If you think the 2019 BMW X4 might only be a niche player for the brand in Australia, consider this: In 2016, for the first time, X models outsold passenger cars in Australia. In 2017, that percentage nudged higher again, and YTD for 2018, it’s once again tracking to go higher, sitting at 58 per cent at the time of writing.
So, as part of the broader X family, the X4 is a vital part of the equation. It’s a conquest vehicle too, according to local BMW representatives – that is, it brings people to the brand rather than simply retaining existing BMW owners. SUVs just keep becoming more and more of a big deal, even for luxury carmakers like BMW.
CarAdvice is in Greenville, South Carolina, not far from the Spartanburg production facility that is, in fact, the largest BMW plant anywhere in the world. The X4 is built here, and as such, the region is something of a showcase for the coupe-styled SUV. Where better to test an SUV than in the very heartland of the country that created the genre? Still, the X4 looks pretty damn small on American roads, where our large SUVs disappear into the sea of full-size pick-ups and upper-large SUVs.
You can see our local model range information here, and read about the key changes for the 2019 BMW X4 here, but pricing won’t be released until closer to launch in the third quarter. According to BMW Australia Public Relations Manager Adam Davis, we should, “expect it to range from $75,000 to $110,000”.
We can confirm that the following models will be available in Australia from launch as well: 20i, 20d, 30i, M40i – all in xDrive specification. The M Sport Package will be standard fitment across the range and Australia won’t get the base xLine model variant.
There are some hints there as to the kind of buyer that the X4 attracts. More than 80 per cent, for example, fitted the M Sport Package to the current generation, making it worthy of standard inclusion for this new X4 when it goes on sale. You’ll notice there’s only one diesel engine on that list as well, illustrating the reality that efficient petrol engines are attracting buyers in this segment more than they used to.
It also makes sense that BMW would position the X4 as a premium entrant in the segment, meaning it will be stacked with as many standard features as possible – as opposed to the X3, which remains the less style-conscious, more functional purchase.
First up then is styling – and at the risk of repeating myself, this is very much a style-driven segment. On paper, the whole SUV/coupe thing doesn’t really make any sense. Why wouldn’t you just buy an X3? But forget whether it makes sense to someone like me – BMW created the segment and other manufacturers saw the benefit to the tune of jumping on board as quickly as they could. With the X4 and X6, BMW has two contenders that are as strong as any.
Take out the elegance of the heavily sloping roofline, and the X4 actually looks pretty tough. Its chunky rear quarters, fat rubber – on M Sport models – and hunkered-down appearance almost look tougher than they do pretty. It works though. Either stationary or on the move, the X4 is a good-looking thing. Our test models roll on staggered 21-inch rims – wide Bridgestone Alenza tyres measuring in at 245/40R21 up front and 275/35R21 at the rear.
The cabin is, as we’ve come to expect from BMW, an execution of premium quality. The seats are excellent, comfortable even when you’ve been at the wheel for a few hours. Visibility is excellent, and there’s plenty of adjustment in the electric seats to get exactly where you want to be when you’re driving. I like the way the driver is presented with the controls too, and all the major functions are within easy reach.
BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is as excellent and easy to use as always, with clear displays, quality mapping, and genuinely simple controls. I loved the inductive charging system, which didn’t seem to generate as much heat on the handset as some have in testing. The head-up display is excellent, and visible at all times unless you’re wearing polarised sunglasses.
We conducted a short test of the Bluetooth phone connection and it’s excellent, as is the direct smartphone link via Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The satellite navigation is really easy to follow too, with clear mapping, and fast instructions and rerouting if you do divert offcourse.
Whenever we test a new BMW, everybody wants to chew our ear off about the steering – even though no-one can really describe steering ‘feel’ and you certainly can’t measure it – so let’s start there. In short, it’s excellent. For an SUV, the sharpness and precision of directional change feels a hell of a lot more like a sports car. It’s got that lovely heft at speed, and is light at low speeds – near on perfect.The X4 really does just go where you point it.
Next up, there’s the ride quality. Granted, even America’s country byways make our urban road network look even worse than it is, but the X4, when challenged with bumpier roads, soaks them up easily. The suspension isn’t too harsh in sport mode either, but in comfort it’s right where you’d want it to be.
Switch into sport mode, though, and the handling really comes to the fore. The X4 hooks into fast corners hard, and doesn’t divert from the line you’ve chosen unless you deliberately do something stupid. There’s precious little body roll, and hardly any noise of protest from the tyres either, even right at the limit. It inspires confidence, that's for sure.
What’s most interesting when you switch into sport mode and get stuck in is how RWD-biased the X4 feels. The variable dampers, electronic rear diff lock, and fully variable xDrive all-wheel-drive system all come to the fore, as does the M Sport differential lock on the rear axle. You can also notice the 30mm increased track width and wider rubber too. In fact, on the racetrack drive we tackled, you can really feel the rear end working at the outer limits. The X4 doesn’t understeer the way you’d expect an AWD SUV to, that’s for sure.
The engineers we spoke to at launch were particularly keen to hear our feedback on this aspect of the X4 drive experience, which goes some of the way to explaining what the X4 is all about. They are obviously in the business of pushing the boundaries of what an SUV can do in a handling sense, and to a man/woman, they all wanted it to feel like it had some RWD characteristics. They refer to it as ‘more agile driving behaviour’ than the X3, and if you judge the X4 on its looks, that’s how buyers might want to drive it too.
The most important aspect of driving the new X4 – for me anyway – is that it feels like a premium experience. That’s exactly what a BMW should deliver, and it’s always what the intended buyer will want. There’s also no doubt that it’s a better, more evolved SUV than the model it replaces, even if the gains aren’t monumental.
BMW has had a few competitors try to steal its lunch in the SUV/coupe segment, and it won’t go down without a fight. I’d still buy the X3, but if you’re looking for a vehicle of this style, the BMW X4 remains the go-to option.