The BMW X4 xDrive30d might not be for everyone, but here's a vehicle that's okay with that. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Think of the BMW X4 as an X3 with a sloping roof and you're not too far off. The pick of the range might just be the X4 xDrive30d, which packs a muscular 258PS six-cylinder turbodiesel that will kick it through 62mph in just 5.8 seconds. It'll also return better than 47mpg and handles pretty crisply too. There's 500 litres of space in the back too, only 50 down on the X3, so you'll hardly need to pack light.
We tend to be wedded to the concept of extremes. We need the biggest, the fastest, the most economical or the cheapest. Couple that with a simplistic view of car buying where the best car in a class of, say, twenty contenders is lauded and the second best instantly judged to be a bad buy and a whole host of very good cars frequently get overlooked. This focus on always choosing the biggest and 'best' means we tend to overspecify. I bought a big SUV once because I was convinced I needed all that space for my lifestyle. I didn't and probably used it's carrying capacity to full potential once in two years. After that I surmised that I'd have been better off buying the car I really wanted and renting a bigger one for the one weekend in a hundred when I needed that space. It's also, in a roundabout way, why BMW is selling the X4. No, it doesn't have quite as much space in the back as an X3, but then you probably don't need it. Buy the car you want instead.
The X4 we're looking at here is the middle car in the range, the xDrive30d, so it's likely to be the one avoided by those who want the cheapest or the fastest. To overlook the xDrive30d would be folly though. Many column inches have been expended on this car's shape, but beneath those coupe-like lines there's real substance here. Under the bonnet is exactly what you'd want to find in a BMW of this type; a six-cylinder engine. It's fitted with the eight-speed Sport automatic transmission as standard, the diesel 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. 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.
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 rises 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 deliver 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
BMW will ask just over £45,000 of you for the X4 xDrive30d in xLine trim, while the range-topping M Sport version commands nigh-on £47,000. You don't have to lose too many inhibitions come options time to top the fifty grand mark. That's clearly a serious sum to be paying for a mid-sized diesel SUV. It is a very capable vehicle though, and given that the xDrive 30d is only offered in the upper trim levels, it's very well equipped. The xLine trim includes an exclusive18-inch light-alloy wheel, satin aluminium exterior trim, dark copper interior trim, sport seats and xLine leather upholstery. 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
While it might seem a little fatuous to be talking about fuel consumption when you're throwing the best part of fifty thousand pounds at an X4, if you're looking at keeping one for the longer term, fuel bills become a significant issue. And the X4 xDrive 30d doesn't disappoint. On the NEDC combined cycle, it returns an average of 47.9mpg, with emissions pegged at 156g/km. Residual values are strong too. It's tough to know what exactly to compare the X4 to, but given that it's a car that's bought with heart as much as head, we'll try the undoubted pull of the Porsche badge; in this case attached to the front of a 3.0-litre diesel Macan. Although the Porsche does a bit better on residuals, the BMW registers a full nine groups lower on insurance and also delivers better fuel economy.
Pragmatists don't like the BMW X4. They don't like the bigger X6 that spawned the idea of these coupe-shaped SUVs either and their arguments are largely valid. The thing is, they don't take into account that the more we spend on cars the less we're ruled by pragmatism. We enter a realm where all sorts of subjective influences are brought to bear. Maybe you're thinking that you want an SUV but don't want to look like a school run mum or that you'd like a coupe but don't want to sacrifice that high-riding seating position. They're your reasons and if they work for you, then who are we to criticise your choice. I'll lay hand on heart and say the X4 is far from my favourite BMW, but will freely accept that it's a technically brilliant car, is marketed to a really clever niche and will probably make BMW plenty of cash. That's the great thing about being a car enthusiast. It's a broad church and it's one whereby we can celebrate our differences. Long may that continue.