BMW launched the new X4 in front of the Guggenheim museum of modern art in Bilbao, which was appropriate as they are both odd-shaped things brimming with baffling appeal.
A quick tour of the museum revealed a film of flies landing on Yoko Ono’s pubes, which aren’t really up my artistic street and possibly yours either, and the same can probably be said for coupe-ish sports activity vehicles from BMW. But for all the head scratching about why on earth somebody would find this sort of thing appealing, one married a Beatle and the other is set to enter a market due to grow from 400k units currently, to nearly 1.8m in the next decade.
So something must be going right, and there are two precursors to the X4’s entry into the market that put it in context: the huge success of the Range Rover Evoque, and the fact BMW has sold 250,000 X6s since it launched in 2008, despite regularly being the most lambasted vehicle on sale today. Taste dictates, and people want cars like this, even if on a rational level they seem to competently fulfil no brief other than to make others roll their eyes in despair. Is it even worth going through the list of ‘doesn’t have the space of/isn’t as good to drive as/can’t hold a candle to’ justifications for not choosing one? No? Moving on…
BMW X4: spec and info
The X4, as you would expect then, doesn’t do anything especially different from the larger X6, offering a coupe-alike roofline plonked atop an SUV’s body in a manner reminiscent of a fat bloke wearing a baseball cap. What you can say about it though, is that it doesn’t quite have the strident ‘f*** you’ jaw-jut aggression of the X6 thanks to its smaller proportions. But it would have been refreshing to give it a bit more individual character rather just making it look like the X6’s attack-dog little brother.
The £3000 M Sport package on this particular X4 includes a front bumper featuring gaping pods that make it look as though its has swallowed a couple of exploding gobstoppers, and while it is a more deft effort than the X6, you would be hard pushed to call it pretty, as you would the Macan, or chunkily cute, as the Evoque.
Of the X3 on which it is based, it is only slightly longer but nearly four centimetres lower, and occupants who have been in an X3 may notice the X4’s slightly lower seating position, which is 20mm further towards the floor in the front and 28mm in the back. This is of course, still higher than you might get in the ‘semi-command’ position of a 5 or 3 GT, which is of course slightly higher than the ‘not-command’ of a standard saloon. Quite where this puts the seating in BMW’s ever-expanding lexicon of niche nomenclature, but I would offer ‘command-semi-command’ as a pretty clear indicator of where it stands…
Inside the cabin of the new BMW X4
The cabin is standard Spartanburg-factory fare which means all the usual BMW traits with the odd rough edge and gaping gap between mouldings, while the boot has a surprising 500 litres – surprising as the rear glass cuts through all the useful space you would usually get in an SUV. There’s 4 automatic closing on the bootlid too, and I’ll wager that owners will soon be screaming in angst as it keeps popping back up as stuff gets detected in the way at the tapered end.
But the X4 is a much more talented fast car than the X3, thanks to 15% stiffer springs and dampers and all models come with BMW’s Performance Control, Variable Sports Steering and the xDrive all-wheel-drive system as standard. Ours also had the £940 variable damper option too, and if it might be hard work to ascertain exactly what all these things individually bring to the party, together they create an impressive-handling car (for its type), allowing it to stand up tall through corners with a far more progressive roll than the odd lurch and then gamely gusseted bolster the latest Evoques have.
BMW X4 review: what’s it like on the road?
As a consequence it feels more like a car to drive than an SUV, and you can be fairly aggressive turning the nose in with the heavy if slightly lifeless steering, even on wet roads, safe in the knowledge that you aren’t going to understeer into a bush. Turn in really hard, and you can feel drive being portioned out to the loaded-up rear wheel, kicking the car back into line. But then, when are drivers of these sorts of cars going to get into such marginal territory?
We only got to drive the xDrive 35i on launch, which we don’t get in the UK, and the three diesels we do (but didn’t, if you see what I mean) will be much better suited. This revvy engine feels at odds with this type of car, although the eight-speed auto is very slick: BMW has really mastered tuning that ubiquitous ZF ’box.
No doubt the 186bhp 2.0-litre, and 253bhp and 307bhp versions of its straight-six 3.0 turbodiesel will do it more justice. Prices start at £36,995 for the 20d SE up to a whopping £48,995 for the 35d M Sport, which means it carries a four to five grand premium over an equivalent X3, although before you start shaking your head in despair, it does come with more standard kit.
So all things considered, if you want one, fine, I doubt anyone else’s opinion is going to make a ha’penny’s worth of difference. If given the choice, I’d take the X4 over Yoko’s fetid nether regions. But it’s a close call.
>> This BMW X4 review originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of CAR magazine. Click here for a preview of the latest issue and our best subscription rates