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First drive: 2016 BMW X4 M40i [Review]

BMW\'s compact \"Sport Activity Coupe\" gets the M Performance treatment.

Pretend for a moment that you're in product planning for a luxury automaker. Your lineup already includes a crossover based on your highly successful compact sedan. This crossover is more profitable than its lower-slung cousin and cost only marginally more to produce. You're convinced by market research that there are quite a few buyers out there (a number equal to 20% of your current volume) that would buy your product if you did things just a little differently, but your established customer base is perfectly happy with what you're already selling.

What do you do? Well, if your paycheck comes from BMW, you recommend adding that ever-so-slightly different model to your lineup alongside the existing CUV. Why? Well, because you can.

Fundamentally, the BMW X4 "Sport Activity Coupe" is a BMW X3 "Sport Activity Vehicle" (which, at its heart, is essentially a 3 Series with a bit more ground clearance and practicality). In a great Ouroborian twist, the profits from BMW's crossover derivatives are likely responsible for keeping afloat the various enthusiast-oriented sedan models we all take for granted. Don't believe us? Take a look at Porsche.

The formulaTo make the X4, you simply take the X3 and remove the straight lines. BMW's current naming convention applies even-numbered model designations to coupes and odd-numbered ones to sedans and... well... even less coupey non-coupes. By that logic, the X4 is the more coupe-like derivative of the X3, despite boasting the same number of doors and basic crossover layout. Yeah, we don't know either. Just do what we do: Blame Mercedes-Benz.

To our eyes, the result looks a bit like a 3 Series GT mixed with an X3, which we suppose it is. From some angles (namely the front), it looks better than the X3. From others, well, the jury's out.

The X4's hunkered-down, four-door-coupe silhouette means compromises in interior space, especially when it comes to rear headroom. The rear seat is still suitable for most average adults, but it's not exactly the stuff of Uber drivers' dreams. Cargo space takes a hit too compared to the X3, which boasts 27.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat to the X4's 17.7.

Befitting its range-topping (for now) role in the X4 lineup, the M40i gets some distinctive styling cues not present on lower trim levels. "M" badges on the fenders and a dual exhaust system are the M40i's most distinctive exterior features. Inside, you'll find the same "M" branding on the bottom of the unique three-spoke sport steering wheel, on the dead pedal, on the door sills and on the gear selector.

Inner beautyBeauty is in the eye of the beholder, so we won't dwell on that. What makes the X4 M40i most worthwhile in our eyes lies elsewhere--under the hood. The X4 M40i's motivation comes from a variant of BMW's N55 TwinPower 3.0L inline-six. It's tuned for just a touch less oomph than it makes in the M2, but it boasts a nonetheless impressive 355 horsepower and 343lb-ft of torque. Mated to the N55 is the industry's now-ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic transmission

It should come as no surprise that the X4 M40i puts that power down through all four wheels, but as is common in most sporty applications, the system has been tuned for rear-biased performance. BMW claims this combo is good for a 0-60 time of just 4.7 seconds. Not bad for something knocking on the door of 4,300lbs.

The M40i gets a suspension overhaul as well. The front end received more aggressive camber settings and reinforced arms for improved steering response and feedback. Both the front and rear springs and anti-roll bars were also stiffened to reduce body roll.

Also fitted are BMW's electronically controlled M Performance adaptive dampers, allowing drivers to select from multiple drive modes (including an automatic mode that uses various vehicle systems to optimize damper response based on driver inputs and environmental factors). Also tied into this is BMW's variable sports steering, which adjusts the ratio and effort on the fly.

In the wildBMW's test route for the X4 M40i was made up of flat valley freeways, fast farmland two-lanes and twisting canyon back roads. In a word, it was comprehensive--the picture of German efficiency.

Freeway driving in the X4 revealed little. The crossover configuration means a high seating position for excellent command of the road, and the not-insignificant quantity of thrust on offer makes for quick merging and passing and the M40i has more than enough brake to haul it all back down again. There's not a whole lot to be learned on a straight country highway, but so far, so good.

Getting off the highway and onto some rural farm roads gave us our first insights into the M40i's character. For starters, the differences between drive modes are surprisingly easy to discern. Sport mode is downright harsh when the pavement quality goes south. In twistier sections with deteriorating asphalt, Sport mode made us well aware of the locations of all of our squishier parts, inside and out.

Comfort, on the other hand, was (mercifully) isolating without forcing us to give up too much in the way of capability. In anything but the tightest sections, it provided more than sufficient stability for hustling the big Bimmer. Sweeping turns were easily dispensed with at highway speeds or better.

And that left us with the fast curves along the Arroyo Seco. Seeking every bit of help we could get in controlling the big coupe's body motions, we did our best to keep it in Sport as much as possible. Despite the TwinPower six's prodigious torque output, low gears were necessary to get the heavy X4 to snap to out of the tighter corners. Here, the X4 M40i was willing, but on a road better suited to a 2,300lb Miata, the 4,300lb crossover was just a bit out of place.

The roads opened up again as we neared the end of our test loop, reinforcing our belief that the X4 is happiest on a long, lazy country road. The straights and the really tight bits? Take 'em or leave 'em. But if you want to make farmland and countryside vanish behind you at an alarmingly brisk pace, the X4 M40i is right at home.

MG's bottom lineThe BMW X4 M40i is a SUV that desperately wants to be a car. For the buyer who believes the only problem with the 3 Series GT is a lack of ground clearance, it's the perfect fit.

2016 BMW X4 M40i, base price: $57,800. As-tested, $67,295Cold weather package, $950; Driver Assistance Plus with Auto Stop/Go and Active Drive Assistance, $2,900; Lighting Package, $1,900; Technology Package, $2,750; Destination, $995

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of BMW.

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