BMW X4 review

Our Rating: 
3
3.0/5.0
2014 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The BMW X4 is a downsized version of the divisive X6 coupe-SUV taking aim at the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque.

For: 
Superb to drive, smart cabin, strong equipment
Against: 
Ungainly looks, compromised practicality, no petrol engine variants

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When BMW released its large X6 off-roader its looks divided opinion, so with the firm copying that car’s coupe-SUV design for its downsized X4, BMW has yet another controversial car on its hands.

The X4 is based on the same platform as the more conventional X3 4x4 and shares that car’s range of engines, too. This means there isn’t actually a petrol-powered version available – the X4 is offered with a choice of either a 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 187bhp, or two different 3.0-litre diesels with either 254bhp or 309bhp on tap.

There’s a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes for the smaller diesel engine, while the two 3.0-litre units are only available with BMW’s eight-speed Sport automatic transmission. To reinforce the X4’s off-road potential, all cars get four-wheel drive as standard.

BMW X4 vs Porsche Macan

Like the engine range, the trim line-up is compact, with just three different models to choose from – SE, xLine and M Sport. Prices start from £36,895 for the entry-level X4 xDrive 20d SE, and while this is quite a bit more expensive than rivals such as the Range Rover Evoque, equipment levels are good. 

All X4s get 18-inch alloys, automatic air conditioning, heated leather seats, cruise control, DAB radio, parking sensors and sat-nav fitted as standard.

The next rung on the X4 ladder – xLine – adds a few extra styling tweaks, sports seats and different 18-inch alloys, as well as an automatic gearbox and BMW’s Driver Performance Control system if you opt for the 30d model. It costs £1,500 more than the base SE version. 

Top of the range M Sport trim costs £1,500 more again and adds 19-inch wheels, an M Sport bodykit and sports suspension. Although the looks might not be to everybody’s tastes, this extra styling helps the X4’s image, as BMW is marketing it as a Sports Activity Coupe.

Of course, like any BMW, you can dip heavily into the options list to tailor your car to exactly how you want it. Expect to pay plenty more on top of the purchase price if you do though. 

Our choice: BMW X4 xDrive 20d SE

Styling

3

BMW’s ever-expanding range means no niche is left unfilled, while the brand isn’t afraid of creating new ones. For the X4, it’s revisited the formula it used for the X6: taking an SUV and changing the roofline to create what the company calls a Sports Activity Coupé.

However, while the X4 fits a marketing niche, in the metal the styling is less successful than the X6’s. Where the latter looks brutish and imposing when compared to the X5, the differences between the X4 and X3 are more restrained – partly due to the X4’s smaller dimensions. 

Although the newcomer is 14mm longer and 36mm lower than its sibling, the muscular curves, arcing roof and bulging wheelarches look squashed compared to the bigger X4.

 

The roof drops steeply to the tail, but overall the X4 looks more like an SUV hatch than a coupé. One reason for this is the lack of frameless windows, like those on the X6. This gives the X4 less of a coupé feel when you open the doors. The sloping tailgate creates awkward proportions, too. At the rear it looks at odds with the car’s raised ride height.

Climb inside and things improve considerably, but that’s because the X4 has an identical cabin to the X3. This means an uncluttered layout and BMW’s excellent iDrive control system, while sat-nav is standard across the range. The interior feels upmarket and is well finished. 

The minimal labelling on some of the buttons might take a bit of getting used to, but the quality of the materials is first class, with soft-touch plastics, soft leather and classy metal trim throughout. 

Though BMW has gone to the trouble of creating a new xLine trim level for £1,500 more than a standard SE X4, you could be forgiven for wondering why it’s bothered to. Not only are the xLine’s bluff chrome body additions rather subtle, but the £3,000 pricier M Sport trim will account for a whopping 55 per cent of UK sales, with the entry-level model making up much of the rest.

The top-spec car incorporates the usual BMW M Sport fare of large air intakes in the bodykit, upgraded alloy wheels and a needlessly thick steering wheel rim inside. It also adds more supportive seats for the already excellent driving position, and a plenty of ‘M’-badged trinketry.

Driving

4.2

BMW offers two six-cylinder diesel engines in the X4 in the UK, and one solitary four-cylinder diesel, which is also the only X4 available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Otherwise, the X4 is fitted with an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, and all versions get rear-biased all-wheel drive, which can send up to 100 per cent of torque to either axle in a matter of milliseconds should the stability control demand it. 

