- Published: Monday, 26 May 2014 07:13
BMW are masters of the niche now. Since 2008 they’ve launched nearly 15 new models – which is nearly three new cars a year. Now it’s launched two more new cars at the same time: Both involve the number four and the same number of doors. Or not. We’re talking about the X4, which we review here, and the 4 Series Gran Coupe, and both cars actually have five doors.
Marketing aside, the Niche New Wave (sort of like New Wave, but with reduced door counts instead of big hair and shoulder pads) is a polarizing thing for all of us – particularly to enthusiasts but also to regular car buyers. After all, why would I want to buy something I can’t explain with less than ten words, the job of which other models handle equally well? So the potential for disaster is always there – that’s the niche risk.
Then again, BMW likes to take risks, it’s part of the corporate culture. Sometimes they work – the X6 in the USA is a good example – and sometimes they don’t - the X6 everywhere else is a good example. It's global sales have been a quarter of a million units - not spectacular, but still good considering the non-mainstream nature of the vehicle.
Still, it's taken some time for the shrunken version of the X6, the new X4 to appear on the scene. While Mercedes and Audi have taken 'first car' kudos in other segments, the X4 is still the first four-door coupe styled sport utility vehicle (SUV) on the market.
As mentioned, it has a fastback rear shape - just like the X6, it has a curved roofline which concludes in an elegant rear-end. It looks obviously different from the BMW X3 with which it shares its underpinnings - very little has been changed, mechanically, so it’s almost identical in terms of platform, drivetrain and interior.
Which is the reason the X4 exists, really: take the experience of an X3 and coupe-ify it - make it look nicer and drive a little more keenly. The X4’s more aggressive front end makes the car look like it’s going to eat some road - or bite the car in front - while the fact that it’s not massive like the X6 means it appears, to us, more dynamic and less imposing. As a ‘coupe’, it’s also about five centimetres lower than the X3.
Not that it lacks road presence - being followed by the high-riding X4 clad in striking Melbourne Red is something even lackadaisical drivers will be aware of. Keeping it behind might even be quite difficult, in the case of the xDrive35i model.
The familiar 35i engine config, with ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive propels the car to 100km/h from nothing in only 5.5 seconds, so it’s really quite rapid in real life, while the eight-speed gearbox is superb and almost faultless.
Yet the impression one gets from driving the X4 is not one of outright speed but that of calm and tranquility. Yes, it doesn’t make sense, not in the least because BMW’s X cars have traditionally had quite a busy low-frequency ride quality (that is, juddering over the small stuff), a characteristic which made them impossible to drive comfortably on a gravel road, for instance.
The new X5 puts that shakiness in the past, while the X4 seals the deal. It rides extremely well, possibly even better than a properly-specced 5 Series sedan. The proof is in the fact that we tackled the mountain roads of Spain not in Comfort, or Sport, but the most extreme Sport+ mode.
While the X4 is lower than the X3, it still boasts a high seating position, so it provides good visibility for corner carving, except in situations like left-hand turns (in Europe) where the A-pillar gets a bit cumbersome.
But the solid-ness of the drive overcomes those misgivings, as the X4 feels like it enjoys going along for a rapid ride. In Sport+, with less DSC intervention, the xDrive system will give little twitches when you want to get the power on rapidly out of a tight hairpin, and you can do your own happy little rally driver impressions in great comfort.
Our only other complaint here is that the eight-speed gearbox can feel a little slow on the downshift, which highlights the fact that it’s better in semi-dynamic situations. But this is an observation that the X4’s very-together drive puts into contrast.
The cabin is also noticeably quieter than the X3’s, as the car almost slices through the air with little disturbance, and only well into triple figure speeds will you notice wind noise.
Tapered roof lines and fastback rears are now de rigeur for four-door coupes of all breeds, but in the X4’s case it doesn’t spell for bad headroom for the guys in the back.
You can still fit four in comfort, five with a bit of squeeze, and the boot space is 500-litres, or 50-litres less than an X3’s. Making up for this is the fact that the loading aperture is now even bigger, and you can still fold all the seats down.
The rest of the interior is the same, well-made stuff that the X3 boasts, although BMW will likely offer a little more in terms of upholstery options and choices unique to the X4. The key difference is that there’s now a ‘safety button’ just under the iDrive display, which integrates all the safety nannies into one easier operation. That also means the lock button moves to the most logical position, near the door handle, finally.
So BMW isn’t making history with the X4, even if it is the first four-door-coupe-style-SUV-thingy-thing of its ilk on the market. Its aim is not easily described, but then again, BMW was still able to sell lots of X6s in its time. But if that car had been an X4, we think it would have done even better.
NEED TO KNOW BMW X4 xDrive35i
Engine 2,979cc, 24V, inline 6, turbocharged
Power 306bhp at 5800-6400rpm
Torque 400Nm at 1200-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed 250km/h
0-100km/h 5.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 8.3L/100km