BMW X4: An intriguing indulgence

The X4 is said to be another answer to a question no-one ever thought to ask. And, yet, there’s a degree of strange appeal …


Pros: Frisky engine, appealing dynamics, comfortable, smart tech.

Against: Firm ride, cramped rear seat and tight boot space, odd looks.

Score: 3.7/5

Design and engineering:

Strait-laced and sensible probably still has a place in the world, but not behind a blue and white roundel, apparently.

Those shopping at the highest levels of the store not only expect top-shelf tech and luxury but also a bit more creativity. So – according to Munich’s presumed train of thought – it’s better to leave the boring stuff to the mainstream players.

It’s surely obvious that the X4 is pretty much a ‘mini me’ edition of the X6, with the same bug-bodied silhouette and ‘sports activity coupe’ designation and potential for attracting same plaudits and punchlines.

Anyway, the only exterior panels the X3 and X4 share are the bonnet and doors and you would be forgiven for thinking even these were common. Key design details mainly reflect the X6, with an aggressive, hunkered stance, the same kind of fastback roof line that lends a rakish air, a shoulder line that runs though the door handles, then a second character line appear above the rear wheel arch to create  a strong looking ‘rear haunches’, flared wheel arches – the works.

The top parts I quite like: the sweeping roofline and the contoured bonnet, but take 10 steps back and assess the car as whole and the proportions lack balance. A colleague called it a car that was created by a committee using a common whiteboard. It’s astounding that, even with 20 inch rims, the wheels seem to be too small for the body. It’s nowhere near as coherent as the model that will likely be considered a natural foe, Porsche’s Macan.

Score: 2.2/5

Powertrain and performance:

We’ve looking at top of the tree X4 Xdrive35d, packing a 230kW/630Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel and eight-speed automatic that produces plenty of oomph, with 0-100kmh in 5.2 seconds, yet also a claimed 6.0 litres per 100km optimum fuel burn.

This engine is a masterpiece, and not just within the category. BMW has a great history of creating four and six-cylinder diesels that are utterly un-oiler-like for response and flexibility and that reputation is not at all undermined here. Performance and mechanical refinement are utterly excellent – yes, you’re aurally aware its a diesel yet remain thinking that it’s mainly a quiet one - and the smoothness, linearity and sheer stonk from below 1500rpm is a constant delight. Where it equally impresses is when given a decent nudge; this is not a diesel that loses it cool when extended beyond 4000rpm. Indeed, its shove remains constant and well mannered almost right to the cut-out.

Score: 4/5

Driver appeal:

Taking the X4 properly off-road is potentially not something any owner will consider doing, though with such a muscular diesel and the 204mm ground clearance it would very possibly do okay.

Really, the road-tuned tyres’ width, low profile and tread pattern would be the chief initial constraint: This car is on rubber that is designed for more the autobahn than the alps, which is fair given that turf tough is much less important to the buyer set than outright trendiness.

In fairness, this is another SUV that drives well enough to make you wonder why conventional road-pure cars are worth the bother any more. For all that BMW makes the X4 express the air of an off-seal operator (of sorts), its on-road performance – in all ways – betrays that this is actually a sporting hatch with a bulkier, taller-standing body. It certainly feels hugely competent on tarmac, the point where quite potentially it might even sustain circuit work. No, we didn’t go that far.

But it is sporty and responsive, with fine control of its body movements. While steering is a bit heavy (and, while we’re at it, the steering wheel rim is a touch too thick) there’s an instinctive directness that pays dividend through any corner and the balance and grip as it progresses along sports car roads is truly impressive.

Score: 3.5/5

Ride, refinement and quality:

Ride compliance has never been a strong point of BMW’s smallest SAV – those firm springs, run-flat rubber – but there’s a pleasing subtlety enacting here. It’s not total; hit coarse chip and you’ll feel the texture through the steering wheel and seat base and hear it too.

The engine has the kind of power delivery that makes life easy for an automatic transmission, and while it’s a moot point whether an eight-speed self-shifter makes a massive difference in our 100kmh max environment, you cannot fault the quality. What is hard to pick is the point of gear change. You sense, but hardly ever feel, that it’s mainly running in seventh or eight on the open road, kicking into sixth (even fifth) for overtaking. On moving off, it seems to hold first for a nano-second at most. Or maybe that’s second from the start-off. So hard to tell.

Score: 3.2/5

Practicality and packaging:

Inside, is the cabin has a familiar feel to that of the X3, with the same driver-focused controls on the dash and centre console and an 8.8-inch display screen plus comfortable, multi-adjustable front chairs. There’s a sense of material richness to the cabin; the leather is good and the plastics have a quality feel, though patently being the wipe clean variety also being robust enough to take scrapes and knocks. The controls are eminently user friendly,  i-Drive having refined into a trustworthy and sensible old friend now, and there’s a beautiful consistency to the control.

That back seat is a cave, and with seating for four falls short of meeting family expectations, though it actually provides more passenger head, knee and foot room than I’d imagined it would. Yes, it’s not as spacious as the X3, but potentially the back of an X4 might be a better spot to reside than in the rear quarters of an X6.

Boot space surprises. The plunging design of the tailgate suggests it’s a long reach into the back of the luggage deck, but the lid lifts high (and automatically) and with capacity of 500 litres, it’s big enough to swallow several sets of golf clubs or a weekend’s load of luggage. Potentially, though, soft bags will work better than hard luggage.

The test model is nominally a $129,900 offer, which buys an M Sports package, Professional navigation, park distance control, connected drive, rear view camera, internet and remote services, plus 20 inch wheels, a stonking Harmon Kardon stereo, front seat heating, a lights package and rain sensor. Our ‘sophisto’ metallic grey car took the additional options of adaptive LED headlamps (for $500) and a heads up display ($2000).

Score: 2.7/5

How it compares:

We’d suggest cross-shopping against the Audi SQ5 and the Porsche Macan. The first has even more punch, the second rather stronger dynamic prowess, a smarter cabin and a more pleasing shape. And both bear the ‘right’ badges for brand snobs.

The X4 is certainly a more athletic car than the sportiest kind of X3 and that’ll be enough in itself to sell itself to brand fans though they are asked to make concessions; the poor rearward visibility reminds why shapes like this never got beyond concept stage before the advent of reversing radar and rear-view cameras.

Given that it has pretty much the same pluses and minuses, it seems probable to match, against the X3, the same one-in-10 sales rate X6 gets against the X5.