- Published: Sunday, 24 August 2014 15:20
The BMW X6 was one of the first 'in-betweeners' to appear in the wake of the Mercedes-Benz CLS and the four-door coupe craze it kicked off in 1999.
It's a car that seems to inspire equal measures of delight and disgust. The best of both worlds, say the fans, while nay -sayers we’ve spoken to claim it resembles a dung beetle.
Whatever the case, the X6 has only cured its ills (diffident ride and handling, largely as a result of managing excess mass) recently, the M550d model being an outstanding example. The tri-turbo diesel range-topper is quick, relatively frugal and behaves like a massive hot hatch.
But imagine all that in shrunken-down package. Minus the middle bit about frugality and that’s basically what the new X4 xDrive35i is like.
The X4 is a four-door coupe crossed with a sport utility vehicle, what BMW terms a Sport Activity Coupe. As the naming suggests, it's the iPad Mini to the X6’s full-size iPad. Down a rung, it’s thus based on the X3 although when viewed together the X4 obviously has a more sloping roof-line, while also bearing the large, leering face of the X6. Equally obviously, it’s not a coupe, and neither does it have four-doors - like regular four-door coupes (such as the Audi A5 Sportback or the 4 Series Gran Coupe launched at the same time as this car) it has a fastback hatch rear.
In many ways, this is the cat BMW should have let out of the SAC sack the first time round. It’s clear the SAC format still draws attention, given our street-side eyeball-count litmus test, but lacking the brawn and size of the X6 somehow makes the X4 more acceptable without qualms of overcompensation coming into the discussion.
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The X4 is roughly comparable in dimensions to the X3, both share the same wheelbase and width (2,810mm and 1,881mm) though the X4 is much shorter (1,624mm versus 1,661mm) and very slightly longer. The coupe-like-one is also 10kg heavier, a not-inconsiderable 1,890kg with driver, probably a result of the engineering of the new, slopier fastback-style rear door and reinforcements, as is the case with the new 4 Series Gran Coupe.
From the driver’s seat the X4 still feels properly SUV, with a high seating position and decent forward vision, although the cloistered rear end makes for limited visibility through the back.
For now this is the top offering, the xDrive35i offered with the familiar, enjoyable straight six, 3.0-litre turbocharged engine, 306bhp and 400Nm of torque, the latter of which is made from an impressively wide 1,200 to 5,000rpm. On paper, plus the X4’s all-wheel drive system, this rockets the car from 0-100km/h in only 5.5 seconds.
On paper it sounds like the X4 might be the perfect ride for someone who’s trading up from a hot hatch but doesn’t want to lose pace and fun, and to a certain extent that’s true. The 35i engine unit’s pace and strength is doubtless, though here, as in other recent incarnations it has begun to lose a bit of its aural charm, sounding like a diesel at low revs (which given the torque spread is where it spends most of its time, ironically) and only really revealing its inline six tricks at higher revolutions.
Like the X3, the X4 is a tidy handler. It’s got adaptive suspension (BMW’s Dynamic Damper Control), which together with the steering and drivetrain can be tweaked through the Driving Experience Control in the four familiar modes, Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.
As noted at the car’s international debut, the X4 rides very well for such a tall and heavy vehicle, even more so now that local units come specced with handsome 19-inch, ten-spoke alloy wheels too. Body roll is considerable in the first two modes, but the ride is good enough that you can leave it in Sport mode (our preference, chassis only) most of the time, unless of course you want to reap the green benefits of Eco Pro mode.
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Local cars come very well-specced, with the most powerful engine of course, plus other niceties like the driving modes, DDC, navigation, LED headlights, heads-up display, Harman Kardon sound system and so on. The most useful feature is the surround view camera, which makes up for the awkward view out of the rear end. Interior room is good, with the boot stretching from 500 to 1,400-litres of space, and the car seats five adults with relative ease. The sloping roofline is offset somewhat by roof cut-outs for rear passengers heads, but there is obviously less headroom than on an X3.
It’s not cheap, but neither is an X3. Depending on which way you see it, the X4 is either seven-grand more than the X3 with a bit less space and practicality, or it’s seven-grand well spent on a car that looks much more elegant.
BMW X4 xDrive35i
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 2,979cc, 24V, inline 6
Power 306bhp at 5800rpm
Torque 400Nm at 1200-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 247km/h
0-100kmh 5.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.3L/100km
Price $328,800 with COE