Tuesday 25 June 2019

How new BMW X4 fares as it lines up the Porsche Macan in its sights. Snap drive: revised i8 supercar

First drive in the Cotswolds: BMW X4

BMW X4 interior
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It is, I have found, easier to drive when you have someone ahead to follow.

The same rule applies when a car manufacturer targets a rival to emulate.

BMW would appear to bear that out with the manner of how the company is locking its higher-performing X4 SUV Coupé in on the Porsche Macan.

Realistically the firm has less expensive targets for its more practical vehicles, such as the Mercedes GLC Coupe.

BMW X4 interior
BMW X4 interior

But the desire to catch the Macan means that even though the X4 is based heavily on the X3 platform, BMW has spent money tweaking it to get the sporty edge to driving that Macan drivers or would-be buyers seem to demand.

After a short and brisk drive in the new Beemer, it would be presumptuous to suggest the firm has achieved, or not achieved, what it is looking for.

But it has certainly managed to come up with a much improved piece of work on the previous model.

Whether or not it is enough to dissuade many from putting their money where their Macan is remains to be seen.

It's certainly bigger: 81 mm longer (4,752mm), 37mm wider (to 1,918mm, which is the same as the Macan, incidentally), 3mm taller (1,621) and with a 54mm increase in wheelbase (to 2,864).

It is also 50kg lighter, and the company claims the lowest drag coefficient (Cd 0.30) in the segment.

Certainly, wind noise was not a problem thanks to its coupe shape (which I am not mad about, never have been and am unlikely ever to be).

Despite that sloped roofline, rear headroom was more than decent. Indeed, there was surprisingly good space at the back (when I set the front seat to my usual preference I had loads of space behind myself).

Room in the boot is only marginally down on the X3 (to a most creditable 525 litres).

BMW says the new dimensions and the less dramatic roof incline (helped greatly by the rear spoiler effect) reduce the sharp cut-off line of the older model. Does that mean it can no longer be called an X3 with its roof chopped off? Yes, says BMW.

But there is a price to pay. There was poor visibility out the rear as a result of the tighter back end set-up.

A lot of the money that was spent on making it a sharper drive to take on the Macan went towards widening the track for better on-road performance.

There was, definitely, a sharper ride and more direct steering but we found it at its best in Sport mode setting. Comfort mode, for some reason, came across a bit choppy and loose.

Our drive took us over a variety of roads in the Cotswolds where that wider track played its part in some excellent cornering. The car felt well-planted and sure-footed.

The driving position is lower than the X3 but excellent. Our test car had 21ins wheels - always a big influence on handling and ride generally.

By the way, models we looked at with 19ins wheels didn't fill the wheel arches too well at all. Worth noting that M Sport X versions get 20ins wheels.

The entry-level package is the X4 2-litre 190hp Sport trim with all-wheel drive (xDrive), M Sport suspension on 18ins alloys, variable sports steering as well as 8spd automatic transmission and three-zone air con as standard.

Prices start at €67,100. That is €8,500 or so more than an as-equivalent-as-possible X3.

Starting price for the Macan 2-litre petrol is €75,762 but comparisons can be odious in terms of power, equipment etc.

Most people (BMW predicts 85pc-90pc) will go for the M Sport trim version, with the 2-litre, 190hp diesel under the bonnet.

There will also be a 3-litre 265hp diesel. And BMW has lined up two performance models, but not full M, for later in the year: an M40d diesel and an M40i petrol with revised suspension and other goodies.

Inside the car we drove and tested lay the typically modern Beemer dash, central controls and touchscreen. They're smart and the interaction is intuitive and straightforward, if a bit functional-looking considering what some rivals are contriving to create in cabins these days.

Everything comes back to the Macan (v the M40i and M40d, mind you) where BMW claims the petrol has 14hp more and is half a second quicker to 100kmh and 1.5 secs with the diesel.

However, the 2-litre diesel version sets the tone. And it hummed quietly even when pushed hard on the revs. Impressive.

It's a tight package, with good balance, spec and drive. Its creation tracked the Macan. Can it overtake it? I'm not sure but it is a much improved proposition in its own right. Sometimes it's better to concentrate on what you have rather than what others offer.

• Elsewhere, the weather was perfect for an idyllic snap drive in the MINI convertible 2-litre (192hp) through the glorious Cotswolds.

It was part of an open day for drives in a range of cars that have been given facelifts and upgrades. Haven't driven the Cabrio for a long time; 15 minutes of pure escapism with the hood down.

The i8 Coupe has also been given a bit of a facelift with spec added and a few little touches here and there. Wonder looks and searing straightline speed push harsh handling considerations aside in the short-term.

And there was the chance to sample the 2 Series Sports active Tourer plug-in hybrid, which costs €40,950 (plus delivery charge of €875 and after €7,500 worth of SEAI grant and VRT rebates).

Nice car but SUVs are mopping up that end of the market these days.

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