What is it?
The new BMW X4 - driven for the first time in the UK, and with a diesel engine upfront rather than the petrol lump previously made available to us.
Much about BMW’s latest we already know; this is an X6 clone with its cheeks sucked in to fit the smaller platform currently found beneath the X3. The body swap makes the car slightly longer and a fair bit lower, and sacrifices a modicum of practicality in the good name of SUV sporting pretension.
Almost everything of consequence is carried over from the X3, although its higher status in the lineup means the two-wheel-drive sDrive18d entry-level version gets culled.
Instead, the X4’s are all-wheel-drive as standard and the range kicks off with the xDrive20d SE at £36,595 - a £3600 premium over the equivalent X3, which is consistent across the board.
That four-cylinder car comes with a manual six-speed gearbox as standard, but expect BMW’s eight-speed auto to be a popular option (it’s standard with the 3.0-litre motor).
Trim choice splits the X4 into SE, xLine and M Sport, with the straight-six 255bhp 30d and 308bhp 35d filling out the oil burner-only engine selection. We drove the former, albeit in range-topping format.
Aside from the cosmetic alterations, the X4 gets you a chassis tweak and the toys to go with it - including Performance Control, Variable Sport Steering, and, in the case of our test car, the even firmer M Sport suspension.
To help justify its positioning, the new model gets bigger 18-inch wheels as standard over the X3, as well as the convenience of a 40-20-40 split rear seat. Heated front seats, parking sensors, automatic tailgate and BMW’s Business Media pack are also among the default kit.
What's it like?
As we suspected on our first glance overseas, the X4 is less likely to attract the teeth-gnashing consternation that greeted its big brother.
The X6 had the obnoxious on-road presence of a chromed whale carcass; smaller dimensions (i.e. the ability to fit snugly into a British parking space and the outside lane) make the new car’s still overtly posturing appearance more tolerable.
Inside, the roofline’s coupe-ish swan-dive has a predictable impact. All 5’8” of yours truly fits fine in the back, but even with the ceiling emphatically scooped out, it appears likely that Autocar’s collection of six-footers can, at the very least, expect to have their hairline tickled.
It’s a similar story in the boot, where 50 litres of seat-up capacity - not to mention clearance for especially big, longer items - has been lost. That still leaves a hearty 500-litres of pleasingly high loading, square and flat floor space - but the inevitable practicality demerit stands.
Upfront, of course, the driver wouldn’t recognise any compromise. Headroom here is massively plentiful, and although one wonders how BMW has managed to squeeze a clutch pedal into the cramped, offset area underfoot, the driving position is otherwise satisfying (aided by a 20mm drop in hip point compared to the X3).
Being lower to the road is a prominent X4 theme; a 36mm reduction in height has brought the centre of gravity down, and the retuned chassis is obviously primed to take advantage of that. This it does in now familiar style, spurning the dynamic handicap of being still comparatively tall with the kind of bemusing nimbleness one associates with an NBA point guard.
Changes of direction, always grip-happy and torque-trimmed, are ruthlessly gouged from the road surface - especially in Sport mode, where the dampers disregard pliability entirely for jowl-quivering levels of tautness.
Teamed with the steady fizz of BMW’s straight-six, and the xDrive30d makes for a consummate hot hatch botherer. The unfortunate thing is that it somewhat struggles to be much of anything else.
Despite defaulting on start-up to its softest Comfort setting, the X4 (admittedly in M Sport garb with 19-inch wheels) never truly relaxes on its springs.
There’s a slight irritability about the ride around town; not significant enough to jostle you needlessly - but short of the plush civility one would hope for in an upmarket SUV, and certainly at odds with the low-speed amiability being dispensed by the drivetrain.
Around this central niggle, others orbit. There’s rather a lot of wind noise at motorway speed, and a wee bit too much engine noise below it. Heave it onto the scales, and you’ll discover the X4 still weighs the best part of two tonnes - so expect its claimed 47.9mpg to be difficult to eke out while deploying anything more than a slither of its potential.
Also, some of the switchgear and polished trim plastic used in the taller dash architecture isn’t of the same standard as those used in the 3-Series - unforgivable in a car which starts and then ascends at a much steeper cost rate.
Should I buy one?
It’s conceivable that you might want to, and likely for the same reason people plucked up the courage to buy the X6.
As the conveyor of a sassier image, the sleeker X4 arguably prevails. And if that’s to be the main tent-pole of its appeal, then the single-mindedness of the M Sport’s ride and handling need not be a hinderance - nor even the premium that applies to it.
But we prefer a bit more roundedness to our sporty SUVs, and recent additions to the canon - not least the Porsche Macan S Diesel - have shown the breadth of ability that can be shoehorned into a good-looking body.
Having that presence in the price bracket makes it likely that most X4 buyers will look to shop below £40k, thereby taking advantage of the xDrive20d’s lower running costs. On this evidence, and with the cheaper trim levels feasibly more agreeable to drive, we’re inclined to aim our recommendation in the same direction.
BMW xDrive30d M Sport
Price £46,395 0-62mph 5.8secs Top speed 145mph Economy 47.9mpg CO2 156g/km Kerbweight 1895kg Engine 2993cc, six-cylinder, diesel Power 255bhp at 4000rpm Torque 413lb ft at 1500rpm Gearbox Eight-speed automatic