The new BMW X4 is officially here. It's bigger, better looking and faster than the car it replaces, but is it any good on Australian roads?
SUV, SAV, SAC... There are plenty of labels for the BMW X4. It'd be easy to label it a niche player, a compromised quasi-coupe, quasi-crossover Quasimodo, but even smaller SUV lines are a now big deal, both for BMW and the wider Australian market.
After all, 55 per cent of BMWs sold Down Under wore an X badge last year, and it's likely to be 60 per cent this year. While we're playing the numbers game, every passenger car segment fell last month in VFACTS figures, while all bar one SUV category avoided the same fate – only large SUVs fell.
A total of 5600 X4 sales, along with equivalent cars springing up from all its cross-town rivals, since its 2014 launch in Australia would suggest people have an appetite for the mid-sized coupe-SUV formula, too.
That formula has been thoroughly refined in the transition from first- to second-generation X4. For starters, the G02 model is an altogether more convincing piece of design than its predecessor (F26 for model code geeks) in person.
The range kicks off with the xDrive 20i, powered by a 135kW/290Nm four-cylinder petrol engine and priced from $76,900 before on-road costs. It's followed by the xDrive 20d, with a 140kW/400Nm four-cylinder turbo-diesel and a $79,900 sticker, while the xDrive 30i rounds out the regular range with a 185kW/350Nm four-pot and an $83,900 starting price.
The line-up is topped by the M40i and its 265kW/500Nm 3.0-litre inline-six petrol engine, for which you'll pay $109,900 before on-roads. It's the daddy for now, but an X4M is coming. Given how well the M40i drives (we're getting there) it's a tantalising proposition...
Much like our commenters – one of whom likened it to a "turtle on stilts" on Trent's global launch review – I was expecting to be disappointed by the X4 in person, but it has presence about it up close, with broad hips and a slinky roofline. Even the slim upswept taillights, fast becoming a staple of BMW coupe design, work nicely on what's a big, bulky car.
The fact the G03 rides on a 54mm longer wheelbase, with a body 37mm wider, 81mm longer than its predecessor, and bears a 3mm lower roofline, also helps. Proportions maketh the Sports Activity Coupe, apparently.
The interior will be familiar to anyone who's driven a current-generation X3 – or essentially any modern BMW, for that matter.
With logical controls, comfortable seats and top-notch materials, it's a lovely place to spend time. As with all BMWs, you're able to drop the electrically-adjustable seat down low, and the wheel telescopes right out to the driver's chest. The centre console is tilted toward the driver, too, which means the climate and radio controls fall easily to hand.
A combination of cloth and leather trim is standard on lower grades, but leather seats were one of the many options fitted to our launch quartet.
A floating iDrive display sits atop the dash, offering the same crystal clear graphics, lightning response and intuitive navigation we've come to know and love. The instrument binnacle is easy to read on the fly, but lacks the 'wow factor' of Audi's infinitely configurable digital display – you can't have a map between the dials on the BMW, for example.
Enough about maps and dials, though: how does it drive? Nicely. It drives really nicely.
Along with its coupe looks, BMW has given the X4 a sportier suspension tune and a 30mm wider rear track than the X3, in an attempt to put the 'sports' into sports utility vehicle.
The non-M Performance models err on the side of comfort, with compliant suspension and seriously impressive noise suppression. Even the least powerful petrol engine has a nice snarl about it when you bury the slipper, but the engines in the 20i and 30i otherwise spin away quietly in the background.
You get just a hint of diesel clatter in the 20d, but it's still a smooth, willing companion as well. We'd suggest the 30i is the smart pick when it comes to standard kit, given the as-tested price of the launch 20i/20d pushed beyond $90k thanks to some heavy-handed optioning, but no engine will leave buyers disappointed.
I'm going to quote Trent Nikolic here, because he's summed up the X4's steering better than I could. If you're going to plagiarise, make sure it's from your own managing editor...
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.
That sensation is most prevalent in the M40i, which adds adaptive dampers and an electric rear-differential lock to the base chassis, along with 21-inch alloy wheels and stickier rubber. The steering is also heavier than the non-M cars, especially when you're running in Sport.
It instantly feels more purposeful than the non-M range, from the tantalising rev flare on startup to the firmer suspension, red-and-black seats, and tougher exterior treatment.
If the little things aren't enough, the acceleration should sway you. The 100km/h sprint takes just 4.8 seconds, backed by a hard-edged inline-six noise and the sort of shove in the back previously reserved for full-fat motorsport cars. You even get burbly theatrics on the overrun in Sport Mode. If they don't make the kids smile, the brats weren't worth loving in the first place.
BMW made a big deal of the car's active differential and all-wheel drive combination, highlighting its capability before our drive with a pair of slides dubbed (not really) 'countering understeer and oversteer for dummies'. Essentially, the engine's torque can be split between the front and rear wheels and, when it's shuffled rearwards, sent from wheel to wheel.
If the nose starts pushing, the car can shunt power to the outside rear wheel and help straighten things out. Punch the throttle mid-corner and the X4 just squats, grips and goes with a minimum of fuss. There's a lot of fun to be had in the M40i, whether you're a fan of the move to high-riding crossovers or not.
Just imagine how good the X4M will be when it lobs next year...
The X4, then, looks more resolved than its predecessor, has a much nicer interior, offers a compelling range of base powertrains and, in the case of the M40i, will put a grin on keen drivers' faces.
I'd find it very difficult to justify the extra spend on a similarly-equipped X3 but, if you're the sort of style-conscious buyer keen on a coupe-crossover, you could do a lot worse than checking out the X4.