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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The BMW X4 is similar to the larger X6 in that it mixes SUV and coupe bodystyles. It’s based on the X3, which is BMW’s mid-sized 4x4 and has a pair of powerful diesel engines – along has the company’s usual hallmarks of sharp handling and strong performance, which makes it good to drive.

Don’t let the SUV size and four-wheel drive fool you into thinking it’s a proper off-roader, though. The X4 is much more at home on the road and while the coupe body is stylish, the sloping roof line takes a bite out of practicality. It’s also quite expensive to buy. 

Our Choice: 
BMW X4 xDrive20d SE

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

Coupe-style SUVs are rare, so other than the three-door Range Rover Evoque, the X4 is in something of a niche market. However, it still has to fend off competition from conventional premium-brand SUVs of a similar size such as the Porsche Macan, the Audi Q5 and the Lexus RX.

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

Best SUVs to buy

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. All cars get the firm’s xDrive four-wheel drive system as standard. 

Like the engine range, the trim line-up is small, with just three different models to choose from – SE, xLine and M Sport. Prices start from £37,395 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.

The top of the range M Sport trim costs £1,500 more again and adds 19-inch wheels, an M Sport body kit 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.

Engines, performance and drive

4.1
Diesel engines are the only option with the BMW X4 but they’re smooth and powerful

The BMW X4’s strongest hand is its ability to tackle a winding road. Its standard-fit xDrive all-wheel drive system generates vast amounts of grip and it inspires huge confidence in bends.

With BMW’s Driver Performance Control system there’s also a selectable Sport mode that gives the steering extra weight, sharpens the throttle response and speeds 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.

Throw in a lower centre of gravity and a revised suspension set-up over the already impressive X3 and you’ve got a genuinely entertaining and involving SUV to drive. It’s the brakes that let the side down though, as they feel a little underpowered when repeatedly asked to slow an almost 1,900kg car – 260kg heavier than the already hefty Range Rover Evoque.

A six-speed manual gearbox is available with the entry-level 2.0-litre engine. Otherwise, the X4 is fitted with an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission. All versions get BMW’s xDrive four-wheel drive system, which is biased towards the rear wheels for sportier handling but can also send up to 100 per cent of power to either axle in a matter of milliseconds should the stability control demand it. 

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

Engines

BMW offers two six-cylinder diesel engines with the X4 and a solitary four-cylinder diesel. The entry-level X4 20d’s more economical four-cylinder unit means BMW expects it to account for 65 per cent of UK sales. It may have the smallest engine of the range but the 187bhp X4 20d is not a slow car, as it’s capable of 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds and has a hearty 400Nm of torque, which means strong mid-range performance.

That said, the lustier 30d and 35d six-cylinders are more tempting due to their effortless pace and quieter cruising ability. The 254bhp X4 30d offers all the grunt you could realistically need – the 0-62mph sprint takes just 5.8 seconds, while the top-end 309bhp x35d M Sport shaves the 0-62mph time down to 5.2 seconds.   

MPG, CO2 and running costs

3.9
It’s not cheap to buy but the BMW X4’s diesel engines are surprisingly frugal

Only diesel X4s are available in the UK, which offer a good blend of power and economy. However, X4 buyers will struggle to justify the premium over the roomier X3, which uses the same engines.

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

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 when fitted with eight-speed automatic gearbox and emit a respectable 138g/km of CO2 – that’s almost 20g/km less than the next cleanest X4 in the range, the 30d. Go for the manual and the figures are slightly higher at 52.3mpg and 142g/km.

There’s virtually no difference between the 3.0-litre engines in terms of economy and emissions. The 30d returns 47.9mpg and emits 156g/km, while the 35d offers 47.1mpg and 157g/km, so both cost the same to tax.

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 also has all this technology and despite the X4 having a slightly sleeker silhouette than its sister car, its economy figures are no better. The X3 is also cheaper to buy, more practical and there’s a cheaper and more economical X3 18d version.

In any rational terms, the X4 is very difficult to justify given the X3 is one of the best mid-size SUVs to drive.

Insurance

An expensive and powerful car such as the X4 is never going to be cheap to insure. Groups start at 31 for the 20d, rise to 40 for the 30d and 43 for the 35d. The Audi Q5 starts at a much lower group 22, though the Range Rover Evoque is about on par with the BMW in groups 32 to 41.

