If I get excited while talking, which is not a rare occurrence, I'll flail my hands around to emphasize a point. I do this at the office, the dinner table and in the car. With the BMW X4 and its gesture control functions for radio, navigation and phone options, keeping my hands on the wheel is more important than ever. Making a point during a spirited discussion gets diminished if you simultaneously pump up the volume of the local Christian talk radio station, no matter how feverishly said point was made. But it is funny. You can turn off gesture control, but it's worth leaving on for the inevitable comedy.
We gave you the basics of the newest coupe crossover X4 a few weeks ago, but here are the Cliff’s Notes: It’s bigger all around and offers more rear seat room. Coefficient of drag is 10 percent lower, to help it slip through the air. Power is up for both four- and six-cylinder engines, though torque is down 2 lb-ft in the four. An eight-speed automatic and drive modes come standard. It uses a strut suspension in front and a five-link rear.
The first thing I noticed sitting inside was the hard-to-see-through tiny rear window, which is a consequence of bringing the roofline down to the bumper. On the plus side, the seats are supportive and adjustable with good thigh support and side bolstering. Besides the gesture control mishaps, the interior is a pleasant place to be. iDrive is a good way to control everything and an easier system to learn than most. There are also redundant buttons for things like climate control and heated seats. The drive mode and traction control buttons are down by the slap stick shifter. The big sunroof lets in a ton of light, making this small-ish car feel bigger.
The thing about these cars — the X4, X6, GLC and GLE Coupes — is that they have all of the drawbacks of real SUVs with none of the benefits, unless you like the shape, which I don't. Take the X3, for instance: same size, looks better and has 10 more cubic feet of cargo space.
BMW arranged swoopy crossover X4s with both engines to drive near its sprawling campus in Greer, South Carolina: the 2.0-liter, 248-hp, 258-lb-ft xDrive30i and the 355-hp, 365-lb-ft X4 M40i. But I only drove the M40i, with its stellar TwinPower turbocharged I6 and eight-speed automatic.
No one will say it's not fun to drive. BMWs are almost always fun to drive. Acceleration is smooth and strong with very little turbo lag at low engine speeds and great pull as the as the revs climb. And it's easy to keep the engine speeds where you want them by using the paddle shifters.
I won’t fawn all over the sound of the thing, like Mr. Warner, but boy it is brisk. Shifts from the eight-speed are dual-clutch transmission fast in sport and sport-plus mode. The inline-six pops and blats on shifts — all natural sound, by the way, which can be heard in the cabin. Call it childish, but I’m always a fan. Putting it in comfort mode quiets everything down.
But back to control. The steering appropriately quick and properly weighted: light on center, no dead spot, effort builds as you wind it up. This X4 is fun, a blast to hustle around South Carolina’s hilly back roads. As a bend tightens, just crank on the wheel to keep it between the lines, because there's plenty of grip to work with. It's easy to keep it on the left side of the lane, the right side or dead center.
Body motions are well controlled no matter the drive mode, and even in its stiffest setting the X4 stays plenty supple, not anywhere near M3 stiff. It never crashed over big bumps either. Body roll is minimal, yet the X4 is comfortable.
Power is divided between the axles at a starting point of 80 percent to the rear, 20 to the front. The powertrain computer adjusts from there to adpat to whatever situation. The rear diff is also torque vectoring to aid in quick corner exits.
On the tech/safety side, you’re looking at something BMW calls Active Guard, which includes frontal collision warning, city collision mitigation with braking, pedestrian warning with city braking and speed limit information. The standard navigation system comes with a 10.25-inch screen, the iDrive controller and intelligent voice control, along with a larger head-up display.
So, from behind the wheel the X4 M40i is great. It’s a ball on curvy mountain roads. There’s plenty of power, even in the turbo-four version, which I’ve driven previously, and tons of modern tech. Size-wise, its footprint makes it easy to maneuver and park and zip through holes in traffic. It’s the shape that will either make it or break it. The shape, and whether you talk with your hands or not.
Both versions of the 2019 BMW X4 go on sale this month. The X4 30i starts at $51,445, while the M40i starts at $61,445, including destination. The Mercedes-Benz GLC, its only real jelly bean-shaped competitor, starts at $47,595 for the GLC300. The 362-hp GLC43 starts at $61,395, and the big dog GLC63 (expect a review soon) costs $74,145.
On Sale: End of July
Base Price: $61,445
Powertrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged I6, AWD, eight-speed automatic
Output: 355 hp @ 5,500-6,500; 365 lb-ft @ 1,520-4,800
Curb Weight: 4,323 lb
Pros: Almost as fun to drive as a BMW M3
Cons: Silly shape looks silly, and offers less cargo space than SUV versions