Byron Mathioudakis: BMW X4; John Connolly; Jeremy Clarkson: Astra
BMW’s X4 may not be as original or beautiful as a Range Rover Evoque, but it is one hell of a better drive
IF you hate the sight of the BMW X6 then blame Britain, not Germany. Almost a decade ago the quintessentially English Land Rover brand changed the landscape of modern luxury motoring with the Range Rover Sport.
A misnomer if there ever was one, it was meant to be the larger Vogue range-topper’s more youthful and agile sibling. But as that original Sport weighed 2.5 tonnes, athleticism was never its strong suit.
But that didn’t stop sales skyrocketing, prompting niche-hungry BMW to respond with the thematically similar — but visually controversial — X6.
The crucial difference is that the Bavarian SUV steers and handles more like a car rather than a truck on steroids, thanks to its excellent 5 Series-derived X5 architecture.
One quarter of a million X6 buyers later, the Germans are hoping lightning will strike twice with the all-new X4 — a crossover inspired by (you guessed it) an ultra-successful Range Rover ... the Victoria Beckham-endorsed Evoque.
Does today’s German car industry even have an original idea?
There’s certainly nothing especially original about the X4’s styling, emulating the X6’s sloping rear roofline, Kamm-like tail extension, tapered rear window and aggressively wide stance. It’s as if the Xerox machine was set to reduce at 85 per cent ...
Happily there’s nothing reduced about the driving experience. That’s the upshot of sharing virtually everything underneath — including the all-turbo drivetrain, MacPherson strut front and five-link independent rear suspension systems and electric rack and pinion steering setup — with the 3 Series sedan-based X3 crossover.
The two US-built SUVs use the same interior from the B-pillar forward, while the front doors and bonnet are also identical.
Aimed directly at a predominantly male-skewed demographic seeking to make a statement — hence the “Unconform” billboards dotting the streetscape right now — the newcomer kicks off in Australia with two en- gine sizes offering two fuel choices. All drive all four wheels via the same superb ZF eight-speed automatic transmission found in most modern BMWs.
The entry-level xDrive20i starts at $69,430 (plus onroad costs), and is powered by the same 2.0-litre fourcylinder petrol unit found in the X3.
Producing 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque, it manages an 8.1 second 0-100km/h sprint time and can average 7.2 litres per 100km. Not bad for a 1735kg SUV.
If economy’s more your thing then the $73,400 xDrive20d’s 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel version is capable of a teetotalling 5.2L/100km — yet all those extra Newton metres actually means the 0-100km/h time is 0.1s better than the petrol version.
Now a quick glance at the X3’s price list reveals that the corresponding four-pot X4s attract a sizeable $9000 premium in what is otherwise an identical mechanical package.
BMW responded to this query by saying that the newer crossover negates the gap with more standard features such as leather upholstery, sports seats with lumbar support, “Nav Pro” satellite navigation, 19-inch alloys, LED fog lamps and something known as BMW Performance Control.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of assessing how the latter item works in the four-pot X4, since none actually land in Australia until very late this year or in early 2015.
Hitting the showrooms from $83,900, the xDrive30d is the cheaper of the two six-cylinder models on offer — in BMW-traditional in-line configuration, naturally.
Delivering 190kW and a heady 560Nm, the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel offers an outstanding set of numbers for the sports SUV buyer to contemplate: 5.8s to 100km/h from standstill and a 247km/h top speed, or just 5.9L/100km.
That compares to the 225kW/400Nm 3.0-litre turbo petrol-powered xDrive35i’s 5.5s 100km/h run; it is a near identical result despite the different fuels and a 5kg weight advantage, but the latter’s 8.3L/100km cannot touch the diesel’s incredible parsimony.
Both X4s sound almost the same at start-up from inside the cabin — a tribute to the xDrive30d’s brilliant sound-deadening regime.
The only diesel giveaway when you’re sitting inside that salubrious interior is the analog tachometer’s lower red-line rev maximum.
That’s until you nudge the auto shifter into Drive, because the muted 30d’s acceleration — after a moment’s hesitation — is monumentally strong, whooshing the SUV along with absolutely effortless zeal.
Part of the credit goes to that ZF transmission’s supersmooth gear changes, whether the lever is left in Drive or the more responsive Sport Drive mode. While the same also applies to the xDrive35i’s performance, it lacks the