EXPERT REVIEW

Our View: 2017 BMW X4

Photo of Joe Bruzek
Managing Editor Joe Bruzek covers Cars.com’s short-and long-term fleet of test cars and drives a 1998 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. Email Joe Bruzek

I didn’t understand the BMW X4 when I first drove it. It was essentially a less functional and more expensive BMW X3 with a sloped roofline. The M40i, however, adds an extra dash of excitement, with 55 more horsepower than the X4 xDrive35i and BMW M Performance tuning that transform the X4 from a boring and pedestrian six-cylinder into something more akin to a BMW M3 SUV.

For 2017, the 355-hp M40i is the only six-cylinder version of the X4. A four-cylinder xDrive28i is the entry-level offering and there’s no longer an xDrive35i. The M40i trim, however, keeps the X4 competitive with the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace; compare specs of those with the X4 here. Mercedes-Benz is even getting into this class with its GLC300 Coupe.

I drove an M40i with optional summer tires and 20-inch alloy wheels that totaled $67,495, including a $995 destination charge.

Exterior & Styling

The X4 has a polarizing presence, especially with the M40i-exclusive Long Beach Blue Metallic paint ($700). Some onlookers found the color gaudy, but I thought it perfectly matched the M40i’s performance edge. M40i-exclusive appearance add-ons include silver-painted mirrors, gray highlights around the lower outboard grille openings, and dual tailpipes painted black chrome.

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How It Drives

Our test SUV wore optional 20-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires ($950), a breed of tires typically reserved for performance specialists like the BMW M3/M4, Ford Mustang GT350 and Cadillac CTS-V.     

Those sport tires are a hint that BMW means business with the X4 M40i. They’re a serious summer-only performance tire with plenty of grip that aren’t often included on non-dedicated sports cars. The X4 M40i isn’t quite an M vehicle like the M3 or X6 M, but it’s the next closest thing to an M car and way more aggressive than the X4 M Sport package.

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The M40i has 55 more horsepower than the discontinued xDrive35i, and that big bump in power is felt in the seat of your pants. Compare specs of the M40i with the 2016 BMW X4 xDrive35i here.

One of the most impressive characteristics of the retuned engine is an absence of turbo lag from the turbocharged engine. There’s no delay when accelerating from a stop or even from low speeds. The engine and traditional torque converter eight-speed automatic transmission work in harmony to blast the X4 M40i to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, BMW says. Acceleration comes with a big punch to the gut and the kind of ferociousness that’s out of the ordinary in similarly sized sport luxury SUVs — even the Porsche Macan S. The M40i’s zero-to-60-mph time is a half-second faster than BMW’s estimates for the outgoing xDrive35i. 

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And boy, does this baby sing with its new exhaust. The standard sport exhaust varies exhaust noise depending on driving mode. In the most aggressive Sport Plus mode, the engine pops, crackles and wails; the sound out of the tailpipes could easily be mistaken for an exotic sports coupe.

Suspension tuning is M40i-specific and uses adaptive shock absorbers with adjustable firmness that softens or stiffens the ride depending on driving mode. It also senses the SUV’s pitch and yaw to adjust damping on the fly and minimize body roll. The shocks are complemented by stronger springs and stiffer anti-roll bars, plus a more aggressive front alignment. The decidedly performance-tuned ride isn’t for the faint of heart; you’ll feel the road, for better and for worse.

The standard all-wheel drive has been tweaked to provide more torque at the rear wheels for a rear-wheel-drive handling balance. Yet even with all these suspension goodies and sticky tires, the X4 M40i feels heavy in cornering. It’s certainly planted and composed, with loads of grip, but it doesn’t like to transition quickly and it feels a little lethargic between sweeping corners, unlike the nimble Macan S.

Interior

Performance chops aside, the BMW X4 remains a compromise between style and usability. The aggressive exterior styling results in a small rear window and awful rearward visibility from the driver’s seat. Backseat ingress/egress is troubling with the low roofline. Once you’ve managed to duck into the backseat, however, it’s surprisingly roomy for adults. There’s decent headroom and outboard seating comfort is much more pleasant than in the Macan’s miniscule backseat.

