BMW isn’t afraid of a little controversy. Inbetween killing off its naturally aspirated engines and dreaming up its first front-wheel drive MPV, it’s now shrunk the most divisive car in its line-up, the X6, into all all-new niche.
The BMW X4 ‘SAC’ (Sports Activity Coupe) applies the same template to the X3 SUV as the X6 does to the X5. Although the underpinnings are all familiar from the X3, the X4 is 14mm longer and a massive 36mm lower, which combines with that daringly drooping roofline to give the X4 more rakish, head-turning proportions. In the metal, it’s not a particularly successful combination in our opinion, with the X4 managing to look fussy and a bit dumpy at the same time.
Inside, an unadventurous but undeniably well-finished BMW cabin features front seats mounted 20mm lower than those in an X3, aimed at creating a sportier driving environment. The rear seats are 28mm lower, so that three passengers – at a squeeze – can just about stoop under the lower ceiling. The X4’s driving position has plenty of adjustment and feels immediately familar, but it is a pity that the rest of the cabin architecture doesn’t feature any of the avant-garde cockpit design flourishes that adorn the i3 and i8 plug-in cars.
Aside from a (commendably small) headroom hit and poor visibility, the other sacrifices X4 ownership demands are a £3600 premium over the roomier X3, and a 50-litre reduction in bootspace to 500-litres, with the seats down there’s 200-litres less at 1.400-litres. The cargo bay is not only smaller, but a less convenient shape, due to the steeply raked rear window cutting straight across the boot.
Luckily, you might be prepared to accept several shortfalls in usability once you have a spin behind the wheel of the X4. This isn’t just a slightly kneecapped X3, BMW has reworked the donor X3’s chassis to take advantage of that lower centre of gravity. The result is an engaging, nimble crossover that looks set to give the impressive new Porsche Macan a real run for its money once they both arrive on UK roads.
The X4 has loads of grip and simply stunning traction – thanks in part to the adaptive ‘xDrive’ 4x4 system standard on all UK models – and although the steering is lacking feel and communication, it’s sensibly weighted in its various modes and accurate enough to place this tall, bluff machine with absolute confidence, while making the most agility that’d shame a few unsuspecting hot hatchbacks.
Body roll is remarkably well-checked, and only when you really lean on the optional 20-inch rims of our M Sport test car did the car’s portly 1815kg weight catch up with it, forcing it to understeer. Of more cause for concern are the brakes: they wilted after only a short period of spirited use in our test car and triggered early and confidence-spaping ABS intervention. BMW argues that for better performance, there’ll be the option of upgraded M Performance brakes on the X4’s huge options list.
The only variant available to drive on the car’s launch was the X4 35i xDrive, which uses the petrol-fed turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six from the 435i family, which was unfortunate as only diesel X4s will go on sale in the UK – one 20d four-cylinder and a pair of 30d and 35d six-pots. So as entertaining as the 302bhp surge and cultured growl of the petrol car is, we’ll reserve judgment on the X4’s more fuel-conscious engine choices until we can test a UK-spec car. Likewise, the car’s ride, especially in £3000 M Sport spec, requires reappraisal away from Spain’s putting green-smooth roads.
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