, and helps give it a more incisive and precise ride.
To top it all off, there’s a hyper-efficient xDrive all-wheel drive with variable torque management that can redistribute up to 100% of the power to the rear wheel with the most traction. The whole system is bolted to a lighter and even more rigid chassis. The result is a more dynamic, safe and fun ride. I never expected to have this much fun aboard the X4, despite the fact that the X3 was already rather impressive.
What about the four cylinder?
After more than 200 kilometres at the wheel of the M40i, all that was left for me to drive was the 248-horsepower, four-cylinder xDrive30i. Normally I prefer to save the most powerful vehicle for last, but chance intervened and saw things differently. As it turned out, driving the four-cylinder engine was also surprisingly exciting.
Obviously, it offers less power and is a little less exotic, but it remains a lot of fun to drive. And since it can be just as luxurious, there’s no letdown driving this version after driving the X4 M40i, which is surely why many buyers listen to reason—if you consider buying a $60,000 crossover reasonable, that is.
For me, the 2019 BMW X4 is a real standout that, more than ever, is likely to keep people from buying an X3. Or even better, from buying a rival brand.