Road Test: BMW X4 xDrive30d M Sport
Sector: SUV Price: £46,395 Fuel: 47.9mpg CO2: 156g/km
When BMW launched the X6 back in 2008, there was some confusion as to whether the market’s first “sports activity coupe” was a niche too far. But, on the back of strong demand, BMW is sticking with the concept, downsizing it as the X4 and slotting it into the 4 Series family.
There’s a clear market for this. The X6 accounts for a quarter of the brand’s large SUV sales and the X4, based on the X3, is expected to take a similar share of its size bracket. Plus others are taking notice, with Mercedes-Benz close to launching a coupe version of the ML to take on the X6, and Porsche’s Macan is squaring up to the X4 with almost identical pricing.
Most of what’s here will be familiar from the recently facelifted X3, including drivetrains and most of the front end and dashboard, but adopting a roofline closer to the 4 Series Gran Coupe than its nearest relative. There’s no 18d two-wheel drive version at the bottom of the range, and most versions get the Sports or paddle-shift automatic transmissions as standard.
Across the shared SE, xLine and M Sport trim’s shared engines, which comprise 20d, 30d and 35d diesels all with xDrive four-wheel drive, there’s a price walk of around £3,600 to move from X3 to X4. However, it’s worth noting that this includes lower suspension, BMW’s variable steering and traction-boosting Performance Control system, Xenon headlights and a three-piece folding rear bench instead of the X3’s 60/40 setup.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder with a car like this, and the styling is certainly as controversial as the X6. But it’s got real presence on the road, helped by the deep-vented bumpers and large wheels of the popular M Sport trim, and corners with the confidence and grip of a much lower car. Despite the four-wheel drive and the muscular 258bhp offered from the 30d engine, it’ll also return close to its official fuel economy while gliding along the motorway.
Not everything gels, though. The boot floor is huge, but the X3’s square roofline adds 10% more overall volume to the X4’s 500 litres, and the sports suspension makes the raised cabin lurch from left to right on uneven roads, which is not an uncommon side-effect of merging off-roader and performance car. It is, however, a characteristic which Porsche has managed to avoid in the Macan.
Plus BMW’s own model range includes two good reasons to look elsewhere. The X3 is more practical and can be fitted with the same sporty bolt-ons as its sibling, while the 4 Series Gran Coupe is a better car to drive, more fuel efficient and available with four-wheel drive. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the X4, but perhaps it’s trying to do too much?
However, BMW has found a market for this car and is predicting sales of around 5,500 units in the UK per year, with high residuals likely and shorter waiting lists than the Porsche. So instead of showing this was a niche too far, BMW’s sporty SUVs have shown that this is a market that’s entirely worthy of manufacturers’ R&D budgets.
Great to drive, surprisingly fuel efficient and probably as practical as most families will need, there’s a lot to like about the X4. But, arguably, by trying to cover two markets, it’s ended up being brilliant at neither of them.