It’s not unusual to find many of today’s BMW sport activity vehicles "speaking" with a Southern twang. That twang was prevalent when Autotrader visited BMW’s Plant Spartanburg, in Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina, for the first drive of the 2019 BMW X4 M40i. Now in its second generation, it’s longer, lower, wider and faster than its predecessor. Other brands have since joined in building vehicles in the deep southern states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. But BMW Group was once of the first, starting production back in 1994.
Although we’re not giving up yet, and although it seems as though the battle between SUVs and sedans is not quite over, it does sound as though the fat lady is somewhere off in the wings, beginning to clear her throat. We think there’ll always be a place for a traditional car, but we don’t like the fact that many automakers are eliminating auto segments in favor of trucks and SUVs.
It’s not Big, It’s Large
Larger than its midsize segment predecessor, the 2019 BMW X4 M40i gains about 2 inches in wheelbase, 3 inches in length and 1.5 inches in width. The 2 inches gained within the wheelbase are good for more legroom in the back seat. The sheet metal is now smoother and more stylized, for a 10 percent reduction in drag coefficiency, down to 0.30 Cd. For those taking measure, there’s 18.5 cu ft. of cargo capacity in the trunk, which increases to 50.5 cu ft. when you fold forward the 40/20/40 rear seat.
Speaking of stylized, this new BMW features a cleaner appearance throughout, which looks much more athletic than the sport activity vehicles in BMW’s rearview mirror, including the X6. The 3 inches added to the overall length seem to eliminate the tubbiness that appeared as a result of the tall side panels of previous designs. A shoulder line that follows door handles up to the rear lights, combined with a character line between the wheel openings, help break up the "slab-sidedness" of the X4’s side flanks. "It features a dynamic silhouette with a clear pared-back use of forms," said Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group senior VP of design.
There are two trim levels, starting with the base xLine variant, which is the standard offering from BMW, while the M Performance model features aerodynamically optimized front and rear aprons and side skirts. The X4 M40i adds specific M-Sport seating, a sport leather steering wheel and M-specific interior trim pieces.
The new X4 comes in two flavors, ranging from a buyer’s choice of X4 xDrive30i, which features a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 248 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is a change from the 2018 model, gaining 8 hp but losing 2 lb-ft of torque. It’s good for a 0-to-60 mph sprint of 6.0 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph.
Our testing limited us to the X4 M40i, with its 3.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine making 355 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. It tops out at 155 mph, with a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds. For reference purposes, the 2018 model provided 355 hp and 343 lb-ft of torque. Power from both models hits the pavement by way of an 8-speed Steptronic automatic transmission and BMW’s Adaptive M Suspension. Designed in conjunction with the increase in height, length and width, the M40i is still able to boast of that perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight bias between the axles.
Inside the X4, we found an interior that was subtle, both in the way it treated sound and through its use of high-grade interior materials. It featured a new, driver-centric leather dash with a matrix-style pattern across its face and trim panels on the door. It’s the standard, if updated, BMW issue-interior as we have come to enjoy it, and included a TFT screen with configurable gauges that change according to the selected drive mode.
The X4 M40i’s engine noise sounded very engaging while in manual mode, when using the paddle shift levers to step through the 8-speed transmission. At its higher ranges, hush-quiet turned to powerful and engaging on the backroads around Greer, South Carolina.
Our BMW tester included an available active safety system that initiates protective measures when it senses an accident is about to happen. That, combined with the standard active guard feature, which includes frontal-collision warning, city collision mitigation with braking, pedestrian warning with city braking, and speed-limit information, should supply a variety of safety aids should the driver become distracted. Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) was onboard to include an antilock braking system (ABS), Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), Auto Differential Brake (ADB-X), Cornering Brake Control (CBC) and Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), which are all part of the safety suite on the 2019 model. Thankfully, we didn’t come across a situation that required us to see how effective any of it was.
Our navigation system was displayed on a new, larger 10.25-inch display screen that can be controlled by BMW’s iDrive Touch controller or available finger gestures in front of the central display screen. Up above is a new, larger panoramic roof and tri-zone climate control.
M Marks the Spot
The lines between a performance car and a performance SUV — er, Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV) — are most definitely beginning to blur. At least, that was our initial impression as we set out on a 150-mile test route through the southern Carolina countryside. Behind the wheel, we noticed the smooth, easy feel of the steering as we wound our way along gently sweeping curves. The X4 M40i handled those, and the twisty mountain roads that followed, with equal ease. Credit that to the adaptive M suspension, which makes on-the-fly adjustments to its electronically controlled dampers. Drivers who prefer to make their own adjustments can choose settings via the Driving Experience Control switch on the central console.
The 3.0-liter TwinPowerTurbo inline 6-cylinder engine offered an excellent throttle response that was audibly enhanced by the flap-controlled M sports exhaust system, which managed to play a forceful concerto whenever the skinny pedal was squeezed.
Moving over to the BMW Performance Center test track only reiterated the point. This is an SAV that thinks it’s a performance sports car. Acceleration on the test track came very quickly, while negotiating the tight-to-variable-radius turns involved nothing more than a light brushing of the brake pedal before turn-in, followed by a smooth increase in accelerator pressure while climbing the hill that leads to an off-camber leap-of-faith move into a corkscrew-style curve. Try as we might, there was very little we could do to upset the ride dynamics of this X4.
With the 2019 BMW X4 M40i, moving from a sports sedan to an SAV — er, SUV — doesn’t have to be like swallowing (with apologies to Alanis Morissette) a bitter little pill. It’s just like driving a sports sedan, only larger.
BMW X430i base MSRP: $50,450
BMW X4M40i base MSRP: $60,450
Both prices do not include $995 destination and handling.
To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.