BMW's coupe-style version of the X3 follows the pros and cons of the bigger X6 by being less practical but also sportier than the car on which it's based.
It’s not difficult to figure out why the BMW X4 has become the latest of what the Munich brand dubs a Sport Activity Coupe.
BMW’s first SAC – the X6 – caused a bit of a stir when it launched in 2008, as a swoopy-roofed, more expensive but less practical version of the X5 on which it was based.
But a quarter of a million sales later make the BMW X4 an inevitable spin-off from the mid-sized X3.
As with its more sizeable sibling, the X4 is also a less practical version of the vehicle on which it’s based. The 500-litre boot loses 50L to the X3, and up to 200L in total cargo volume (1400 v 1600L).
Unlike the original X6, however, the X4 does come with three rather than two rear seats.
The BMW X4 is also designed to appeal to the more emotional than rationale side of buyers.
Its body is 14mm longer than the X3’s but the key dimension is the roofline that is 36mm lower.
Occupants are also seated lower in the cabin – by 20mm up front and by 28mm in the rear – to create that sportier ambience.
Our first try of the X4, at its international launch in northern Spain, was limited to the xDrive35i – though the fastest model that will be available in Australia is arguably a good starting point for this sportier version of the X3 (we won’t get the 35d that is the quickest X4 until a likely X4 M version).
The X3 in Australia misses out on this cracking 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo engine.
It’s blessed with a wealth of torque – 400Nm across a 1200-5000rpm band – for ridiculously effortless progress, and it’s also an engine that delights when you sink the throttle pedal to see revs head towards 7000rpm and hear a hard-charging snarl.
The 100km/h mark is clocked from standstill in 5.5 seconds, though that’s three-tenths slower than the 35d that will only make it to the other side of the Tasman.
Performance comes at a fuel cost, though. The BMW X4 xDrive35i is the thirstiest of four models that will form the local line-up, with an official combined figure of 8.3 litres per 100km.
Expect to add 50 per cent to that in the real world if you drive it like it has been designed – as a sportier X3. However, a four-mode vehicle settings system includes Eco Pro that can help eke out more kays from the fuel tank by adjusting the engine/transmission mapping and climate control. There’s also a coasting function that can idle the engine on downhill sections.
In addition to its reduced height, the X4’s centre of gravity is lower to help reduce body roll, the body is seven per cent stiffer, and the coupe-style SUV also gains torque vectoring (Performance Control) and sportier steering as standard.
We should be accustomed to fine-handling BMW SUVs by now – first with the X5 of 1999 and then the X6 that took things to another level. Yet the X4’s ability to deftly negotiate a challenging series of mountain roads on the international launch in Spain’s Basque region was no less of an eyebrow-raising experience.
Excellent tyre grip and traction were allowed to prove themselves further with saturated roads, though mid-corner stability and speed is raised to another level with the Performance Control system that brakes the inside rear wheel so the balance of torque going to the back wheels is skewed to the outside.
The X6 takes a more advanced route with an actual rear diff than can send more torque to the outer rear wheel, though the result in the X4 is similar: the vehicle is pushed around the corner rather than pushing wide.
X4s also come with a slightly stiffer suspension set-up, and there’s a firmness to the ride – more noticeable in the rear seat – even in the Comfort mode of the 35i’s standard adaptive suspension.
Sport can get busy on rougher roads and is best left to smoother bitumen.
Our test xDrive35i rode on 19-inch wheels (with wider rear rubber); in Australia the model will wear 20-inch M alloy wheels as standard. Final ride judgement will have to be reserved for testing on local roads.
The lowered seating position is probably the most notable difference to sitting in an X4 over the X3. The neatly but conservatively designed dash architecture and nicely integrated, iDrive-controlled 8.8-inch colour screen are identical.
Quality is mostly high, with just a few sections of hard plastic that feel out of place in a luxury model.
The seating position doesn’t feel perfect in the front, and rear vision is limited by the narrow rear window (as in the X6), though the rear seats offer less under-thigh support to leave adults in a slightly knees-up position (with clearance, though) while toe space is a touch tight and the middle position could only genuinely count as a seat for kids only.
That lowered rear seat creates headroom for six-footers.
The rear seatbacks fold in a 40:20:40 configuration as standard compared to the 60:40 arrangement in the X3. The X4’s inclusive auto tailgate is a handy feature – and buyers can pay extra to open the boot with a little kick under the rear bumper – though it’s easy to see where the X4 loses boot space with that drooping roofline cutting off cargo volume. (Its 500L figure matches the Macan’s boot, though.)
You could still get a couple of decent-sized suitcases in there, though.
It’s not uncommon to pay more for less in the premium segment, of course, and the BMW X4 costs between $9000 and $10,500 over the equivalent X3.
That may not look enticing on paper, though BMW says the X4’s extra features over the donor car are worth about $9000.
You can read our BMW X4 Pricing and Specifications guide to see more details on the equipment breakdown for the range.
That doesn’t compensate for compromises on practicality in reference to the reduced boot capacity and the rear seat that’s not a genuine bench for three adults.
BMW says X4 buyers are willing to accept these trade-offs for a sportier SUV, though they also need to find appeal in the exterior design that looks awkwardly shaped from some angles and could divide opinion more than the X6 that seemed better proportioned despite its bulk.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the BMW X4 is while it wouldn’t be embarrassed on a twisty road against the new Porsche Macan, you can get the twin-turbo six-cylinder petrol version of the baby Cayenne for $700 less than this 35i model.