Thursday, May 4, 2017


Chances are if you look for info on BMW’s X4 you’re going to find it listed with SUVs or maybe crossovers. For example, U.S. News & World Report in its compilation of reviews includes it in luxury compact SUVs along with its sibling the X3.

But that’s really not quite right.

The 2017 BMW X4 is what you might call a “tweener.” When it comes to hauling your stuff, the X4 comes up short of its competitors. It can handle a grocery run but a trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s could be another matter depending on how big your home improvement project is. Luggage for a family vacation also could be an issue.

At the same time, it is a bit too big to be considered a mere hatchback or luxury sedan/coupe.

So how does one classify the X4?

BMW solves the issue by calling it a SAC, or Sports Activity Coupe. (Which brings up the entirely different issue of having four doors while being called as a coupe, a debate we’ll save for another day).

The X4 followed the somewhat controversial X6 when it was shown at the 2014 New York Auto Show and marketed as a 2015 model. The X6 had been unveiled at the same show five years earlier and its radical styling, particularly when viewed from the back, made it a rather polarizing vehicle. You either liked the look, which had vestiges of Pontiac Aztec when viewed from the rear, or you hated it.

Because it is a bit smaller, however, the X4 gets away with that same general profile.

The first X4 came in two trims, the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i. The former featured a 4-cylinder power plant, the latter a 6-cylinder. Both were turbocharged, and the xDrive designated both trims as all-wheel drive.

The xDrive28i version is still offered for 2017, but the top-of-the-line model has since grown into X4 M40i with a Twin-Power Turbo, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine that produces 355 horsepower between 5800 and 6000 rpm with a maximum 343 pound-feet of torque between 1350 and 5250. It is mated to an 8-speed Sportronic transmission with sport and manual modes (steering wheel-mounted addle shifters). That combination results in fuel mileage numbers of 19 miles-per-gallon city, 26 highway, and 21 combined drinking using recommended premium fuel.

BMW says it will zip from zero-to-60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which puts it near the top of its segment.

Slip the transmission into sport mode and the damping control from comfort to sport or sport-plus gives you the kind of responses and handling you might expect from a top-of-the-line sports car.

And therein lies its strength. This so-called Sports Activity Vehicle is more about performance than it is anything else when it comes to SUV functionality — with the possible exception of its good looks and wealth of niceties.

The latter include Nevada leather upholstery (look it up), power glass moonroof, M design touches such as the leather-wrapped M-Sport steering wheel, Harmon Kardon premium sound system, power sport seats, and automatic dual zone climate control as standard or no-charge options included in the base MSRP of $58,100.

Add in some extras like a Technology Package that includes navigation, a head-up display for your speed (which is useless if you are wearing sunglasses with polarized lenses), and BMW Online and BMW Apps, and other options like 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 19s, a surround view camera, adaptive LED headlights, heated front and rear seats, and rear-view camera and the MSRP goes up to $67,495 (including the $995 destination and delivery charge.

That makes for a pretty well-equipped vehicle, but when it comes to things you expect in an SUV like hauling capacity, forget it. The 17.7 cubic feet of storage space behind the backseat is barely more than what you get in a full-size sedan, and it is further compromised by the slanting roofline that limits the height of your cargo. Fold the backseats and capacity is increased to 49.4 cubic feet, still short of several of its competitors, which include its sibling BMW X3.

But the “M” design tweeks are nice.

What I liked about the BMW X4 M40i: Besides the impressive driving performance, a little feature caught my fancy. It’s not new, in fact it’s been around for at least a decade on even non-luxury vehicles, but the auto hold function is a very nice addition. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t pick it up. You press a button on the console and then every time you come to a complete stop, the parking brake is automatically set. This keeps the car from creeping forward and tapping the rear of a vehicle in front of you and also keeps you from rolling backward if you are on an incline. Yes, you can keep your foot on the brake and accomplish the same thing, but auto hold allows you to scramble to pick up anything that may have fallen on the floor. Please note: This is not the annoying start-stop system that shuts off the engine (though the X4 M40i has that feature as well) but simply a braking system. Responses to voice commands also are quick and sure.

What I didn’t like about the BMW X4 M40i: I tested the navigation system just once, and it took me on a rather round-about route to my destination, routing me to parallel streets for seemingly no particular reason. Turn directions kept referring to streets as State Route X instead of their more common name or street number. I don’t know what it may be like in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the final assembly point for the X4, but in South Florida, not many drivers are going to recognize many roads by their State Route number. 

Would I buy the BMW X4 M40i: No. The biggest thing in its favor is its driving dynamics, and it does have the advantage of giving you a high seating position over the usual sports sedan or coupe. But that’s not what I’m looking for in a Sports Utility, er Sports Activity, Vehicle.

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