BMW X4 review
BMW X4 takes aim at the Porsche Macan and Range Rover Evoque with a downsized version of the divisive X6 coupe-SUV
Is BMW the bravest car company in the world right now? Not content with killing off naturally aspirated engines in its M Division models and readying its first front-wheel drive MPV model, it’s now offering a follow-up to its most controversial design in decades: the coupe-SUV. The X4 downsizes the bigger X6’s recipe, but not its divisive nature.
BMW's decision to shrink the X6’s SAC (Sports Activity Coupe) silhouette to the size of its mid-size X3 SUV's proportions certainly hasn’t reduced its contentious looks. In M Sport guise particularly, the X4 is far from beautiful, seeming to meld the awkwardness of the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo with the boxiness of the regular X3 in an unhappy whole.
However, we said much the same about the X6 when it burst onto the scene in 2008, and no amount of vitriol aimed at its styling has stopped the car becoming a runaway success.
In an effort to exaggerate its stretched profile and lay claim to coupe-like proportions, the BMW X4 is 14mm longer and a whopping 36mm lower than the X3 on which it’s based. Inside, the cabin is typically BMW in layout and finish. However, the front seats are mounted 20mm lower than in an X3 and the rear bench is a full 28mm lower than before.
It’s all in the name of a lower centre of gravity, more engaging handling, and of course, the ability to squeeze in occupants under than curtailed roofline.
Though BMW has gone to the trouble of creating a new ‘xLine’ trim level for £1500 more than a standard ‘SE’ X4, you could be forgiven for wondering when it’s bothered to. Not only are the xLine’s bluff chrome body additions rather subtle, but the £3000 pricier M Sport trim will account for a whopping 55 per cent of UK sales. It incorporates the usual BMW M Sport fare of large fake air intakes in the bodykit, upgraded alloy wheels (measuring 19 inches across here) along with a needlessly thick steering wheel rim inside, more supportive seats for the already excellent driving position, and a plethora of ‘M’-badged trinketry.
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 six-cylinders are more tempting, thanks to effortless pace and a better balance of appealing on-throttle burble and quieter cruising.
The 255bhp X4 30d offers all of the grunt you could realistically need (0-62mph in just 5.8 seconds) with a claimed economy figure of 47.9mpg. The X4 30d’s case over the more powerful X4 35d is enhanced by its large price tag undercut.
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.
Add into the mix a lower centre of gravity and retuned suspension versus the already sorted X3 and you’ve got a genuinely entertaining, engaging SUV. It’s the brakes that let the dynamic side down, feeling weedy and underpowered when repeatedly asked to slow almost 1900kg 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.
Based on the 2014 Driver Power Survey customer satisfaction survey, the X4 has the potential to be BMW’s most reliable SUV.
BMW itself was ranked 10th most satisfying manufacturer to do business with, out of 34 entrants.
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 1400 litres. The sharply raked rear window and high loading lip makes the space less useful than conventionally shaped SUVs too. It also seriously impedes rear visibility.
The sloping roof doesn’t impact on rear headroom too seriously unless you’re attempting to seat an adult on the slightly raised central rear seat. That comes as standard on the X4 – unlike on the larger X6, which is a four-seater unless specified with a fifth space at extra cost.
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. If, though, you’re paying the extra for the X4’s sharper drive, that’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker.
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, and emit a respectable 138g/km of CO2 - that’s almost 20g less than the next cleanest X4 in the range, the 30d.
However, despite the X4 having a slightly sleeker silhouette than its X3 sister, its eco-figures are no better than the X3, which 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.