BMW’s M brand is big business. In 2015, the German automaker saw a 40-percent increase worldwide in sales of M-badged vehicles over the previous year, with the biggest demand by far here in the United States.
It is no surprise, then, that the Bavarians are scrambling to offer high-performance versions of vehicles that heretofore did not wear the mighty letter. The latest of these is the BMW X4 M40i (starting at $57,800), a member of what BMW calls its “M Performance” lineup, which bridges the gap between pure M cars and standard BMWs—much like Audi’s S line and Mercedes-Benz’s newly launched AMG Sport models.
“We have more M and M Performance models than ever,” says Klaus Frölich, BMW’s top executive for research and development. In this case, the top-of-the-line X4 compact crossover SUV gets a new 3-liter inline-6 that makes 355 hp and 343 ft lbs of torque, an increase of 55 hp over the X4 xDrive35. Cosmetically, the X4 M40i gets distinctive side mirrors, chrome tailpipes, and 20-inch M wheels, and can be clad in Long Beach Blue Metallic, an optional exterior color exclusive to certain M models.
We took the X4 M40i on a jaunt around California’s Carmel Valley, traversing some of the country’s most scenic roads. Like the standard X4 models, the X4 M40i offers a commanding view and ample space in a relatively compact package, but with added extras such as dynamic damper control and sport variable steering. On the long straightaways of a two-lane road that runs parallel to Highway 101, the powerful inline-6 and sport mode helped us pass tourists in campers and locals in pickup trucks as if they were standing still. The 8-speed automatic transmission was smooth and responsive, and comes standard with paddle shifters for those who prefer to click through the gears manually.
Turning off onto the twisty roads, the X4 M40i’s adaptive suspension helped to keep the car’s 4,235-pound curb weight in check. Unlike true M models, which allow the driver to customize steering, throttle, and suspension settings, the X4 M40i’s drive modes are fixed. Steering effort in sport mode is on the heavy side, though drivers who equate stiffness with sportiness will enjoy the taut feel.
In the cabin, the X4 M40i gets a meaty M steering wheel and standard sport seats covered in Nevada leather. Technology and safety options include a heads-up display and BMW’s Active Driving Assistant, which includes lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, and automatic stop-and-go driving capability. In all, the X4 M40i is an ideal choice for drivers who want the utility of the X4 plus an extra dose of power, more refined dynamics, and, of course, that prestigious M badge. (bmw.com)