Car reviews - BMW - X4
Sporty handling, relative ride comfort, M40i performance, premium interior execution, impressive advanced driver-assist systems
Room for improvement
Price premium over the X3, less practical than the X3
BMW improves X4 coupe-style SUV with performance twist for second-generation tilt
14 Sep 2018
BY ITS own admission, BMW answered the questioned nobody asked when it revealed the first-generation X6 in 2007. A coupe-style SUV? Who would want that? Turns out the X6 was popular enough to justify a second life cycle and the creation of the X4 in 2014 and, most recently, the X2 in 2017. It also inspired Mercedes-Benz and Audi to field its own competitors in the new class.
We all know the world has gone SUV mad, so it’s no surprise that BMW – a brand with a reputation for filling niches – has continued to offer its customers an array of style-focused crossovers. The next step in this model rollout is the release of the second-generation X4, a mid sizer based on the best-selling X3. But, is the new model a case of style over substance? Read on to find out.
Let’s address the elephant in the room. For an SUV model that is unashamedly ‘stylish’, we can’t help but feel the X4 doesn’t look any better than its chiselled but safe X3 sibling. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so don’t take our word as gospel, but we think it’s a miss.
The second-generation X4’s approach does not deviate from that of its predecessor. Very simply, it takes the X3’s front end and applies a different rear-end shape, one that introduces a lower, slope-backed roofline, a shorter, liftback tailgate and slimline tail-lights. You be the judge.
What is undeniable, though, is the impact that the X4’s ‘coupe’ profile has on its cabin and rear cargo area. Compared to the X3, headroom in the second row is compromised, with adults finding themselves tilting their heads forward to compensate. However, legroom behind our 184cm driving position is rather generous, so that’s a plus.
While the X4’s cargo capacity is better than before, at 525L (+25L) with the 40/20/40 split-fold rear seats upright and 1430L (+30L) with them stowed, it still falls short of the X3’s effort by 25L and 170L respectively due to its aforementioned roofline. Yes, the X4’s boot floor is flat, square and deep, but its tailgate’s aperture is not as cargo-friendly. The split parcel shelf, however, is a nice touch.
They say it costs to look ‘good’, so it’s no surprise that the X4 commands a premium over the X3. However, the surprising part is how much dearer it is. While the X4 doesn’t perfectly align with the X3 variant-wise, it costs $8000 to $11,000 more for equivalent variants.
BMW puts this down to the difference in specification between the two models – it’s pretty minor – and the additional R&D required for the X4. Either way, it doesn’t help the its value proposition when the X3 is already a compelling option at a lower price point.
Thankfully, this is where the ‘bad news’ stops, because the X4 is a really good thing in its own right. Much of this is to do with its X3 origins, of course. First thing’s first, the interior is a knock-out. BMW has really stepped up its game here, ensuring the X4 justifies its premium positioning.
If you’re familiar with the X3, then the X4’s cabin won’t come as much of a surprise. It’s more or less a carbon-copy, after all. Soft-touch plastics adorn the dashboard and upper door cards, while leather upholstery covers the all the armrests and high-gloss black trim lines the centre console. It’s a classy space.
Lovers of technology are catered for with a 10.25 touchscreen powered by BMW’s slick iDrive6 infotainment system, although wireless Apple CarPlay support remains on the options list. Higher-specification variants feature a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster that looks the business, while all X4s come with a beautiful windscreen-projected colour head-up display. Tick, tick, tick.
Advanced driver-assist systems are in abundance, too, with every variant picking up autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, speed limit recognition and surround-view cameras.
Higher-specification variants add lane-keep and steering assist alongside adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality. This combination enables Level 2 autonomy, but we found that it struggled with lane markings on most country roads. Highways are dealt with aplomb, however.
Compared to the X3, it has a wider rear track that lends itself to improved dynamism in partnership with its standard adaptive suspension. Throw the X4 around a tight corner and its stays remarkably flat, holding its body in check like a proper sportscar would.
Sporty handling brings with it a few comprises, right? Not necessarily in this case. Ride comfort is unexpectedly good for a BMW model fitted with the M Sport package that usually results in too firm of a suspension tune for Australia’s low-quality roads.
The X4’s Comfort driving mode ensures the dampers are in their softest setting, making speed bumps, potholes and corrugated surfaces less challenging to navigate.
Switching across to the Sport driving mode isn’t met with the level of trepidation it routinely is, with the dampers firming up, but not to the point where ride quality is totally diminished. While uneven and unsealed stretches of tarmac are felt by occupants, it’s certainly liveable – something you cannot say about several BMW models.
Another key ingredient here is the X4’s electric power steering. In short, it is an impressive effort. While its communication could be better, it is well-weighted, providing the right amount of heft for a ‘sports’ utility vehicle. Its responsiveness is appreciated, too, helping the X4 to dart around bends with the neutral agility of a well-sorted sportscar.
Every X4 employs BMW’s xDrive system that sends power and torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed torque-convertor automatic transmission sourced from ZF. This is a familiar pairing that continues to deliver in spades. Grip is demonstrably plentiful on loose gravel, while gear changes are smooth and intuitive, even when shifted into Sport mode.
Aside from specification, the main differences between the X4’s variants are their engines. Opening the range from $76,900 before on-road costs, the xDrive20i uses a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 135kW from 5000 to 6500rpm and 290Nm from 1350 to 4250rpm.
It is a sweet little performer that is more than capable of tackling the urban commute, although it can run out of puff during country driving. Enter the $83,900 xDrive30i. It takes the xDrive20’s unit and ups the ante to 185kW from 5200 to 6500rpm and 350Nm from 1450 to 4800rpm without any detrimental impact of fuel consumption or carbon dioxide emissions.
Arguably the sweet spot in the X4 range in terms of bang for your buck, the xDrive30i performs admirably in most scenarios with enough grunt at higher engine speeds to keep things ticking along nicely. The same can be said of the $79,900 xDrive20d that is the only variant to use a turbo-diesel engine from launch. Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder musters 140kW at 4000rpm and a useful 400Nm from 1750 to 2500rpm.
Nonetheless, the real story here is the availability of the M40i for the first time in Australia. While the first-generation X4 had its fair share of potent engine options, the $109,900 M40i represents the model’s first proper performance variant Down Under. Its 3.0-litre turbo-petrol inline six-cylinder unit offers a tasty teaser of what the twin-turbo X4 M will provide when it inevitably hits showrooms in 2019.
With 265kW on tap from 5500 to 6500rpm and 500Nm delivered from 1520 to 4800rpm, the M40i clearly positions itself at the top of the X4 tree … for now. Until its big sibling arrives, it provides a healthy dose of BMW M magic. Acceleration is surprisingly brutal, no matter what driving mode is selected. While the noise generated isn’t as sharp as that of a Mercedes-AMG, it’s enticing enough to encourage the driver to push harder and harder. The M40i is a very sharp piece of kit, indeed.
While we don’t feel the X4 is a better option than the more practical X3, it does offer sharper dynamics and an extra dose of ‘style’ – depending on your interpretation, of course. In particular, the M40i is a great addition to the range, serving as an appropriate stepping stone to the incoming X4 M. We’re very much looking forward to getting to know it more when the occasion calls.
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