The latest BMW X4 is a car that might divide opinion but the xDrive35d model has the power to convert all but the most entrenched opinions. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The BMW X4 showcases its talents to devastating effect in the all-wheel drive Xdrive35d model. Here's a vehicle that steamrollers 62mph flat in just 5.3 seconds yet can return a combined fuel consumption of 47.1mpg. You'll pay nearly £50,000 for the range-topping M Sport model but as much as this is a vehicle that sells on style, there's a reassuringly hefty slug of substance backing it up.
It's interesting how time can soften the most trenchant opinions. When BMW launched the sixth generation 5 Series back in 2003, we had one delivered to the office, had a good look at it and almost unanimously declared it the most hideous-looking saloon car that had ever rolled out of Munich. As time passed, we became familiar with Chris Bangle's bold surfacing and clever detailing. We even grew to like the thing. The BMW X6 received a similar reception when it appeared in 2008. What was the point of harnessing all the dynamic deficits of a high-riding vehicle with all the packaging shortcomings of a coupe? A few years on and we'd grown to accept that too. Now we have its junior sibling, the X4. It has created a small kerfuffle but will doubtless be welcomed to the fold. The welcome will come a lot quicker if the only X4 you ever get to try is the xDrive35d version.
Unless BMW sees fit to launch a full-on M car in the X4 range, this xDrive35d model represents the flagship model in the all-diesel line up. That 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine delivers a huge slug of power; fully 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. The peerless ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox takes care of shifting duties, repeatedly plugging the engine right into the chunky part of the torque curve with unerring accuracy. Refinement is, surprisingly, the weakest part of this powerplant's dynamic repertoire, with a fair amount of diesel grumble audible when you press the engine and it's often harmonised with some falsetto turbo accompaniment. 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 and 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. BMW's optional variable damper control is worth springing for as it helps ensure that the ride doesn't lapse into uncomfortable sharpness especially on poor urban surfaces.
Design and Build
Maybe we're mellowing or maybe it just works better with a smaller body, but we 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 we 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 rises from the front wheel arches to the rear door handles, while the second part accentuates the rear wings. Reserve your judgement for a moment on whether you like the shape of the BMW X4 or whether, indeed, it makes any great sense and ponder what BMW has achieved here. Did we ever think we could get a car of this size that accelerated quicker than a Porsche 911 but which returned better fuel economy than many superminis? This xDrive35d model is unashamedly high-end and there a lot of other conspicuous contenders for your fifty large, but there aren't too many other vehicles that combine such a broad array of talents.
Market and Model
You'll need to stump up a hefty £48,995 to get your hands on the BMW X4 xDrive35d. Admittedly that does net you the ritzy M Sport model, but it's still £3,500 over the price of the X3 xDrive35d in equivalent trim and a massive £6,000 over that engine and transmission in a BMW 3 Series Touring body. Value for money? You'll need to make your own decisions on that score when comparing it to its in-house rivals, but if you were looking to other manufacturers, you'd come up dry trying to find anything directly comparable. A Lexus RX450h is virtually as slinky a shape and is similarly priced but it's hard to see the customer of one of these vehicles being drawn to the other. Being an M Sport model, it gets a decent run at the BMW's equipment list. All X4s get an automatically opening tailgate, Variable Sport Steering, 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. Then there's 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 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. Even the aforementioned hybrid Lexus RX450h can't touch that, netting its owner 44.8mpg. Residual values look set to stack up firmly as well. If, for the sake of argument, we take the closest-priced Lexus RX450h as a comparison, after three years and 30,000 miles, your BMW will still be worth £23,000 while the Lexus languishes at £19,000. Factor in fuel, insurance, servicing and so on and the BMW trumps the Japanese car comprehensively, recording a pence per mile figure of 108ppm, with the RX450h more than 10 per cent worse at 120ppm.
Reserve your judgement for a moment on whether you like the shape of the BMW X4 or whether, indeed, it makes any great sense and ponder what BMW has achieved here. Did we ever think we could get a car of this size that accelerated quicker than a Porsche 911 but which returned better fuel economy than many superminis? This xDrive35d model is unashamedly high-end and there a lot of other conspicuous contenders for your fifty large, but there aren't too many other vehicles that combine such a broad array of talents. One of them is the BMW 3 Series Touring xDrive 35d. That offers more luggage capacity, better fuel economy, handles more crisply and offers seats for five rather than four. In short it's objectively a better car. Passing over the 3 Series and paying another £6,000 for a model of lesser talents might at first seem wilfully crass, but if you like the styling and appeal of the X4, then that's as valid a reason as any and we are not here to judge. It's still a brilliant car and differing viewpoints are just part of what make being a car enthusiast such a broad church.