BMW X4 SUV
"The rakish BMW X4 is great to drive, but style compromises its usefulness"
- Individual style
- Powerful engines
- Excellent handling
- High starting price
- Long options list
- Less versatile than X3
How do you create a car more fashionable than an SUV? Cars like the BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5 are among the most popular upmarket SUV models, with many buyers abandoning saloons and estates, such as the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4, in their favour. BMW thinks the answer is the ‘coupe-SUV’, and the rakish X4 is an example.
Based on the X3 SUV, the X4 is essentially a sportier, less utilitarian car. Models like the X4, and the Mercedes GLC Coupe, place the emphasis more on driving fun than family-friendly practicality – or that's what their makers want buyers to believe. But can they deliver, or does their svelte shape mean too much compromise?
A four-door coupe and an SUV are very different concepts, and to combine the two into a cohesive whole is a very tricky design task. Whether BMW's stylists have succeeded comes down to the eye of the beholder. In our view, while there's no denying the X4 has a sleeker, less derivative roofline than the X3, those curvaceous lines rather clash with the bulk that the X4 carries everywhere else.
Seen head on, the look is pretty much pure SUV and the X4 is just as handsome as the X3. From the rear, though, the high shoulder line results in a bluff cliff-face of metal, punctuated only by the horizontal rear light clusters and large BMW roundel. The rear screen is mounted so high that it's difficult to imagine it offering any useful view out. The X4 doesn't want for showroom appeal, though – the trademark 'double kidney' grille is more pronounced than ever, and the standard Active LED headlamps catch the eye.
Huge wheelarches offer space for big alloy wheels to fill, and that provides further clues that sportiness and aggression are key to the X4's appeal. Indeed, a look at the price list reveals two M Performance models that make their first appearance in the latest X4 range – a petrol X4 M40i and diesel M40d. xDrive20d and xDrive30d models make up the rest of the range, which means only one petrol is offered against three diesels. All versions have BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system and an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard.
A flagship performance X4 M Competition model is offered too, offering considerable performance from a 503bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine. It shares its powertrain with the X3 M Competition SUV and both cars are capable of surging from 0-62mph in 4.1 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
Compared to the first-generation X4, the latest is a little larger – 81mm longer and 37mm wider, to be precise. As well as allowing a slightly longer, lower look, the greater distance between front and rear axles is said to free up some interior space.
The X4's interior design is nothing like as divisive as its exterior, with a classy dashboard that's almost the same as the X3's – no bad thing, as the latter is very well made and easy to use. It feels sporty, too, and that's before you hit the road. On the move, it transpires that BMW's claim that the X4 "will out-handle the Porsche Macan" is entirely believable.
It responds with the kind of immediacy that used to be an SUV impossibility, yet proves comfortable on broken road surfaces, despite the huge wheels and tyres fitted on most models. However, the more conventional X3 offers a combination of ride and handling that's very nearly as impressive, and does so while offering more interior headroom and a bigger, more practical boot.
It's unlikely that Euro NCAP will crash-test the X4 individually – the X3 is so similar that its five-star rating effectively applies to the X4, too. Both cars have a suite of safety features that includes autonomous emergency braking and can be upgraded to include an active cruise control system, which can bring the car to a halt and then set off again in heavy traffic.
Occupying 25th place (out of 30 brands) in our 2020 Driver Power survey, BMW's record for owner satisfaction isn't entirely blemish-free. The roundel badge remains desirable, though, and the X4 certainly stands out from the SUV crowd.
However, the X4 is more expensive than the X3 and that extra cost is unlikely to be reflected in increased residual values. That means it's a pricier ownership proposition than its sister model, without having any significant advantages elsewhere. If you love the style and want the best-driving BMW SUV, though, look no further.