BMW's X4 is either compact SUV or beefy hatchback, depending on how one sees it. Its new top-of-the line X4 M40i, though, is all sports car — at least the way it drives.
With BMW's storied "M'' — for Motorsport — part of its alphabet-soup name, the newest model of the X4 is all about sporty performance, with a 355-horsepower straight six-cylinder engine and a hardcore handling ethos.
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Every press of the accelerator and roar of the exhaust is a reminder of that the 2017 X4 M40i's TwinPower Turbo engine is eagerly awaiting instructions.
The engine's 343 foot-pounds of peak torque arrives at a low 1,350 rpm and carries to more than 5,200 rpm, so the X4 M40i can sprint to 60 mph in a brisk 4.7 seconds. That matches many sports cars and is the best in its class, according to BMW.
During cornering and in slalom maneuvers, the test=driven five-door X4 remained buttoned down, not tippy, thanks in part to its low center of gravity. Its sport front seats with thigh extenders kept the driver and front passenger in place during aggressive driving.
The look is typical BMW, with its trademark kidney-shaped grille, a coupe-like roofline and 19- or optional 20-inch wheels.
The five-passenger 2017 X4 M40i is relatively expensive for an SUV, even for a BMW SUV, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail priceof $60,245, including the destination charge. That is $11,650 more than the $48,595 starting price for a base X4, which has a 240-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
But every X4 M40i comes with a lot of standard features, including BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system that has a rear-wheel-drive bias, 14-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, soft anthracite ceiling material, a moonroof and a premium Harmon Kardon surround-sound system.
A rearview camera is standard, which is good, because the views out the back window aren't very expansive.
For 2017, BMW dropped its previous six-cylinder-powered X4, the xDrive35i, to focus attention on the more powerful and more special M40i.
BMW's motorsports group powered up the 3-liter, turbocharged, inline six-cylinder for the M40i, which is why it carries the M Performance label. It's mated to an eight-speed automatic with Sport and manual shift modes for even sportier driving.
Note, however, that the X4 M40i is not a full M race-ready vehicle in the way the M3 and X5 M are.
The X4 M40i is rated by the federal government at 19 mpg in city driving and 26 mpg on highways, for a combined 21 mpg. But the test-driven model averaged just under 19 mpg in mixed driving, for a travel range of 333 miles.
The X4 isn't the roomiest of SUVs, with a maximum rear cargo room of 17.7 cubic feet. That is less than half the space offered by the Toyota RAV4, which is the same overall length as the X4, 15.4 feet.
The X4 M40i back-seat legroom is also tight, at 34.7 inches, which is less than the RAV4's 37.2 inches. And there's a big hump in the floor of the BMW that might make it a tight squeeze for an adult to sit in the middle of the back seat.
With a priority on handling and sportiness, the X4 M40i delivers a stiff ride on pavement and dirt trails. Its motions are tightly contained, thanks to a suspension that includes stiffer springs and antiroll bars.
The ride isn't exactly quiet, as the X4 M40i's four tailpipes won't be ignored.
There's no arguing that BMW's timing is right for a distinctive SUV. So far this year, SUVs are posting gains in U.S. sales while car sales are down.