The manufacturer behind the first hot hatch is up for debate. Peugeot? Volkswagen? Depends on where your loyalties lie. Creator of the first luxury crossover? Range Rover has a claim to that stake, but BMW and Mercedes-Benz would also argue they're behind the glut of posh SUVs on offer in 2019, thanks to the first X5 (good car) and ML (not-so-good car).
Things are a bit clearer with the current craze for coupe-styled SUVs. The BMW X6 led the way, followed by the smaller X4.
The X-formula has been refined in the transition from first- to second-generation X4. For starters, the G02 model is a better-looking car than its predecessor (F26 for model-code geeks) – with an angrier face, more defined hips and better resolved rear-end, capped off with a set of 3D tail-lights. The car looks better in person than in pictures, although there are still angles from which it comes across as slab-sided and awkward.
Perhaps the most exciting part of how it looks is what the fresh coupe design language could mean for the upcoming 4 Series. Those lovely details are going to look pretty damn good on a lower, less bulky body.
It might not look basic from the outside, but the 2019 BMW X4 xDrive20i is the cheapest X4 you can buy, with a sticker price of $76,990 before on-road costs. That gets you a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine making 135kW and 290Nm. It's put to all four wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
That doesn't sound like much, especially considering the car's near 1700kg kerb weight, but the base X4 never feels undercooked. BMW is known as a powertrain company, and the 20i belies its small displacement with a smooth, refined character.
Peak torque is on tap from 1350 to 4250rpm, and the eight-speed automatic has such a broad spread of ratios, the engine feels punchier than the figures would suggest. Speaking of figures, a 100km/h sprint time of 8.3 seconds is pretty perky for such a big bus.
Although the engine is well suppressed – it's near silent most of the time – there's a lovely, buttery growl as you get close to redline. Unfortunately, that's also where the engine is weakest. It's not outright terrible, but if you want a proper top-end rush, the 30i or M40i will serve you better.
Then again, my GLC250d-driving, 50-something mother (see mum, told you I wouldn't say how old you are) described the performance as 'nice' on a spin around the block. Sometimes journalists talk too much, it seems.
It might be positioned as a sportier alternative to the X3, but the ride in the X4 20i is far from unbearable, even on tasty 19-inch alloy wheels. Sharper-edged imperfections are noticeable, and tightly packed lumps and bumps can leave it feeling brittle, but it's far from unacceptable.
Smaller wheels would make it more comfortable again, naturally, but the suspension tune didn't fall foul of mum's sensibilities.
The trade-off for a slightly firm ride is a planted, solid feeling on the road. Paired with a variable-rate electric steering rack, the M Sport suspension makes for an SUV that's keen to change direction on a twisty stretch of road, and feels rock solid on long highway runs. Even the chubby M Sport steering wheel, which may put smaller-handed drivers offside, helps with the chunky, tied-down feeling.
Body control is excellent relative to the wider SUV world, lending credence to the BMW marketing spiel about the X4 putting the 'sport' into 'sports utility vehicle', but keen drivers know true driving thrills lie elsewhere.
Of course, 'utility' is arguably more important than 'sport' when it comes to these cars. Once again, the second-generation X4 represents a big step on from its predecessor.
The fact the G03 rides on a 54mm longer wheelbase, with a body 37mm wider, and 81mm longer than its predecessor, helps free up 525L of boot space, up from 500L in the old model. The sloping roofline does eat into rear headroom, but even adults over six-feet tall will be able to sit comfortably without their coifs being quashed by headlining.
Up front it's a case of BMW business as usual. Infotainment is handled by the same iDrive system we've come to know and love. The graphics are still crystal clear, its responses lightning quick, and the general menu structure super intuitive, but it's not the latest the Bavarians have to offer.
That's reserved for the X5, 8 Series and fresh 3 Series at the moment. Because of that, the instruments are easy to read on the move, but lack the 'wow factor' of Audi's infinitely configurable digital display – you can't have a map between the dials on the BMW, for example.
Being a BMW, the driving position is excellent and the ergonomics near perfect. Our tester came with a few choice options, including full 'Vernasca' leather trim ($2500), an electric panoramic sunroof ($3100), the Innovations Package (keyless entry, adaptive headlights, wireless charging, $2300), lumbar support for the front seat passengers ($600), metallic paint ($2000) and 20-inch alloy wheels ($1700).
It was also missing some equipment that probably should be standard. Adaptive cruise control, for one. Despite those omissions, its price is $89,150 before on-road costs. With all the right options boxes ticked, the 'base' X4 quickly becomes expensive.
The more powerful 30i starts at $83,900 before on-roads, and includes adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, M Sport brakes, and the bigger wheels as standard.
That's where the equation for the xDrive20i starts to fall down. If all you want is an X4, and you're happy to go without things like adaptive cruise control and full leather trim, look no further. After all, it still looks good from the outside, and the drive is excellent.
But if you have a taste for the finer things and feel like getting heavy-handed with the options, the more powerful xDrive30i is a better value proposition. Oh, and the equivalent X3 is $10K cheaper, has more space in the boot, and looks (to these eyes) better resolved. I know where my cash would be going.