If you were to take a look at the BMW lineup at the end of the 20th century, you probably couldn’t have guessed that the Germans would end up having more than twice the number of models available just 15 years later. And yet, here we stand, with all sorts of niches and new segments that were hard to imagine a few years back.
You might’ve also noticed that the Bavarians seem to stay true to their heritage and DNA, and that they prefer to refine a product over many incarnations rather than coming up with something radically new. This strategy has allowed them to rise to success, with cars like the 3 Series, 5 Series and 7 Series that have a long history behind them and carried the heavy burden of success over decades. It was thanks to them that the premium image, brand and BMW moniker became what it is today – a highly respectable marque around the world.
This proves that innovation and taking bold steps is sometimes the only way forward. And if we were to take a closer look at the Germans’ history books, we’d notice that bringing out new ideas isn’t necessarily something new or atypical.
When the Neue Klasse range was launched, it was absolutely stunning and non-conventional – ahead of its time if you will. It was the same with the 3 Series, which was the first sports sedan of its kind back in the late 1970s. If you’re familiar with the history of the brand, you would see that these indeed rose to incredible new heights in terms of popularity and success. So BMW isn’t doing anything special these days since they’ve been delivering niche models since the early days of its existence.
And the latest niche BMW to join the family in Munich is the new BMW X4.
Just like the Gran Coupe version of the 4er, the X4 is – for the moment – fairly criticized by pundits. Being marketed as a Sports Activity Coupe model doesn’t help either, especially since it is relying on the bad name the BMW X6 received when it was originally launched. However, just like the new F16 model is showing us, there may be hope out there for the X4 too. Even though the original Coupe SUV from BMW was booed early on by ‘old fans of the brand’, it did sell in over 250,000 units over the course of its first production run.
The second generation launched last year is a great improvement and that only goes to show that the age-old recipe of refining a product through the years, is still in play. The X4, on the other hand, is a first but it’s a promising proposition.
Based on the F25 X3, the F26 X4 is, by all possible definitions, a Sports Activity Coupe too, with a sloping roofline and a more complicated rear end than the model it’s based on. Up to the B-Pillar, you’d have a really hard time distinguishing between the two but after that things get a lot easier. The rear doors have a completely different profile up top, to adhere to the sloping roofline therefore offering less headroom for rear-seating passengers.
Viewed from behind, you start to see why it came alive. Its brother isn’t ugly either, the typical BMW ethos in design being applied to it as well but the X4 takes a bold step towards a more chic proposition. It is, if you will, the fashionista choice. The celebrities that already bought it so far seem to confirm it but there’s more essence to this car than you may think. This is also part of a new way of building autos, one that pays more attention to efficiency, as it downright should.
If we’re to ignore the recently launched M Performance version of the X4, the BMW M40i, the xDrive35d we had for testing purposes is the fastest in the range with a sprint to 100 km/h (62 mph) that takes just 5.2 seconds. That’s a measly 0.3 seconds slower than the top of the range version and a whole lot more efficient. Unfortunately, the BMW X4 xDrive35d isn’t available in the US right now. The BMW X4 xDrive35d comes with a 3.0 liter twin-turbo diesel engine that makes no less than 313 HP and 630 Nm (465 lb-ft) of torque, numbers clearly outranking those of the xDrive35i.
Our tester, just like any other X4 you can buy right now, used the old N57 engine that is about to be replaced by the B57 units found in newer models like the 730d we sampled a while back. Even so, the inline 6-cylinder heart of the thing is a thing of finesse, with a silky smooth feel to it that will simply make you fall in love. Forget about the old 2.0 liter four-cylinder diesels, this is completely different. You can also erase from your mind other 3.0 liter V6 diesels from rivaling manufacturers, the inline-6 configuration makes a whole lot of a difference.
Idling is refined – whenever you get to experience it, because the automatic Start/Stop feature will make sure you don’t – and accelerating hard brings out a hum that will make you appreciate the fine engineering that went into it.
This beast doesn’t play around. Even though the SAC tips the scale at 1,860 kg (4,101 lbs), it’s not a slouch. Get the M Sport Package and the 8-speed gearbox with Launch Control will put you back in the seat. It’s not just straight line performance that impresses either. It’s the all-round package. Even though under the sheet metal, the X3 and X4 should be identical, somehow the Coupe feels a bit sharper and more planted than its more utilitarian brother. We were rather impressed with how sure-footed this thing was. The xDrive system sends the power to either corner of the car, depending on the needs of the vehicle and the driving conditions, but when you push it hard, the electronic nannies keep you in check, offering a rather disappointing understeering feeling when you’re at about 6 tenths.
Take things to the limit and everything starts falling into place. Even though this was a diesel, it felt alive and agile all the time. The torque is abundant and BMW claims you get access to all of it from 1,500 RPM which is almost as low as idle. Driving the X4 xDrive35d certainly emphasizes that feeling, as the back-breaking force makes its way from the engine bay to your spine.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to driving in Eco Pro mode which in return will get you 24.7 mpg (9.5 l/100 km) around town which is downright impressive. Cruising on the highway, we saw that figure rise to over 30 mpg (7.7 l/100 km) with an average speed of 75 mph (120 km/h) which is respectable considering the size of the car and the engine.
Take the X4 through a set of tight bends and you’ll notice that it’s as stable as it gets without the M letter stuck on the boot – the true M letter, not the one that comes with the M Sport package, by the way. It will do great in most driving situations, but what’s a bit disappointing is that the rear differential has torque vectoring only thanks to a gimmick that brakes the inside wheel when needed. That’s more and more often used in the industry these days and while it’s decent, it doesn’t come close to the feeling the old xDrive systems had, pushing the rear end outwards and the nose into the corner.
Even so, if you’re looking for more driving thrills, you should go for the M40i model that will surely cater to those needs.
Just as the Bavarians claimed from the get-go, the X4 wants to be nothing more than a smaller, cheaper alternative of the X6, for people that want to make an impression. And that’s just what it is.
Unfortunately, you can see it inside, as the interior is dated, being stuck in 2010, and basically identical with the one used on the X3. The materials used are of the premium selection but the look of the whole cabin shows somewhat outdated. Another downside is the rear visibility being drastically limited, an issue fortunately helped by the inclusion of parking sensors as standard.
What surprised us, in a good way, was the fact that you have plenty of room in the back. If you ever rode inside a BMW E71 X6 you probably know that if you were close to or taller than 6 feet (184 cm) you’d have a hard time traveling in comfort in the back. Well, that’s not an issue inside the X4, the wizards in Munich addressed this inconvenience and headroom is fairly acceptable.
No matter how you look at it – considering the compact size of this SUVish – plenty has been achieved with little at hand. For those looking to make a statement, the BMW X4 xDrive35d is a good compromise between driving dynamics, premium looks and pricing. If there was ever a car out there that appealed to a niche of a niche, this is it. Success will be hard to come by but those that will buy an X4, will surely be madly and absolutely in love with it.
And isn’t that all that matters?