Inigo S. Roces / Inigo S. Roces | October 06, 2017 15:29
Sports car in disguise
The chief arguments for purchasing an SUV over a car are typically its high ground clearance, comfort over rough roads, and more space. For the poor souls that clicked on this link expecting to find those, I’m sorry to report that the X4 has none of them. For those that are still here, then clearly, you’re not SUV guys, nor are you a fan of any of the qualities of traditional SUVs.
Those familiar with BMW’s strange need to fill in every conceivable niche might already know that the X4 is basically a smaller X6, and with a more agreeable price tag. That said, it was never meant to go off-road... well maybe a little, but more of the rougher parts of the near capacity grassy parking lot. It’s made for those that want the sporty feel but still need to cope with the occasional (ankle deep) floods, humps, bad roads, and dubious parking with little worry.
As the name indicates, the X4 derives its platform from the 4-series family (which was derived from the 3- series family), serving as the basis of BMW’s coupes and coupe-like vehicles. In short, this is a 420d Gran Coupe on stilts.
Bearing ‘X’ on its badge, it has all the X family hallmarks like the large kidney grilles, high mounted fog lamps, and ridiculously large lower valence that is somewhat reminiscent of the E46. To keep the coupe look, there are no black rocker panels along the wheel wells, but it does have that fastback roofline. Behind, the rear glass and trunk combine to form a massive liftgate. Black paneling on the bumper occupies what should have been vents and rear diffusers. Odd how it’s only here that BMW held back on the X6 downscaling. It rides on 19 inch wheels on 275 40 series tires, but tell your wife it’s for better off-road grip.
For those that are still trying to justify it’s an SUV, the inside betrays its lack of off-road ability even more. No inclinometer here, just a standard 4-series interior. The white leather seats and door cards are gorgeous, but we all know how those will look after you actually take the car on a muddy trail. The seats are designed for sporty driving with great bolster support and can even adjust for knee length. Ahead of the driver is the sculpted steering wheel hiding paddle shifters behind. Behind it is the instrument cluster with large legible dials and a colored multi-info display. This display can show all the typical trip details or even show navigation directions.
Over in the center is the wide entertainment screen display. It can be controlled with the buttons on the wheel or the latest generation of iDrive between the seats. New for this model is the addition of the touchpad on top of the dial, serving as a mouse cursor when browsing the map or options. The system provides a great deal of customization, able to serve as a single wide screen for navigation or entertainment or show you multiple readouts in split screen mode. Shift into reverse and it will show the vehicles 360 degree cameras, the view behind or even in front.
Over in the back is a bench that can fit three in a squeeze. It can surprisingly fit six footers, at the cost of some rear view visibility. Flip down the center armrest and it shows cupholders. Rear passengers get their own air conditioning vents and power outlet.
In the trunk, whatever space it lacks in height, it makes up for in depth. The back opens up to reveal a flat cargo floor with rails and movable hooks built in to tie down bags. The rear bench can fold in a 40/20/40 style to provide more space. Once loaded, simply close the liftgate with the power close button. No spare tire underneath as the vehicle is already fitted with runflats and a tire pressure monitor.
Moving all of this along is a TwinPower 2.0-liter turbo diesel. That’s two turbos churning out 163-PS and Fortuner-murdering 400-Nm of torque. It’s paired to an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters that drives all four wheels. Making this frugal engine even more efficient is the addition of efficient dynamics features like the EcoPro driving mode and a stop/start system.
The result is a truly luxurious drive. Outside, the diesel engine has quite a bit of clatter, yet inside, the insulation thankfully shields it out. There’s no vibration, and the engine response is quick, often fooling you into thinking this is powered by petrol. Even putting it into gear is a delight as it is shift by wire, eliminating that annoying clunk of traditional automatics.
Come nightfall or inclement weather, the X4 has even more tricks with automatic headlight and wiper activations, lights on its door handles and the floor beneath them, as well as headlamps that point into a corner. Even the cameras all around the car adjust for contrast, giving you a clear view in darkness.
The driver has four driving modes to choose from: EcoPro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Naturally, EcoPro is the most invasive, returning few revs and late response with every step of the peddle with the added annoyance of the stop/start system. It’s recharged by the brakes and by the engine to some degree to keep the air conditioning and systems running even when the car is off. It can thankfully be turned off. Comfort returns the most well… comfortable drive. This results in high economy readings of 9-10 km/L in the city in heavy traffic and up to 16 km/L in the highway. Finally, the ride on the normal modes is typical BMW taut and on the stiff side.
Sport and Sport+ allow you to truly indulge in aggressive driving. This calls to fore quicker response from the engine, higher shift points in the transmission, and stiffens up the suspension and steering feel to some degree. After all, it’s in this aspect where the X4 truly rewards.
The difference is evident, instantly transforming what was a tame seda… err… SUV this morning into a more exciting sport coupe. In spite of its higher clearance, it steel behaves very much like a coupe. It can be thrown into corners, powered out on the exit, and it’s all made to seem effortless thanks to the active steering that reduces the input and angle required at speed. There’s just some mild understeer at corner entry, compensated by some helpful oversteer as you power on and exit a sweeping corner. The 8-speed auto makes it easy to find the right gear for the corner and staying within the power band, with its quick shifting. The only disappointment is the short ratios of the 8-speed automatic, necessitating more frequent shifts if you’re flooring it.
To call the BMW X4 an SUV would be like calling an Audi S6 Avant a practical station wagon. Neither are, and that’s the point. They were meant to shatter any notions of what an SUV or station wagon should be and introduce you to what they could be.
The X4 was never meant to appeal to everyone — just those few well-heeled individuals that want a sports car but have to carry two more passengers or traverse bad roads from time to time. It ticks all the practicality boxes (four doors, relatively high clearance, diesel engine, compact size) just for the sake of it, but it will really behave like the sports car you’ve wanted all along.