Oxymoron or not, the performance SUV is here to stay, and I dare say they have gotten pretty good now.
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Both are based of family siblings to help keep development costs down and for this head-to-head, we compare the 2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i to the 2015 Porsche Macan S as these are very closely priced.
2015 BMW X4
Starting with the BMW first, the BMW X4 is positioned as the more athletic brother of the more utilitarian X3. The X4’s roof line is lower and tapers in an X6 manner. BMW calls it a coupe-like roofline. In fact, BMW told us in an interview at the launch of the X4 in Spain that the success of the X6 is what drove the decision to green light X4 production.
When BMW introduced the X6 in 2009, there was nothing like it and the design was very polarizing. People either loved it or hated it. Now there are many coupeish styled sport-utes, so the introduction of the X4 doesn’t seem to have had the same impact or statement the original X6 had. Regardless, at least when optioned with the M Sport Package with its large air intakes, it’s a very good looking, athletic vehicle in BMW’s line up.
The interior of the X4 is gorgeous. When optioned with deviated stitching, it gives the X4 a very upscale look. The thick steering wheel of the X4 is very reminiscent of other BMW M steering wheels and feels great. Paddle shifts, controls for the phone, volume and other functions help you keep your hands on the wheel. The X4 has a lower seating position when compared to the X3 and despite this you still have great vision out of the cabin. Rear seat utility is seriously compromised by the X4’s rapidly tapering, coupe like roof line. I hit my head on the roof and I am only 5’10. The lift gate is powered and when the rear seats are laid down, the back opens to a more useable cargo area, but is limited by the lowered roof line and tailgate.
The mechanical components used in the X4 are identical to the X3. Though the X3 offers a rear wheel drive only option, the X4 comes in all-wheel drive only. For the U.S. market, the 2015 BMW X4 comes with two motors: the 2.0 liter N20 four-cylinder turbo and the 3.0 liter N55 six-cylinder in-line six turbo, both paired to an eight-speed automatic.
BMW calls the N55 a twin-power turbo, but this is misleading as there is only one turbo. Unlike the X3, there are no diesel motors for the U.S. market. Though the X4 appears wider, the overall width and wheel base of the X4 is identical to the X3. The X4 is however, half an inch longer. Under full acceleration, the eight-speed auto shifts rapidly and 60 mph arrives in a respectable 5.2 seconds for the X4 xDrive35i with its 3.0 liter turbo.
The handling department is where the X4 stumbles. Driven up to seven tenths, the X4 with the M Sport package with dynamic handling feels great. Initial turn in is good, grip under acceleration coming out of a corner reveals the typical benefits of all wheel drive. However, anything approaching the limit, reveals a lot of understeer and rapid transitions upset the chassis. When it comes to the brakes, sadly they aren’t typical BMW. In fact, Car and Driver said the X4’s 192 ft braking distance from 70-0 took longer to stop than the last Chevrolet Suburban they tested. I doubt many owners of X4 would drive it this hard to notice though, but it was very disappointing to me because the X4 is pitched as a dynamic car.
2015 PORSCHE MACAN
Introduced mid-year 2014, the Porsche Macan has quickly become Porsche’s best seller and for good reason. The Macan is Porsche’s smallest sport ute and joins their successful Cayenne. The Macan is a “reasonably priced” Porsche that dynamically and visually doesn’t disappoint. The Macan is aimed at those who don’t need the size of the Cayenne or just simply prefer a smaller vehicle that still has SUV genes.
The design of the Macan is almost pumped up wagon on steroids versus pure sport ute in appearance. The front-end of the machine has large air intakes and bears a striking resemblance to the Cayenne; a good thing. The Macan’s aluminum hood wraps down and around the headlights. This gives an interesting appearance with the hood up leaving two gaping holes for the headlights. The Macan has 7.8 inches of ground clearance, but can go up to 9.1 inches with the optional air suspension. Overhangs are short to allow those few who so desire to take their Macan off road.
The interior of the Macan has an immediately recognizable Porsche design with sloping center console. You actually reach up to grab the PDK gear lever. The Macan has a thick multifunction wheel with perfectly placed paddle shifters. This new steering wheel is modeled from the 918 and unlike a paddle shifting 911’s wheel, it has multifunction capability. Porsche is a firm believer in one button, one function, and as such the console is a decorated with a sea of buttons. The Macan’s seats are very comfortable, supportive and have fairly large side bolsters. The folding back seats, though snug have more head room than the X4. However, the overall cargo capacity is similar to the X4.
The basis of the Macan came from a heavily reworked Audi Q5 platform. Porsche states that they retained only about one third of the Q5 components. The rest of the components are Porsche specific. The Porsche Macan has its own unique motors, a 3.0 liter 340hp V6 twin turbo and a 400 hp 3.6 liter V6 twin turbo and utilizes Porsche’s dual clutch tranny PDK. It is only available in all wheel drive.
Driving the Macan is an absolute blast. Stand on it and it just rips through shifts with the PDK. Steering is well weighted and very accurate. You can definitely tell you are driving a sport ute and it does have 4,351 lbs curb weight. Despite this, the Macan handles extremely well and takes rapid weight transition with aplomb. The Macan zips 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and has a top speed of 156 mph.
And the winner?
Though the X4 is a gorgeous car, it’s more of a design statement than a dynamic motoring experience and that disappoints. Underneath it just feels like an X3 with the M Sport pack and that left me wanting for more of an involving driving experience. Excellence Magazine calls the Macan, “the sports car that looks like a compact SUV”; I couldn’t agree more. Though both compact sport-utes could stand to shed some weight. It is the Macan that can manage the weight better. In this comparison, it wasn’t close.
The Macan takes the home the crown.
Unique design, lower seating position, tried and true BMW motors. X4 is more reasonably priced.
Design limits utility. When pushed hard, reveals its X3 underpinnings. More aesthetic than dynamic.
It’s a Porsche in more than just looks. Back seats are more usable than the X4’s. Unbelievable power from the 3.0 litre V6 motor mated to the lighting quick PDK. Handles great even when pushed hard.
Front seating area seems smaller than the X4’s. Por$che options can bloat the sticker. Being now Porsche’s best selling vehicle, it’s not as exclusive as the slow selling X4.