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

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - BY­RON MATHIOUDAKIS

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

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