Depreciation

Cars with premium badges such as the BMW tend to hold their value better than those without – and the same goes for economical diesels. So the X4 stands to do well, at least when expressed as a percentage of the original value. It’s still an expensive car though, so expect it to shed more of its list price in terms of outright cash than cheaper rivals. 

Interior, design and technology

3
Unique styling and a classy cabin are where the X4’s appeal lies, but it looks a little out of proportion

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

However, while the X4 fits a marketing niche, in reality the styling is less successful than that of the X6. Where the latter looks aggressive 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 X4 is 14mm longer and 36mm lower than its sibling, the muscular curves, arcing roof and bulging wheel arches look squashed compared to the bigger X6.

The roof drops steeply to the tail, but overall the X4 looks more like an SUV hatchback than a coupe. One reason for this is the lack of frameless windows, like those on the X6. This gives the X4 less of a coupe 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.

Things improve inside, but that’s because the X4 has an identical cabin to the X3. This means an uncluttered layout and interior that feels upmarket and 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 bothered. Not only are the xLine’s chrome body additions rather subtle, but the £3,000 pricier M Sport trim is expected to account for a 55 per cent of UK sales – and the entry-level model is likely to make up much of the rest.

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

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

Sat-nav is standard with every X4 and it’s operated via BMW’s excellent iDrive control system. Though previous versions of the system have been criticised, it is now much more user-friendly and very easy to operate – you simply scroll around the screen with the dial in the centre console. All models come with Bluetooth or USB connectivity too.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3.7
Style is more of a priority for the BMW X4 than outright practicality

The BMW X4 puts polarising looks and sharp handling far higher up its priority list than practicality, so if you’re after a spacious family SUV, look to the X3 instead – though the X4 does at least have five seats.

The shape of the roof seriously impedes rear visibility for the driver, so manoeuvring this 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.

Size

The BMW X4 is 4,671mm long, 1,881mm wide and 1,624mm tall, which makes it longer than a Range Rover Evoque but also slimmer and lower. It’s a similar story for most of the X4’s rivals, as BMW has gone for a lower, sportier stance with the X4 than you’d expect from an average SUV. Consequently, the ride height is also lower, which makes it less appropriate for off-roading than a typical 4x4.  

Leg room, head room & passenger space

It goes without saying that there are more spacious and practical mid-size SUVs than the X4 – the X3 on which it’s based being as good an example as any – but there is a reasonable amount of space for those in the back. The X4’s sloping roof doesn’t affect rear headroom too much unless you’re attempting to accommodate an adult on the slightly raised central rear seat.

Boot

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, it's 200 litres smaller at 1,400 litres.

It’s all a result of that sharply raked rear window and high loading lip, which makes the space less useful than more conventional SUVs. It’s easy enough to find family hatchbacks with bigger boots, too. 

To its credit, the X4’s powerful diesel engines allow it to pull large loads. The 2.0-litre diesel engine can tow up to 2,000kgs, while the larger 3.0-litre models can handle 2,400kgs. 

Reliability and Safety

4.3
Promising results in our Driver Power survey and plenty of safety equipment work in the X4’s favour

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 fit sat-nav system should be reliable, too. 

The X3 finished a highly respectable 24th out of 200 cars in our most recent Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, although it was the fifth-placed SUV behind some more mainstream models. Owners gave it good scores across the board, especially praising its performance and ease of driving.

BMW itself ranked 14th out of 32 in the manufacturers table, leaving it comfortably within the top half. While that may be a respectable score in its own right, the firm actually finished behind most other mainstream premium manufacturers. Audi was one place ahead in 13th and Mercedes, Jaguar, Porsche and Lexus were all further up the table – only Land Rover finished lower, at fourth from bottom. 

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.

Warranty

BMW’s warranty covers new cars for three years and there’s no mileage limit. That’s about average for the premium car sector, as most rival manufacturers offer a similar level of cover. The exception is Audi, which is behind the pack with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. 

Servicing

BMW’s service intervals are variable, so the regularity depends entirely on your mileage and usage. The firm offers a bulk deal called Service Inclusive that covers the first five years or 50,000 miles of regular maintenance for a fixed cost, though the exact price depends on the precise model of car. An additional pack called Service Inclusive Plus extends the cover to brake discs, pads and the clutch.  

Last updated: 14 Jan, 2016