Buoyed by the runaway success that is the X6 SUV coupé, BMW concurred that there is demand out there for another SUV coupé, albeit a market for a smaller one. Enter the 2014 BMW X4, an SUV coupé based on the X3,aimed at a niche of customers who admire the X6 for what it is, but think that it is a little too gargantuan in size and price.
Buyer’s Guide: Should I Buy One?
If you really do admire the X6 for what it is, a big SUV with a rakish body that has its talents slightly aligned for driving rather than carrying people and cargo, the X4 is something similar but in a smaller package. After our brief drive of the X4 in its range-topping xDrive35i guise, we conclude that it is one of the best SUVs to drive at the moment, if that should matter in your next buying decision. Furthermore the genius behind the X4 is that despite its coupé-connotations, it doesn’t compromise on practicality and it is still nearly as usable as the X3.
Key Specs: 2014 BMW X4 xDrive35i
Engine: 3-litre 6-cylinder twin-scroll turbocharged
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power: 306PS @ 5,800-6,400rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,200-5,000rpm
Acceleration (0-100km/h): 5.5 seconds (claimed)
Fuel consumption: 8.3L/100km (claimed combined)
X6 Inspired Looks In An X3 Mould
Even though the X4 is essentially an X3 with a “coupé” treatment, it doesn’t quite look like a sportier or sleeker spin-off of the X3. Gaze upon the X4 and you will spy a profile inspired by the first-generation X6 - its slant roof and high tailgate, the pumped-up front fenders, and design cues that would later translate onto the second-generation X6, such as the crease along the rear wheel arch. However, where the X6’s looks benefited from its width, giving it visual drama, the X4’s narrow track makes it look a little clumsy from the front. The large headlight clusters of the facelifted X3, coupled to the inflated M-Sport bodykit fitted to our test cars, gave the X4 a rather odd appearance.
Handling and Performance – Sharper Sporty Traits
In making the X4, BMW took the X3, and lowered its roofline by 36mm, while dropping the seating position for the front and rear occupants by 20mm and 28mm respectively. Other than that, the X4 has the same body and track width, wheelbase, and ground clearance as the X3.You could pass it off an X3 with its roof caved-in and a X6 rump behind, but the experience from behind the wheel tells a different tale that its changes aren’t just skin deep.
The X4 strides through the bends with less top-heaviness and more focus than the X3, and its steering feels more precise and quicker than that found on the X3. You still get the impression that you are riding on stilts, with the weighty upper-half bearing down on your every move, but the X4’s demeanour is closer to that of a car than the X3’s.
Much of the X4’s sharper persona can be attributed to BMW’s Performance Control torque vectoring feature which comes as standard with the “coupé -X3”. The torque vectoring splits power between the rear wheels to give it the traction and stability in the corners. BMW also says that the new body shell adds rigidity, especially around its back where there seems to be more metal instead of window space.
The 3-litre inline-6 turbocharged engine of our test unit was definitely not lacking in power. With 306PS and 400Nm of torque on tap, the 1,815kg X4 can go from 0 to 100kmph in 5.5 seconds, which is quick for something of its bulk and stature. When you aren’t being thrilled by the engine’s performance however, its silky smooth character, couple with the eight-speed automatic transmission, makes it a fine motorway companion. Its massive 18-inch rims however do give off the impression that BMW has no intent for the X4 to be taken off-road. With no proper low-range gearbox or a locking differential, the X4 is definitely catered for the road. Not that this matters to most SUV buyers today.
Practicality - With Little Compromise
Despite its rakish and low roofline, BMW hasn’t forgotten an SUV’s appeal of convenience. Though the slant in the roof does limit the ease of entry into the rear seats by a small degree as compared to the X3, it isn’t cramped when you do. The X4 comes with space and seat belts for three in the back, with the middle perch being slightly recessed in to give the rear bench a “two-seat” appearance.
As for the driver’s perch, the X4 adopts the same dashboard that you would find on an X3, though the X4 allows you to drop the seats low until your eyes are just peering over the dashboard. Not that it would be of much use as the whole point of an SUV is to enjoy that commanding driving position. Our test unit came specified with a whole host of driver aids and safety features from BMW’s catalogue such as the heads-up display, lane departure warning, and lane change warning systems which made driving it along narrow Spanish roads all the more relaxing.
Open the electrically-automated tailgate and you will find that the X4 comes with a very generous 500-litreboot, which can be expanded to 1,400 litres when you drop the three 40:20:40 split-folding rear seats.
A sporty coupe SUV, which manages to balance the practicality SUV-buyers seek, with a dose of car-like handling; the X4 sounds like a classic example of being a “Jack of all trades, Master of none”, but not quite. For one, it isn’t as compromised as other SUV- coupés such as the 2014 Range Rover Evoque which is pretty claustrophobic and miserly on space inside. And when it comes to handling, the X4 trumps its British rival here, with a better steering and chassis.
That said the X4’s biggest rival on the horizon hails from Leipzig in the form of the Porsche Macan, which has been getting plenty of accolades from pundits aboard, and a four-pot entry-level Macan poised to bring the fight to BMW. If the Porsche Cayenne is any testament to Porsche's ability to make an SUV drive well, the Macan poses a serious challenge, though its price premium might hobble its chances against the X4. Till our date with the Macan, the X4 remains as the compact SUV with the best mix of SUV-practicalities that has been garnished with a good dose of driving finesse.