BMW follows up the third-generation X3 premium mid-sized SUV with its coupe sibling, the X4. Sharing much in the way of mechanicals and front-end styling with the X3, but sporting totally different treatment aft of the A-pillars, is the X4 Mk2 the best of the coupe-SUV breed?
In the Metal:
This second take on the BMW X4 SUV, coming just four years after the original spawned from the second-gen X3, was utterly inevitable. Despite the fact that everyone bar Mercedes has singularly failed to copy the coupe-SUV pattern, it won't put BMW off from continuing with production of more of the things; after all, the German company shifted more than 200,000 examples of the X4 Mk1 alone in a little less than four years on sale.
More than enough reason, then, to take the all-new X3 and give it a more rakish roof, resulting in the car you see here. And... we actually like the way it looks. No, seriously. OK, we're not about to call the X4 beautiful, but the sleeker rear-end styling - with slim light clusters and a dropped number plate - really works and it's not as hulking, ugly and contentious as its bigger X6 brother. True, the M40d gets such accoutrements as gorgeous 20-inch wheels, a tasteful body kit and that lustrous Flamenco Red metallic paint (other colours are available) to make it look its best, but we genuinely believe the X4 is a very good-looking machine in terms of SUVs in general, never mind the coupe-SUV micro-niche in which it operates.
Good news inside, where all practicality isn't sacrificed on the altar of swoopy showroom appeal. Yes, there's less boot space here than in an X3 (which holds 550-1,600 litres of cargo ultimately, compared to 525-1,430 litres for the X4) and less headroom in the back for the taller passenger, but to suggest the rear, three-seat bench is unusable by adults would be disingenuous. The X4 has stretched in all dimensions bar height for its second generation and that means there's 54mm of extra metal in the wheelbase, resulting in 27mm of additional legroom for back-seat occupants - enough for six-footers to get themselves comfy. The rear seatbacks split 40:20:40 and the boot has an automatic tailgate as standard too, so the X4 is a long, long way from being devoid of practical appeal.
The cabin is also a lovely place to spend time. A great, semi-command driving position is the result of the X4 sitting lower than its BMW X3 sibling, while the dashboard is the usual array of top-quality switchgear, fascia materials and spot-on ergonomics. The X4 uses the 10.25-inch iDrive 6 infotainment system, which of course is about to be surpassed by the 12.3-inch iDrive 7 of the forthcoming X5, 8 Series and X7 models, but that knowledge doesn't make the X4's crisp and marvellous displays any the less appealing. It's a superb interior, although the M40d M Performance model does have a comically thick steering-wheel rim, which won't please everyone.
Possibly a harsh overall mark, given what we're about to say, but as coupe-SUVs go (and, again, just SUVs in general, no matter their body shape), the X4 has a corking chassis. A 1.6-metre-tall, 1.9-tonne, all-wheel-drive machine is never going to give you the purest experience behind the wheel, but if you can set your expectations according to the parameters of the BMW's design brief, then you're bound to find it a dynamic delight.
BMW has done quite a lot to the existing X3 hardware and altered things compared to the old X4, to make this new coupe-SUV drive better than ever. It uses the X3's M Sport suspension across the board, but with the hardware tweaked (including adaptive dampers, where specified) to compensate for the X4's lower ride height. The electrically assisted steering has also been recalibrated to suit the SUV's sporty nature, while the rear track is 30mm wider across the beam than the old X4. On the M Performance models like the M40d, M Sport brakes and an M Sport locking rear differential are added to the mix, while the general xDrive system on all models has been updated to be more rear-biased than before. The X4 is also more aerodynamic than the upright X3.
And it all works rather well. With accurate, consistent steering, impeccable body control and a genuine feeling of rear adjustability (you need to turn off the electronic traction aids to make the rear differential work fully), the X4 is fantastic fun to hustle - and rewarding to boot. It feels sharper and more limber than the X3, itself no slouch in the corners, and with a punch of throttle at the right time in Sport+ mode, you can get the BMW to transition into the mildest, most smooth of oversteer. For an SUV, that's a very neat trick.
But you need to provoke it to lose grip on most surfaces, because ordinarily it has an absolutely immense level of mechanical adhesion, in order to allow it to make the most of that lovely straight-six, biturbo diesel drivetrain. With the faultless eight-speed ZF gearbox managing the grunt, the X4 M40d is startlingly quick between standstill and 160km/h, and it feels strong enough to keep pulling keenly from there (provided you're on a track or unlimited autobahn, obviously). There's a nice noise to the engine too, although it is needlessly augmented in Sport/Sport+ modes; a big-hearted six like this, even a diesel, can normally make all the right sounds on its own, without synthetic overlay to bolster it.
Brilliantly, the X4 fulfils the SUV half of its genetic make-up every bit as well as the X3 - better, even, maybe, because the slippery exterior shape means it's even quieter at a cruise, although poor road surfaces soon introduce a marginally elevated level of chatter from the 20-inch tyres. Nevertheless, with the silky-smooth powertrain, a nicely controlled ride and a cabin that is acoustically damped to the highest degree, the X4 M40d feels genuinely luxurious and accommodating if all you're doing is pootling around in it.
The BMW is not without further issues, mind. The ride is very good, but the X4 will occasionally remind you that you're on 20-inch wheels from time to time with a firm edge to the way it deals with washboard surfaces. The steering is just stupidly heavy in Sport and Sport+ modes; almost unpleasantly so, which is a pity. Still, play with the configurations in Individual mode and you can at least have Comfort steering with Sport+ settings for throttle response, engine/gearbox and dampers. And the rear view out of the letterbox back screen is comical, although that's not a flaw that's specific to the M40d variant; all second-gen X4s will be like this.
What you get for your Money:
Although there are five launch engines for the X4 and another two already confirmed for the third quarter of this year, BMW Ireland at the moment is only listing the xDrive20d and the M40d we tested for sale. The former of these has a three-step specification ladder, running Sport, M Sport and then M Sport X. All X4s will get at least a full suite of connectivity equipment, including Professional Nav, climate control, heated front seats, M Sport suspension and the Parking Assistant, among more.
The M40d gets its own, comprehensive equipment list, but what holds the X4 back from a higher mark here is that, as ever, you have to pay more for 'less' SUV - model for model, the X4 is more than €6,000 dearer than the equivalent X3. And the M40d is beyond €91,000 without any options fitted whatsoever.
The BMW X4 M40d's problem is not that it's a sub-standard, deeply compromised car. Far from it, in fact. It balances a lively chassis and truly monster performance with all the refinement, comfort and top-end equipment you'd expect of a premium-branded machine that's knocking on the door of €100,000. It genuinely does look good inside and out, the latter being the surprise, and it's one of the most likeable SUVs we've tried in a while that still retains a good degree of its high-riding practicality.
However, there are people out there who firmly believe that coupes and SUVs ought to be mutually exclusive ideals, and they will therefore afford the X4 nothing but a particular type of contempt and hatred that might be hard to stomach if you fancy one of these talented BMWs. Because, make no bones about it, the second-gen X4 might just be the point where the coupe-SUV starts to become more widely accepted; it's a seriously good creation from BMW and our favourite vehicle of its type yet.