BMW markets its polarising X4 as a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV, to use its parlance), so it stands to reason it needs to have some get up and go. More often than not, such a quality is synonymous with petrol power. But in the luxury crossover SUV market, diesel reigns. And that’s where the newly launched BMW X4 xDrive35d comes in.
This latest member of the GT-on-stilts BMW X4 range gets its most potent powertrain option to date, since there’s no 'M' offering in site. How potent? Try a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six-cylinder with 230kW of power and 630Nm of torque.
These outputs easily outstrip the variant it replaces, the X4 xDrive30d, with its comparatively meagre 190kW and 560Nm. The new 35d is a whole six-tenths faster to 100km/h than the 30d, taking 5.2 seconds.
Given there’s no BMW X3 with this engine, the ‘coupe-like’ X4 derivative is the Bavarian company’s closest contender to Audi’s benchmark.
The comparison between the X3 xDrive35d and Audi SQ5 is not just about drivetrains — the latter’s 3.0-litre diesel makes 235kW and 650Nm and, like the X4, is also matched to en eight-speed automatic gearbox — but also about price.
The BMW X4 xDrive35d costs $89,900 (before on-road costs), a relative bargain next to the less potent (225kW/400Nm) xDrive35i petrol that costs $600 less, though, the superseded xDrive30d was $5700 cheaper. This figure is also $1800 less than the SQ5 and about $30,000 less than the base BMW X6.
On the other hand, it’s only $2000 cheaper than a 190kW/580Nm six-pot diesel Porsche Macan S, which may have less impressive outputs but is almost preternaturally gifted at being a sporty crossover, and wears a badge to die for.
The first thing you’ll have to get your head around with the xDrive35d, or any X4 for that matter, is the design. The 'shrunken X6' follows its bigger sibling’s polarising styling direction, but a global audience approaching 100,000 buyers have clearly become smitten.
With SUVs fast becoming the default vehicle on the roads, the idea of jacked-up sporty derivatives actually makes a world of sense. At the same time, a high-riding car like this can’t fight physics, can it?
Right off the bat, the engine is a monster. The full 630Nm of torque hits at just 1500rpm, propelling the 1800kg (tare) crossover forward as if on the crest of a wave. It feels like you could tow mountains, though, legally you can only haul 2000kg.
This essentially flaw-free oil-burner is even happy to rev, and punches you out of corners with ferocity and immediacy in tandem with the typically slick ZF eight-speed automatic transmission best left to its own devices. Eschew the paddles. Overtaking a road train? Pffft, not a problem.
At the same time, you’ll yield fuel economy figures of around 6.0 litres per 100km if you drive cautiously, and even a heavy right foot won’t be punished overmuch. This is more than 30 per cent better than the six-pot petrol offering.
Throw the X4 xDrive35d at a set of corners, and you realise quickly that its 20cm of extra height over a 3 Series wagon can’t be completely overcome. But for a crossover SUV, it’s fairly sharp.
First of all, the electric-assisted steering with a constantly variable ratio offers less on-centre wooliness than the larger X5 but is still devoid of feedback. Additionally, the standard steering wheel design is uninspiring in the hands.
Body control is naturally not on par with a conventional coupe/sedan, with a little more lateral movement making you think twice before properly throwing it around. It handles like a sporty crossover should, but not to the standard of the stiffer Macan.
Underneath the body is an xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive system that’s generally rear-biased, but offers a fully variable torque split between the axles, activated by sensors.
Fortuitously, our test road received some light rain mid-way through our loop, making it particularly slick and challenging for the whopping 245mm-wide, 45-profile front and 275mm-wide, 40-profile rear Michelin Primacy tyres, and to the car’s resistance to understeer.
Contrarily, we also elicit some controlled but notable shimmying from the rear under throttle on exit — not something you always expect from a sporty AWD car. The car's electronic stability control (ESC) is well calibrated, though.
The xDrive35d comes with BMW’s Driving Experience Control that allows you to adjust the parameters of the drivetrain to suit sportiness or fuel economy, plus its Dynamic Damper Control system that adjusts the ride.
In general, the compliancy is good, helped no doubt by our test car’s smaller (no-cost option) 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 20-inch items. Indeed, the xDrive35d rides and handles like a warmed-up cruiser rather than a proper M-like corner-carver.
Perhaps the main bugbear with all this is that, dynamically, the gulf between the X4 and X3 is negligible, certainly when you consider the reduced practicality. BMW insists the X3 and X4 don’t cannibalise each other, but maybe this dynamic similarity is why there’s no X3 xDrive35d…
For those who care, the X4’s ground clearance is 204mm and its approach and departure angles exceed 20 degrees. You also get hill-descent control.
Naturally, the squashed rear means headroom is compromised compared with an X3, while outward visibility suffers due to the smaller side windows. You sit high, but it’s no roomier than an average sedan.
The boot is also a little smaller, though the hatch opening can hide 500 litres with the rear seats in use and 1400L with them folded flat (50L and 200L less than an X3, respectively). Unlike the original X6, the X4 is a five-seater, with 40:20:40 folding rear seats.
The cabin design is typically austere, with some of the plastics appearing a little low-end and bland. But it’s all well made and typically ergonomic. The xDrive35d gets extras over the xDrive30d such as keyless start, a touchless power tailgate, DAB+ digital radio, a Harman Kardon sound system and internet.
Other features include include cruise control, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera with 360-degree surround view. The M Sport package is also standard, bringing sportier M seats (still quite flat), an M leather steering wheel and upholstery in Nevada leather.
The seats in our test car had heating (a $760 extra), while our tester was also fitted with a sunroof (a $2920 option, that robs a little rear headroom).
All said, standard equipment could be better. For instance, a head-up display (the only way to get a digital speedo) is $2000 after LCT. Active headlights are $320, while a lane change warning (otherwise known as blind-spot monitoring) is $1200. Radar-guided cruise is $3300. We’d push the dealer for discounts.
In familiar BMW style, all maintenance requirements for the X4 are controlled by its Condition Based Servicing (CBS) system. BMW service and maintenance costs can be covered by a single, one-off advance payment at the time of purchase.
So that's the 2016 BMW X4 xDrive35d. Is it any good? If the polarising design is up your alley, then it's the variant to have. But ignore the Audi SQ5 and Porsche Macan S at your peril.