Nowhere is the split personality of the X4 more obvious than in the way it looks. Unashamedly bold and aggressive, it combines the raised ride height of a typical SUV with the profile of a coupe. A little longer and lower than the X3 it’s based on, the X4 has a slightly sportier stance, and that sporty feel is reinforced by the huge air intakes at either side of the bumper, the sharp lines on the apron and the foglights below the headlights. Every model in the range comes with alloy wheels, a chrome grille and xenon headlights, while xLine adds chrome trim on the tailpipe, aluminium-effect slats on the grille and metallic paint on the 30d. At the top of the range, M Sport models have larger alloy wheels and a unique bodykit. More than anything, the X4 is proof that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and rivals like the Range Rover Evoque and Porsche Macan may well be more appealing to some eyes.
Compared to the exterior, the cabin is far more conventional. Indeed, from the X4 driver’s seat, the view is pretty much standard-issue BMW; but, unless you were dead set on something more in keeping with the brash body, that’s no bad thing. Everything is well built from high-quality materials, and all the major functions are controlled using BMW’s excellent iDrive system. Likewise, there are no major complaints about the driving position, with enough adjustment on the seat and wheel for pretty much anyone to get comfortable. Our only bugbear is that the view through the rear window and, in particular, over the driver’s shoulder is very restricted by the coupe-like roofline.
Given the coupe-like profile, it’ll come as no surprise that the X4 is less practical than the X3 and some other rivals. But don’t think that the car is hopelessly impractical. In fact, as the seats are lower than in the X3 – in keeping with the X4’s more sporting brief – there’s plenty of head- and legroom in the front, and it’s not too bad in the back, as long as you don’t try and squeeze in anyone much over six feet tall. That said, BMW’s claim that the X4 is a full five-seater is very optimistic, as the central seat is very narrow, and it’s in the boot that you most notice the effects of the coupe-like styling: the low roof severely limits the height of the luggage you can carry in the boot.
Ride and handling
The X4 has been set up to give a more sporty (well, in BMW-speak, ‘dynamic’) drive than the X3 it’s based on, and it certainly does that. Particularly when you engage Sport mode, it turns into corners sharply and, because it has a lower centre of gravity than the X3, there’s not too much body roll when you take corners ‘enthusiastically’. That said, you never forget how large and how heavy a car it is, so it doesn’t feel as agile or as light on its feet as the Porsche Macan. On the other hand, the X4 is very sure-footed and much helped by BMW’s permanent four-wheel drive system, which constantly adjusts the drive between the wheels to ensure that all the engines’ power is effectively put down on the road. That means that, in any conditions, you can confidently put your foot down as you pull away from a corner.
It may be a surprise to see a supposedly sporty car coming only with diesel engines, but there’s no complaint about the performance they offer – especially when even the least powerful unit has the best part of 200bhp. What’s more, they respond very keenly, because all three units develop their peak pulling power at less than 2,000rpm. To make the most of the car’s abilities, it’s worth stretching to the 30d, which combines easy, but strong, performance with a relaxed, easy-going nature when you’re not pushing on.
One of the possible barriers to X4 ownership is that each model in the range costs considerably more than the equivalent X3 – which is a cracking car in its own right. On the other hand, the X4’s prices compare well to rivals such as the Macan, and its fuel economy – averaging as much as 54.3mpg on the 20d – is excellent. We also expect the X4 to follow the X3 in having strong residual values, which will keep whole-life costs down, while you can also pay a one-off fee to cover all your servicing and maintenance costs for five years/50,000 miles.
The X4 is based on proven technology, so we would expect it to prove very reliable. Certainly, owners of the X3 on this site give their cars a generally – if not exclusively – positive rating for reliability.
The X4 hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP, but the X3 scored a maximum five stars when it was tested back in 2011. Standard equipment includes six airbags, stability control and a tyre pressure-monitoring system, but you’ll need to venture to the options’ list to add the Lane Change Warning System and Adaptive LED Headlights
There are three trim levels to choose from, but not every trim comes with every engine. Basic SE trim, for instance, is unique to the 20d engine, while the 35d engine comes only with the top M Sport trim. Standard equipment on every model includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, DAB radio, sat-nav, leather upholstery, an electrically operated tailgate and xenon headlights. Step up to xLine trim and you add sports front seats and (with the 30d) Drive Performance Control, metallic paint and a Sport automatic transmission. Beyond that, the top M Sport trim adds sport suspension, while among the choice options are a Surround-View system, a Head-up display and Variable Damper Control
As with any niche car, it’s quite difficult to argue a rational case for the X4 over the X3, especially when BMW is effectively asking you pay more to sacrifice some practicality for a sportier drive, sharper looks and – the company says – about £2,000-worth of extra equipment. But, that’s not the point, as the X4 isn’t about rational choice; the point is that it offers buyers something a little bit different to the regular SUV formula, something that could be seen as more stylish and more exclusive.