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Genuine leather upholstery is standard in the M40i, unlike the outgoing xDrive35i, which came with imitation leather. The M40i has an M leather-wrapped steering wheel and M badging on the gear selector, plus sport seats and X4 M40i badging on the front doorsills.

Comparing interiors with the Porsche Macan, the edge goes to the Porsche — or at least to the $69,000 Macan S I previously reviewed. The Porsche’s attention to detail and generous aluminum trim, plus attractive contrast stitching, give it a more dynamic, sportier style than the X4.

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Ergonomics & Electronics

BMW’s iDrive multimedia controller system is starting to feel dated among similar control systems. The company’s flagship 7 Series sedan has gesture control and a touchscreen, but the BMW X4 uses an old multifunction knob that’s surrounded by too many buttons. It manages an interface, with layers upon layers of menus and options that still aren’t easily understood after a few days use.

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The X4 at least gets credit both for having traditional knobs and buttons, rather than touch-sensitive controls, and for its intuitive layout of climate controls and media interactivity. Apple CarPlay is available,  though Android Auto is not; both are the most seamless way to integrate a smartphone into a car. 

Cargo & Storage

The BMW X4’s aggressively sloped rear affects cargo space the most. The 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat is unimpressive compared with the roominess of the passenger space. It’s similar to the Macan’s 17.7 cubic feet but dwarfed by the 33.5 cubic feet behind the Jaguar F-Pace’s backseat. An X3 has 27.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat.

The X4’s cargo opening is narrow and high off the ground, requiring a big lift to access the cargo area, which is then recessed below the cargo opening. 

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Safety

The X4 hadn’t been crash-tested at the time of writing. Standard features include a basic suite of side-impact and side curtain airbags but not much else, not even a backup camera. Active safety features are optional and pricey.

On base BMW X4 models, an available Driver Assistance Package includes a backup camera and front and rear parking sensors for $700, while the Driver Assistance Plus Package ($1,700) includes blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera, but getting it also requires adding a $1,950 navigation system. An additional $1,200 for the Adaptive Cruise Control Stop & Go plus Active Driving Assistant packages adds adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking for cars and pedestrians.

Child seats fit surprisingly well in the X4’s backseat. Our certified child-seat installers say easily accessible Latch anchors help, but they had a tough time fitting our largest infant car seat, which takes up the most space; the front passenger seat had to be moved up a lot.

Value in Its Class

A base BMW X4 M40i starts at $59,095 with destination, and ours was bulked up by these options: $700 paint, $950 Cold Weather Package (including a heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats), a $1,900 Lighting Package (adaptive LED headlights), a $2,750 Technology Package (navigation, head-up display), $950 wheels and summer tires, a $400 backup camera and a $750 360-degree camera system.

An important consideration for the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, or any dedicated summer performance tire, is to avoid driving them in cold weather. Be prepared to buy a set of winter or all-season tires for winter driving — and with 20-inch wheels, that’s not going to be cheap. (Consider a set of higher-profile winter tires on inexpensive rims of their own if it’s possible.)

The X4 M40i elevates the SUV’s performance — and price — so much that a Porsche Macan S is one of its closest competitors. They couldn’t drive more differently, however. Porsche’s Macan is an extremely refined and poised performance SUV, while the X4 M40i has a heavy-metal, rip-your-head-off kind of aggressiveness. Also noteworthy, the M40i’s standard Harman Kardon stereo belts heavy metal out its speakers exquisitely well.

BMW doesn’t sell many X4s in relation to its bread-and-butter X3 (about 4,100 year-to-date versus 34,000 of the X3), so the sports-minded SUV is definitely a niche product. My general rule is that if something is more expensive and less usable, it better have more flash and pizzazz, and the X4 M40i is definitely that extra something the BMW X4 needed.

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