Driver pleasure, at a price
The BMW X4 may not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly has lots of appeal, says Geraldine Herbert
With sales in excess of a quarter of a million, BMW demonstrated with the X6 that they can create demand for something we never knew we needed. Baffled motoring critics may have questioned the point of the world's first Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) but BMW showrooms worldwide resonated to the footsteps of eager customers. Six years on, BMW aims to tempt those who like their cars with a performance edge, by this time taking the X3 and giving it a "coupe" makeover.
Based on the same platform as the BMW X3, the X4 is just a fraction longer but it sits 36mm lower, which creates a slicker profile. The styling is masculine, purposeful and polarising. From the front, it is unmistakably a BMW with the iconic kidney grille but from the rear, it is squat and the proportions look odd. The overall impression is the lumbering fusion of a sports car and SUV.
Sit behind the wheel and the cabin shares much of the layout and finish with the 3-series and the X3. It is all very sporty, elegant and functional, with the iDrive system controlled using a centrally mounted rotary dial that is easy to use. There are a few odd omissions from the interior though, particularly the lack of grab handles.
Storage throughout is good and there is a reasonable 500-litre boot and 40:20:40 split-fold seats. The coupe-like roofline slopes gently down towards the rear and makes for slightly less headroom in the back, but the contrast between front and back is much less pronounced than the sleek profile would suggest. Rear visibility is restricted by a small back window, so a rear-view camera is a must.
Three engines are available from launch - all diesels. The smallest is a 2.0-litre with 187 bhp. The X4 xDrive20d is fitted as standard with a six-speed manual transmission but can be optionally specified with an eight-speed automatic. This is the model most likely to take the lion's share of the sales, and returns 5.4 litres per 100km with CO2 emissions of just 138g/km. Other options include the xDrive30d and the top-of-the-range xDrive35d that delivers 313bhp with 630 Nms torque. Fuel consumption is a very decent six litres per 100km with 157g/km CO2.
Press the start button and the differences between the X4 and the X3 are instantly apparent. With 580 Nms of torque, the X4 excels on twisty back roads where it cuts through corners and sticks to the road with a reassurance that belies its size. It is beautiful to drive and the cabin is well insulated from road noise, but there is a vagueness in the steering that jars with the overall sporty feel. A short spin off-road confirms that it copes easily with hills, ditches and the odd muddy rut - while none of the terrains were particularly demanding, they were still more of a challenge than most X4s will ever face.
Prices for the X4 start at €57,720, rising to €81,180 for the top-of-the-range model.
Arguments against buying one abound - including the starting price, which represents a premium of €11,000 over the X3; and the coupe-like roofline, which effectively removes a decent chunk of the interior space - so can buying a X4 that is less practical and costs more than the car it's based on make any sense? Reason doesn't always prevail and the lure of this sleek, svelte and sporty new car is a strong one. The X4 won't be to everyone's taste, but that's exactly BMW's intention.