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 releasing 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.
The BMW X4 is based on the same platform and running gear as the X3 SUV, and BMW is marketing it as a Sports Activity Coupe. It’s offered in SE xLine and M Sport trims, and comes exclusively with four-wheel drive and diesel power.
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, its 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. The newcomer is 14mm longer and 36mm lower than its sibling, but most of the bodywork below the windows looks identical to the X3’s, aside from new tail-lights.
The roofline 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 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 £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.
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 monitors and six airbags.
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.