With BMW's new four-cylinder diesel engine under the bonnet the X4 'SAV' may well appeal to those that want an SUV that looks a little more dynamic than the current BMW X3. It fills that brief well with few real compromises, though we don't expect to see many of the range-topping petrol variant on the road in Ireland.
In the Metal:
It must be said that the new BMW X4 looks much better in real life than it does in many of the images you see here. Saying that, it's not what you'd call pretty and the high rear deck in particular detracts from its 'coupé' image, something you only really appreciate in profile. I suspect that the shape is particularly colour and specification sensitive, and the red paint of the test cars does it no favours, especially as the same hue covers most of the exterior plastic too as part of the M Sport M Aerodynamics package. Play with an online configurator to see if things can be improved. For reference, the X4 is 14mm longer than the BMW X3 and a considerable 36mm lower.
That lower roof is hardly noticed inside, partly because the seats have been mounted lower - 20mm in front and 28mm in the back. This reduces the impact on headroom, though also brings the driver closer to the road. It also has the effect of lowering the centre of gravity. The rear seat accommodates three and legroom is fine for the outer two occupants. The seat back splits 40:20:40 and folds flat and the boot is a decent size at 500 litres (the X3 holds 550 litres). That space is accessed via a standard automatic opening/closing tailgate. Back in the cabin, the X4 benefits from the recently updated X3 interior, with new switchgear and plenty of trim material and colour options. It's a classy cockpit and it certainly feels like a premium product, if not quite as special as a Range Rover Evoque fitted with a few choice options.
This rating is based solely on the variant of the BMW X4 we drove, as it's likely to be considerably different to the majority of X4s sold in this country. Few will splash out on the xDrive35i model with its M Sport package of updates - plus the test cars all featured optional adaptive damping, which allows the driver to tweak the suspension settings on the move to suit. At least the Performance Control switch is standard. As is xDrive four-wheel drive. Even when dealing with the 306hp and 400Nm outputs of the turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine traction is faultless in the dry. We turned off the traction control and it made zero difference. The X4 just grips and goes.
That's great from a safety point of view, and of course it makes the car an efficient coverer of ground too, but it detracts from the driving experience as far as enthusiasts are concerned. Even in xDrive35i guise it's not a car they'd take for a drive for the sake of it. The inert chassis is part of the issue, but the steering completely lacks feel too, meaning it's guesswork at how much grip the front tyres have. In fairness, it's usually 'a lot', but still. How well-judged the damping is remains a mystery for now - until we try a car equipped without the adaptive system on more representative roads.
Nonetheless there is still a lot to like. The X4 has well contained body roll, the brakes are formidable and the eight-speed automatic gearbox (standard with this engine) is a true gem, allowing relaxed cruising on the motorway, easy negotiation of stop-start traffic, yet faster shifts and some driver engagement when required. Notably, the driver can choose to take full control, meaning the gearbox won't automatically change up when the rev limiter is hit.
What you get for your Money:
At the time of writing, BMW Ireland has not disclosed specifications or even the X4 line-up that will go on sale here. It's highly likely that only the diesel versions will be on the official price list, whereas other markets can choose xDrive20i, xDrive28i and xDrive35i variants. For now at least, it's said that all X4s will come with four-wheel drive and an automatic tailgate. Diesel versions should be badged xDrive20d (see below for more information of the likely best-seller), xDrive30d and xDrive35d. Expect SE, xLine and M Sport specifications to be offered when the X4 hits dealers this July.
The X4 will be the first vehicle to benefit from BMW's all-new 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, badged the xDrive20d. Though it comes with only a modest increase in power (up from 184- to 190hp), torque is usefully increased from 380- to 400Nm. It's fitted as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox and BMW claims considerable improvements in NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness). It's no slouch either, getting the X4 to 100km/h from rest in 8.0 seconds. However, while the old unit was hardly inefficient, BMW's target was even lower emissions and fuel consumption. The X4 xDrive20d emits 143g/km and uses 5.4 litres/100km (52.3mpg) as standard. These figures improve to 138g/km and 5.2 litres/100km (54.3mpg) if the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox is fitted, and the international press pack makes mention of a low rolling resistance tyre option (on 17-inch 'Streamline' alloys), which reduces emissions to either 136- or 131g/km depending on transmission. It's not clear yet if that'll be made available in Ireland.
Our relatively low overall star rating for the new BMW X4 should be viewed as a temporary result, as the top-of-the range variant tested is not considered to be representative of a typical Irish model. Saying that, there are no major surprises in the new car; it is certainly a sportier looking and driving alternative to the BMW X3. Powered by a diesel engine it could well convince buyers to be a little different - and there are few compromises to make for that.