A few years ago, BMW baffled the motoring world when it took the chunky X5 SUV, lowered the suspension, gave it a less practical ‘coupe’ makeover and slapped an X6 name on the back. The X6 was anything but a coupe, however, and certainly was not pretty. Despite this, the X6 has been a sales success, surpassing even BMW’s own expectations.
So it’s no surprise that another Bavarian sports utility vehicle - the X3 - has followed the same trend to create this, the X4. So then, what’s it like?
That aggressive face of the X3 is still present, but go around to the side of the X4, and you’ll see a heavily sloped roofline, and muscular bulges around the rear wheel arches.
If you wanted this sort of acceleration from a BMW not so long ago, you’d have needed something from the M Division
It is in no way pretty, but the brazen vulgarity it exudes is, in a way, rather admirable. And the X4’s ostentatious aura makes a difference to how you feel behind the wheel. As you sit in the elevated driving position (20mm lower than the X3, but still lofty) you can’t help but feel superior, and - I’m almost ashamed to say - it’s a rather nice feeling.
What helps the X4’s superiority complex on the road is its blistering pace. The twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel version we drove serves up a potent 254bhp at 4000rpm, but the real story is the torque: all 413lb ft of it, which is available from just 1500rpm. The spread of power and torque is pretty wide, so it doesn’t seem quite as quick as you’d think, but a cursory glance at the speedo reveals the car’s impressive performance; any dawdling motorist becomes a tiny spec in the rear-view before you know it.
Official stats are 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds, and a top speed of 145mph. If you wanted that sort of acceleration from a BMW not so long ago, you’d have needed something from the M Division. When it comes to the sensible figures, it’ll do a claimed combined 47.9mpg, and will puff out 156g/km of CO2. The MPG should be relatively achievable; after a morning of merciless acceleration, we averaged a decent 36mpg.
It may be an oil burner, but being a straight-six, it’s satisfyingly smooth and even sounds reasonable. It’s hooked up to BMW’s slick eight-speed auto, which you can also control via the car’s steering wheel-mounted paddles.
It’s not the puddingy mess you might expect when you get to a corner, either. With a lower centre of gravity than the X3 and an abundance of grip from the four-wheel drive system and wide tyres, the X4 confidently handles country roads, cornering with little body roll. The steering - while feeling a little artificial - is sharp and nicely weighted, making carving up each twist surprisingly joyous.
We had the chance to try the X4 off road (as seen in the video below), and while that consisted of a mostly untaxing farm track, the car performed admirably, not that many buyers will ever venture onto the rough stuff.
When you’re not attacking a windy road or barrelling down a farm track, the X4 is a relaxing car to waft about in. Despite our test car running on gigantic 20-inch wheels it rode with impeccable grace, and with a decent amount of suspension travel on offer, imperfections in the road are nicely soaked up.
The interior is also well executed. It’s dominated by an imposing centre console, which pleasingly has an integrated media unit, rather than the daft ‘stuck on’ unit you’ll see in other BMWs like the 2, 3 and 4-series. On the subject of the media system, one option box well worth ticking is the £530 ‘surround view,’ which uses a series of cameras to give you a good look at your surroundings while manoeuvring at low speeds; it also includes a brilliant classic Grand Theft Auto-like birds-eye view.
The one downer is BMW’s iDrive system. It’s less fiddly than it used to be, but the ‘i’ still seems to stand for ‘infuriate.’ Using it is all too often like trying to navigate a maze, and it’s far too easy to find yourself in a no-man’s land of sub menus after a couple of misplaced clicks. You’ll be able to master it eventually, but not before getting annoyed on multiple occasions.
While I can live with the unintuitive iDrive, what’s harder to stomach is the X4’s price. The 30d will set you back £45,453, and with options our M Sport test car came to £55,248. The base prices across the range (the 20d is £36,595, and the 35d £48,995) are £3600 more than the equivalent X3. BMW is keen to point out that you get just over £2000 more standard equipment, which is all well and good, but you’re not necessarily going to want all of that extra kit, particularly given that much of it - bigger wheels, Xenon headlights - could be dismissed as blingy trinkets.
The X4 may be excellent to drive, but the less expensive X3 also has good on-road manners. And the swoopier body of the X4 leads to a number of practicality compromises you won’t find in the X3. Rear headroom is restricted by the sloping roofline, the visibility through the slim rear window is shocking, and the boot space is 50 litres smaller.
With that in mind, it really needs to deliver on the looks front, but it doesn’t. I admire the in-yer-face thing the car has going on, but it’s unlikely that many will be charmed by the looks. For my money, while the X4 is itself a fine car, the X3 is the better buy. But just like the X6, the X4 will no doubt prove to be another paradoxical BMW sales success.