Photos: BMW, Richard Newton, Derryn Wong
Spartanburg, South Carolina, USA
The new BMW X4 is quite a breath of fresh air, because now there’s more than one concrete reason to buy one over a normal sport utility vehicle (SUV).
It may seem we bear an unnatural, innate hatred for SUVs but that’s really not the case – we usually have good reasons for doing so.
SUVs, like all other types of car, have compromises to make, it’s simply because they’re designed to look like they can go off-road, but don’t, which throws those compromises into greater contrast.
The unenviable task for the engineer responsible is take the worst parts of a coupe (visibility, stiff ride) and pair it with the worst parts of an SUV (high centre of gravity, weight).
The BMW X4 did as well as any coupe-esque SUV could (BMW calls them Sports Activity Coupes, or SACs), that is to perform on an equal level to its closely-related brother, the X3.
If the appearance didn’t charm you, there was no convincing reason to choose one over the X3. Now, with the new X4, there is.
The interior experience is familiar, since it’s the same cabin as the BMW X3’s.
There’s more contour and bulges to the design than the 5 Series for example (although all cars are based on BMW’s modern CLAR platform), with suitable ‘X’ motifs on our test car, the xLine model.
There will be an entry-level xDrive20i model, the intermediate xDrive30i (driven here), and the range-topping M40i model, plus a new diesel performance variant, the M40d.
But the engineers have taken extra care to make the X4 drive like its SAC name demands. The X4 is longer, lower and wider than the X3 (and previous X4), it also has a 30mm wider rear track.
“The product and marketing team would say, “People only buy an SAC for the looks!” But we said this time around – why should that be the case? We will make the X4 drive like it really should, like a coupe” said Steffen Koch, the manager in charge of driving dynamics for the X4.
In other words, the team has put in big effort to make sure the X4 is more than what it appears to be, an effort that if successful, would put it at a higher standing than most of the crossovers on the market.
To that end, the xDrive20i and xDrive30i models come with a sportier suspension setup as standard. According to Mr Koch, it’s like having the M Sport suspension option on an equivalent-engined X3. All X4s also have variable-rack sport steering as standard equipment too.
“We geared (the X4) toward agile and sporty handling, with more neutral driving behaviour, and overall it’s been tuned for less roll and better body control than the X3,” adds Mr Koch. Read our review of the new M40d variant, and what the X4 M40i will pack to make it behave even more like a ‘proper’ BMW on the road.
However the first thing we picked up on during our time behind the wheel was rather more surprising: The new X4 is very comfortable.
While the roads of South and North Carolina are generally in better shape than Singapore’s, crossover trends and BMW’s historical precedents led us to expect a far busier ride quality.
Our test car, which came with 20-inch wheels and adaptive dampers, was a great example of supple but sporty suspension, easing away the irritation of concrete expansion joints and various thumps.
Only the harshest potholes and sudden dips were able to pierce the veneer of calm, which is probably the best we’ve seen from an SUV, let alone a coupe-styled one.
Away from the wide highways and state roads, we tackled some great driving roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though they didn’t take us home, they did take us to Smiles-ville, with the X4’s punchy, active nature a boon.
It’s playful, like its smaller brother the X2, with a direct, plugged-in feeling a by-product of the sensibly-weighted and good feeling from the helm. With the 30i engine, and rear-biased xDrive AWD, it made short work of the steep uphill exits.
Once the twisty bits ended, we had a good 100-150km of normal roads to get back to our starting point, but the X4’s refinement was again a strength, in contrast to the constant jitter of any other crossover.
By pairing the coupe-lines with much stronger driving experience, BMW has boosted the X4’s appeal considerably. A good coupe has to combine both eye-catching design and dynamics, and while the X4 still isn’t one by conventional definition, it certainly has the heart of one.
It’s not like the X4 lost its other plus points either. While it looks very similar to its predecessor, the front end appears quite different in the flesh, and has a familial resemblance to the next-gen BMW coupes/SACs, like the X7 and Concept M8 Gran Coupe.
Inside it’s just like the new X3, with a design that’s different from the sedans (can’t miss the ‘X4’ model badge just above the front cupholders tho) but otherwise incorporates all the latest bells and whistles, like a touchscreen- and gesture-enabled iDrive system.
There have also been less compromises in the stretch towards coupe-ness: There’s more passenger room thanks to a 54mm increase in wheelbase, and more boot space at 525-litres, only 25-litres less than the X3.
More than that, it’ll appeal to drivers who want to actually go faster, not just have the appearance of doing so. It’s the fact that the driving performance backs up the looks and finally deliver the promise of the SAC concept, which might make this X4 the most desirable coupe-crossover so far.
BMW X4 xDrive30i
|Engine||1,997cc, inline 4, turbocharged|
|Power||252hp at 5200-6500rpm|
|Torque||350Nm at 1450-4800|
|VES / CO2||TBC / 166g/km CO2|
|Agent||Performance Motors Limited|