Suffer for fashion. It’s the aphorism that sees bloody feet stuffed into pointy heels, girdles, and corsets wrapped around protesting waistlines, and crossover roofs slimmed down to the point where they resemble the thorax of a particularly bulky wasp.
Engine: 3.0L turbocharged inline-six
Output: 355 hp, 365 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (MPG): 20 city, 27 hwy
Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 11.9 city, 8.7 hwy
Price (USD): $61,445
Price (CAD): $66,000
Pinching the tail of the most practical vehicles in an automaker’s lineup has become a popular way to expand product offerings without having to make any changes to a given platform other than style. In short, it’s a gimme for designers, planners, and accountants. But what about the customers asked to live with the inevitable compromises inherent in shrinking what was previously considered the ideal shape for a given platform?
I spent nearly a month with the 2019 BMW X4 M40i — the fastest, and perhaps the best example of this “less-is-more” philosophy in the BMW family — to determine whether it makes sense to pay a little bit extra for the privilege of having to “make-do.”
Less Is More $
Of course, compromise is in the eye of the beholder. There are two ways to look at the BMW X4 M40i: either as a lesser-than version of its X3 sibling, or a style-first interpretation of what well-moneyed young professionals want to park in their driveways.
The former will highlight out several of the X4’s shortcomings. For example, despite being almost exactly the same length and width as the X3 M40i, the vehicle’s ski-slope roof treatment erases nearly 30 percent of its cargo space behind the rear seats, where it measures 19 cubic feet.
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It’s a number that’s on par with several large sedans in terms of the trunk, but hardly the utility one has come to expect from the crossover set. Then there’s the unusual shape of the load area, where the tailgate, when closed, intrudes more than a little on vertical space than one might prefer.
Still, while the X4 can’t haul as many big-box purchases or stacked bags of hockey gear as the X3, it fares just fine when dealing with day-to-day missions. I was able to load a long weekend’s worth of luggage for three between hatch and seatback with no issue, and likewise, with the second row folded forward, a stand-up floor-fan measuring four feet in length.
And what of taller riders? They won’t be enthused about the reduced headroom in the X4’s rear accommodations, but it’s not as dramatic as the cuts afforded in the cargo department. Legroom is actually up over the previous model year (with the X4 having been redesigned for 2019).
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You Can’t Miss It
While the X4 M40i might be smaller on the inside than the more “traditional” X3 crossover, it goes out of its way to be extra when seen from the other side of the windshield. Extroverted is perhaps the best word to describe the X4’s bodywork, which is somewhat more graceful than in years past but still replete with angles that are charitably described as “less awkward” than others.
Much of this preening, however, is given over to the kind of chest-puffing metal musculature that has become aesthetic shorthand for underhood endowment and two-lane poise. The X4’s haunches are wider and more pronounced to hint at the somewhat more aggressive tuning of its M adaptive suspension (including springs and swaybars) versus the X3 M40i, a setup that might improve road-holding but comes at the price of the occasional crash and bang over rough pavement (of which Montreal’s pothole-ridden streets are almost exclusively composed). That said, highway poise on smoother asphalt remains impressive.
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It’s suffering of a different sort than one would endure when trying to load a mountain bike under the X4’s roof, but for some, the pugnacious countenance of the 4 is preferable to the less-distinctive uniform of the 3. It’s also great for communicating to a potential dating partner that you don’t want kids.
Boom Under the Hood
Somewhat mitigating the X4 M40i’s mild tortures is its thoroughly excellent turbocharged drivetrain. Displacing 3.0-liters, its inline six-cylinder engine produces an underrated 355 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque, fed to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Using the Sport+ driving mode, every throttle input is announced to the world at large with a flatulent bleat from the exhaust tips. The M-lite model also comes with an active rear differential that helps the crossover feel somewhat more surefooted when driven boisterously, especially with the traction control set to off in the early winter snow.
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Fantastically quick in a straight line — 60-mph approaches, and then begins to recede in the distance at around the four and a half second mark — the X4 never crosses over from drag strip darling to genuinely engaging to drive. Competent, yes, especially for its heft, but not light enough on its feet (or close enough to the ground) to make you snag the keys to this crossover versus a similarly equipped BMW sedan.
The Verdict: 2019 BMW X4 M40i Review
That the 2019 BMW X4 M40i is aimed squarely at a niche-within-a-niche of the automotive market is never in question. Indeed, so many potential customers digest the above list of pros and concerns and turn their back on the X4 as the German brand’s slope-backed trade moves a mere 13 percent of the X3’s volume.
And yet, each of the X4’s weak points can’t be considered more than mild annoyances to those who go into the purchase with their eyes wide open. If one values style above all else, and can glean enough of that in the M40i to be tempted by its WWE-esque charms, then the inconvenient aspects of its character will be easily glossed over. As a uniform that fits a certain station in life, the X4 M40i doesn’t exactly make sense, but it’s very easy to understand the road that got you behind its wheel.
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