The latest BMW X4 fills a niche that few even realised existed. Is BMW onto something or barrelling up a dead end? Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The BMW X4 does to the X3 what its bigger sibling the X6 did to the X5, namely take an SUV and put a sloping coupe-like roof on it. With all-wheel drive, a trio of brilliant diesel engines, class-leading efficiency and practicality that's not too far off an X3, the X4 is certain to be deservedly popular.
If I had to pick one car that had the ability to surgically divide car enthusiasts into vehemently pro and anti camps, it wouldn't be the Nissan Juke, the Ferrari FF, the Fiat Multipla or even the Chevy Volt. The car that seems to split opinion most cleanly is the BMW X6. There are those that feel it's something cool and different. Then there are those who think it takes the worst handling aspects of an SUV and pairs them with the worst packaging characteristics of a coupe. Undeterred by commentators proclaiming the X6 to be the worst car BMW has launched in years, the Munich company has reprised the theme in a more manageably-sized package. The BMW X4 is to the X3 what the X6 is to the X5, namely a mechanically very similar model with a sloping rather than a square rear end. Clever marketing or something we really don't need? I have a suspicion that the two camps may take some time to arrive at a conclusion to that question.
The X4 features an all diesel line-up, with all models sending drive to all four wheels, so it's got some substance to it. The range opens with the X4 xDrive 20d which packs a 190PS 2.0-litre turbodiesel. That's a few ponies more than you'd get from much the same engine in an X3, so BMW is doing a bit to differentiate the X4 as a sportier option. Even this base model will get to 62mph in 8 seconds and on to 132mph. It comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox but can be specified with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Of course, for some a BMW is only worthy of the name if you've got a straight-six ahead of you. If that's the case, you'll start shopping at the xDrive30d level. This is fitted with the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission as standard, the engine outputting 258PS at 4,000rpm with a peak torque of 560Nm from as low as 1,500rpm. It will accelerate from zero to 62mph in a snappy 5.8 seconds. If this still seems a little tardy for you, there's always the xDrive35d which delivers 313PS and delivers a peak torque of 630Nm from between 1,500 and 2,500rpm. With its standard Launch Control, the X4 xDrive35d demolishes the sprint to 62mph in just 5.2 seconds and keeps accelerating to 153mph. BMW has tuned the suspension of the X4 to offer a more focused feel than that of the X3 and the intelligent xDrive all-wheel-drive system splits drive between the rear wheels continuously, plus as required, optimising traction, turn-in and directional stability. The Variable Sport Steering system is fitted as standard and an xDrive status display makes a bid for what might be the most gratuitous use of graphics in a car with the three-dimensional display of the car's body roll and pitch.
Design and Build
Maybe I'm mellowing or maybe it just works better with a smaller body, but I don't find the X4 anything like as weird to behold as the X6. There's a cohesion to the shape, a purpose to its stance that escapes its bulky bigger sibling. It's certainly leagues better looking than, say, a 5 Series Gran Turismo and I can see this model proving popular with those who want a BMW but want something a bit less staid and suburban than an X3. That coupe-like roofline reaches its highest point over the front seats before dropping gently down towards the trailing edge of the boot lid. The swage line running along the flanks is split in two, the first section rising from the front wheel arches to the rear door handles, while the second part accentuates the rear wings. The driver and front passenger sit 20mm lower and the rear passengers 28mm lower than in an X3, which helps lower the centre of gravity and delivers the impression of being better connected to the road. The rear bench seat features a continuously moulded side support normally only provided by two individual seats, but still offers space for three passengers. The X4 has a load capacity of between 500 and 1,400-litres, which is a bit down on the X3's 550/1,600-litre showing but not catastrophically so. The 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats and the standard-fit automatically opening tailgate make loading easy.
Market and Model
Prices start at just over £36,500, which represents a step up of over £4,500 compared to an equivalent X3. That's quite an ask, but BMW seems very confident it'll find buyers for the X4. From that xDrive 20d SE model, it's then a hefty hike up to the xDrive30d xLine costing around £45,000 and the top of the range is currently marked by the xDrive35d M Sport which will see you pocket around £1,000 from £50,000. Throw a few options at the car and you could easily be looking at a £60,000 vehicle. Still, it's not as if this Munich model needs a whole lot of extras. Even the SE trim gets an automatically opening tailgate, Variable Sport Steering, 18-inch light-alloy wheels, front and rear Park Distance Control, Performance Control and Xenon headlights. That's on top of a Sport leather steering wheel, heated front seats and BMW's Business Media package. The xLine trim will run you another £1,500 and this includes an exclusive18-inch light-alloy wheel, satin aluminium exterior trim, dark copper interior trim, sport seats and xLine leather upholstery. I can see that upgrade being very popular with X4 customers. Then there's the M Sport trim which tacks an additional £3,000 onto the SE. This gets the M aerodynamic body kit, high-gloss shadow line trim exterior trim and 19-inch M Sport alloy wheels. M Sport suspension offers a firmer ride while you also get a bit of tinsel with M door sill finishers, Aluminium Hexagon interior trim and some rather tasty sport seats.
Cost of Ownership
The most brain-bending thing about the BMW X4 is how a vehicle this big and this quick gets such brilliant fuel economy and emissions figures. It's as if the boffins in Munich have been able to bend, if not break, the laws of physics. Consider this. The 313PS X4 xDrive35d is the thirstiest model in the range. It's sledgehammer quick, getting to 62mph in just 5.3 seconds, yet it returns better fuel economy than 150PS worth of Honda Accord diesel. Both have automatic gearboxes, the BMW gets 47.1mpg, the Honda 46.3mpg. Choose the two-litre X4 xDrive20d and you can expect to see better than 52mpg with the manual gearbox and over 54 with the automatic. Emissions of 143g/km (138 auto) are commensurately impressive. Even the rapid xDrive30d emits just 156g/km and the xDrive35d a mere 1g/km more. Residual values are also expected to hold firm.
The BMW X4 is a car that's easy to get a little bit anti towards. There is something rather unnecessary about its very existence, but that doesn't really change the fact that it's quite annoyingly competent. It's not even that much less practical than the wholly worthy BMW X3, ceding little in real world carrying capacity and, yes, even we'll admit it looks pretty good. The Bavarians haven't always hit bullseye with all of their product launches but a look at some of their most recent product offerings seems to suggest that they're hitting a purple patch once again. The latest X4 is built on such unimpeachable engineering that it's impossible to dismiss as mere style over substance. Give it a chance. Yes, there's an element of compromise in its packaging but the world would be a dull place if we only bought cars on a pragmatic basis. File this one under 'unexpectedly likeable'.