When I look at a vehicle like the X4M, it always makes me wonder – why not a station wagon? The sloping rear glass borrowed from the bargain hatchback design playbook looks out of place on a vehicle this size. It also impedes rear-seat headroom, and cuts down on the usability of the rear-cargo area. I’m also not sure who that shape was designed for. I know that people like sitting more upright and taller in an SUV body, but why mix that with a hatchback? The front looks really good with classic BMW design cues. But the overall look is just … well … odd.
Once you slip behind the wheel, however, that all becomes a distant memory. You see only the nicely appointed and very classic BMW control layout. The warm, high-quality materials make you smile as you push the start button. Then, when the 3.0-Liter twin turbocharged inline 6-cylinder jumps to life, things take an even bigger turn. The bold engine note, bolstered in this case with some trickery from the entertainment-system speakers, is really exciting. You slip it into the sport mode, and set off, with sharp pops and burbles from the purposeful exhaust letting everyone know this thing means business.
Essentially a slightly detuned M3/M4 engine, it still churns out a respectable 355hp, which is enough to make the small crossover move with authority. The upgraded M-Sport suspension is direct and engaging, with several different driving modes, the engine, transmission and steering change based on the desired driving dynamic. It all works, and you really notice the difference. Overall, from behind the wheel, there are few crossovers more fun to drive. The power isn’t so much that you can’t enjoy it unless you’re on a racetrack, but it feels impressively fast around town and from stoplight to stoplight.
The current BMW iDrive system has finally matured into a very functional and easy to use system, partially due to years of customer complaints. Now, it’s a breeze to skip through menus and call up anything you need to change. In other tech, there’s a full complement of driving aids and active-safety features available as well. There’s plenty of tech in here, but it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a space ship with hundreds of buttons to figure out. It’s all very easy to use and well integrated.
The cargo area is a bit of a disappointment, given the sloped rear roof. I don’t understand the reasoning here, as it’s not a style that has any rooting in automotive history. People like things that remind them of something, and this car doesn’t remind me of anything. It makes me wonder if BMW really committed to the station wagon concept, and essentially presented a car like this with a traditional flat back for more cargo room, and a little bit lower stance – wouldn’t people prefer that? I’m admittedly a wagon enthusiast, but when you compare a potential wagon with this, you would end up with more performance AND more practicality. They have been telling us for years that you have to give up one for the other, but that’s simply not true.
I get the idea of being different and pushing design boundaries. But let’s not forget – cars are designed for a purpose, and therefore form must follow function. Essentially this BMW X4M is like avant garde experimental music. It’s made with familiar instruments, but it doesn’t strike a familiar chord. For some people, that is a statement they want to make. But when you’re trying to load that new dresser in the back, and the angled glass won’t close – remember the cost of such a design expression. But also remember, whenever you jump behind the wheel – none of that will matter!
By Jason Saini