It’s funny how we’re all too quick to form an opinion on niche cars like the BMW X4. Oh, it’s just a more expensive and less practical version of the BMW X3, we all cry, before muttering a few obscenities and sloping off, longing for the good old days.
I agree that it’s hard to conjure up any feelings of love for BMW’s X range. The X1 is a curious animal that’s not exactly dripping in positive customer feedback. The X6 is just too offensive, whilst the X5 – however polished the car might be – is hamstrung by the way in which many of its owners seem to drive it. But in the X3, BMW has delivered a class-leading compact SUV, which just happens to be one of the least depreciating cars in Britain.
Strong foundations for the BMW X4 then? So it’s no surprise to discover that the BMW X4 is really rather good. Like, properly good.
But let’s start with the elephant in the room. And no, I’m not referring to the X4’s styling. With prices starting at £36,590, the entry-level X4 xDrive 20d SE is about £6k more expensive than the cheapest BMW X3. But that’s only half the story. By the time you’ve progressed to the 30d in new xLine trim, the price has risen to £44,890, with the flagship xDrive 35d M Sport costing an eye-watering £48,990.
BMW laid on a clutch of test cars for the UK launch event, each one an identical xDrive 30d with the full fat M Sport treatment. Base price – £45,453. Price after options – £55,248. Good grief, that’s an awful lot of cash. You’ve got to seriously want a Sports Activity Coupé (I know, you don’t have to say it) to justify such prices.
Of course, BMW will counter this by arguing that the equipment levels on the X4 are far more generous than you’ll find on the X3. And, to be fair, BMW has a point.
All BMW X4s offer 18-inch alloys, 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats, dual-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, DAB digital radio, iDrive controller with 6.5-inch central display, LED fog lights, BMW Business media and navigation, Nevada leather, parking sensors, heated front seats, sport automatic transmission, leather steering wheel, sport steering and xenon headlights as standard.
So you can’t accuse BMW of being miserly with the specification. If you’ll excuse the cliche, it helps to make the BMW X4 a rather nice place to be. Once you’ve upgraded to full fat M Sport trim – of which well over half of all X4 drivers are expected to do – the X4 feels very special indeed.
In fact, from the passenger seat, the BMW X4 feels relaxed, comfortable and refined. It’s from the passenger seat that you tend to get a good feel for a car’s ride qualities, with drain covers, pot holes and worn roadside edges highlighting a car’s strengths and weaknesses. And surprisingly, despite the 20-inch rims of the M Sport package, the X4 rides superbly. Which means you don’t have to book an appointment with your chiropractor every time you select Sport rather than Comfort mode.
The positives continue once you’re in the driver’s seat, too. The chunky-rimmed M steering wheel is delightful, with the leather seats providing excellent levels of support and comfort. I challenge anyone not to find a comfortable driving position in the BMX X4. It feels sportier, too, thanks in part to the mounting of the front seats, which are 20mm lower than you’ll find in the X3.
To drive, the BMW X4 feels much, much better than you’d believe and want to give it credit for. The steering is wonderfully weighted and direct and the eight-speed automatic transmission – standard on all but the 20d – is once again a masterclass in how to deliver a satisfying auto’ transmission. Upshifts are instantaneous and downshifts are equally smooth.
It’s hard to imagine you’d need more power than the 258hp and 560Nm of torque offered by the 3.0-litre, six-cylinder diesel engine found in the 30d, but BMW does offer a 313hp version of the same engine. The 30d’s 0-62mph time of 5.8 seconds tells you all you need to know about the BMW X4’s on-paper pace, but in the real world it never feels quite as quick as a sub six seconds time suggests.
That’s partly because the BMW X4 30d weighs 1,895kg, but also because BMW has done such a good job at shielding you from the outside world. Curiously though, the BMW X4 does suffer from a high level of noise around the base of the windscreen and the door mirrors.
On the twisty A- and B-roads of Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, the BMW X4 was far better to drive than it had the right to be. If the steering inspires confidence to take a corner at speed, the xDrive all-wheel drive system encourages further confidence as you exit it. At £650, the Electronic Damper Control (EDC) would appear to be money well spent.
Most of the time, the intelligent all-wheel drive system will send the majority of torque to the rear wheels, but should extra traction be required, 100% of torque can be sent to either axle. With monumental levels of grip and a complete absence of body roll, you couldn’t describe the BMW X4 as fun to drive, but it’s deeply impressive.
The same is true of the excellent head-up display (£935) and surround view 360-degree camera (£530). Neither are cheap options, but the latter is simply astonishing, providing Spy Hunter-style fun to parking manoeuvres. It’s just a shame BMW hasn’t added the Theme From Peter Gunn soundtrack to accompany the system.
So it’s all looking good for the BMW X4, but there has to be a catch, right? Well, notwithstanding the Marmite styling, you’d expect the X4 to lose practicality points. Only you don’t, not to any great extent, anyway.
It’s 14mm longer, but 36mm lower than the X3, so you’d expect a reduced amount of rear headroom. But whilst the middle rear seat is only good for occasional use, there’s enough headroom for a 6ft 2″ adult in the back. The door opening is unsurprisingly smaller than the X3, but adults won’t find travelling in the back of an X4 too much of a hardship.
At 500 lites of boot space, the X4 gives up 50 litres to the X3 and whilst the high lip will make loading heavy items quite a challenge, the opening is square and wide.
But none of this really matters, because you will have made up your mind on the BMW X4, long before reaching this point. You’ll either like it (because it’s impossible to love it), or you’ll find it distasteful, irrelevant and a niche too far. And I suspect most PetrolBlog readers will fall in to the latter category.
So you won’t mind that some of the plastics used on the inside are at odds with the premium price point. Or be shocked at the terrible visibility out of the back.
You also won’t be interested in the claimed 49.6mpg and 159g/km CO2 from the 30d running 20-inch wheels, which is quite frankly very good from a car of this size and the level of performance on offer.
Honestly, this isn’t a car for you or I. It’s too expensive new and even when depreciation has done its worst, you won’t be queuing up to take advantage of a used car bargain. But like the X6, which has amassed sales totalling 250,000 since its launch, the X4 will have its fans. And those people who are willing to part with a huge wad of cash for a niche product, will be rewarded with a thoroughly impressive machine.
Don’t just hate it for the way it looks. It’s no 4 Series Gran Coupe to look at, but you should never judge a book by its cover.