Though the entry-level X4 20d’s four-pot frugality means BMW expects it to swallow 65 per cent of UK sales, the lustier 30d and 35d six-cylinders are more tempting, thanks to effortless pace and a better balance of appealing on-throttle burble and quieter cruising.

The 254bhp X4 30d offers all of the grunt you could realistically need – the 0-62mph sprint takes just 5.8 seconds, according to BMW’s claims, with an on-paper fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg. The X4 30d’s case over the more powerful X4 35d is enhanced by its large price tag undercut of £5,130.

The BMW X4’s strongest hand is certainly the imperiousness with which it tackles a winding road. Its standard-fit xDrive all-wheel drive system gives almost unimpeachable traction, and it inspires huge confidence in the bends.

With BMW’s Driver Performance Control there’s also a selectable Sport mode that gives the steering extra weight, sharpens the throttle response and quickens up the gearshift times on automatic models for a more engaging drive. It’ll also stiffen up the suspension if you specify BMW’s optional Dynamic Damper Control feature.

Add into the mix a lower centre of gravity and a revised suspension setup versus the already sorted X3 and you’ve got a genuinely entertaining, involving SUV. It’s the brakes that let the dynamic side down, feeling weedy and underpowered when repeatedly asked to slow almost 1,900kg of hard-charging crossover.

We’d also like more communication through the steering, which is accurate and keenly weighted but lacks feel compared with Mercedes’ best efforts.

Despite the X4’s all-wheel drive capability, don’t expect the car to venture far off-road. Especially in M Sport trim, chunky bumpers and low side skirts limit ground clearance, and the big wheels and road-biased tyres mean a muddy track is about as much as the X4 can conquer.

Reliability

4.4

Seeing as the X4 is based on the X3, you can expect it to perform as well as its sibling for reliability. All of the running gear is identical, so it’s tried and tested, and technology such as the standard sat-nav should be reliable, too.  

The X3 finished a respectable 12th in our most recent Driver Power survey, although it was the fourth-placed SUV behind some more mainstream models. Owners gave it good scores across the board, especially praising its performance and ease of driving.

The X3 has a five-star Euro NCAP rating, and the X4 should be no different as it features the same range of safety kit, including xenon lights, tyre pressure monitor and six airbags.

Practicality

3.7

The BMW X4 puts polarising looks and wieldy handling far higher up its priority list than practicality, so if you’re after a spacious family SUV, look to the X3 instead.

At 500 litres, the X4’s boot is 50 litres smaller than the X3’s with all five seats in place. With the split-folding rear bench stowed, its 200 litres smaller at just 1,400 litres.

It’s all as a result of that sharply raked rear window and high loading lip, which makes the space less useful than more conventionally shaped SUVs. It also seriously impedes rear visibility, so manoeuvring this still sizeable SUV in tight spaces can be tricky, although there is a £330 reversing camera or a £530 surround-view camera on the options list to help out here.

The sloping roof doesn’t hamper rear headroom too seriously unless you’re attempting to seat an adult on the slightly raised central rear seat.

Running Costs

3.9

Only turbodiesel X4s are available in the UK, which offer a healthy blend of punch and frugality. However, X4 buyers will struggle to justify the premium over the roomier X3, which uses the same powerplants. 

Due to its very heavy circa-1,900kg kerbweight, the X4 could chew through brakes and tyres at an accelerated rate, too. However, if you’re paying the extra for the X4’s sharper drive, that’s unlikely to be a deal breaker. 

There’ll be no hybrid X4, so the most eco-friendly version will remain the cheapest to buy: the X4 20d. BMW claims it’ll achieve up to 54.3mpg if you splash out on the brilliantly calibrated eight-speed automatic gearbox (it’s a £1,515 option), and emit a respectable 138g/km of CO2 – that’s almost 20g/km less than the next cleanest X4 in the range, the 30d.

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The X4’s Driver Performance Control also has an EcoPro mode to reduce fuel consumption, with a useful icon on the gauge cluster to show how much fuel you’ve saved while in this setting.

However, the X3 features all this technology, too, and despite the X4 having a slightly sleeker silhouette than its sister car, its eco-figures are no better than the X3. The more conventional BMW is also cheaper to buy, more practical, and offers an even more accessible X3 18d rear-drive version that the supposedly more high-end X4 does without.

In any rational terms, the X4 is very difficult to justify given the X3 is already the best-in-class handler for a mid-size SUV.

Last updated: 27 Mar, 2015