We trav­elled to the US of A, and a town called Spar­tan­burg to put the lat­est BMW X4 through its paces.

Around 10 years ago, BMW in­tro­duced the X6 and in­vented the cross­over coupé. It was a huge suc­cess, spawn­ing an en­tire line-up of even num­bered mod­els. We trav­elled all the way to Spar­tan­burg to sam­ple the Ger­man man­u­fac­turer’s lat­est of­fer­ing, the X4.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

A Syou walk in the door to the BMW plant in Spar­tan­burg, you’re greeted by four mas­sive flags de­pict­ing the four mod­els pro­duced there: X3, X4, X5 and X6.

“Pretty soon they’ll be joined by an X7 flag,” our guide re­veals, but she doesn’t say much more than that.

And though we don’t know for sure, we’re guess­ing an X8 flag will be join­ing the al­ready im­pres­sive line-up a few years from now. When asked whether the X count will ever go higher than 7, BMW South Africa’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager sim­ply smiled and said that the X7’s plat­form al­lows some room to play around.

This plant is huge. At 557 418 square me­tres, it’s BMW big­gest fac­tory. It churns out an av­er­age of 1 400 cars per day and since the doors first opened in 1994, more than four mil­lion BMW SUVs have been built there.

Our favourite fact, how­ever, is that the Spar­tan­burg is not a mass-mar­ket plant. Cars aren’t built at ran­dom with the hope of sell­ing them from dealer floors. Ev­ery sin­gle car in the fac­tory has al­ready been paid for and has a prospec­tive owner ea­gerly await­ing its ar­rival.

The Spar­tan­burg plant is the ul­ti­mate ar­gu­ment for the ex­is­tence of the Sports Ac­tiv­ity Ve­hi­cle (SAV) as BMW likes to call them. You still don’t think a sporty SUV makes sense? There are 10 000 fac­tory work­ers in South Carolina in the USA who would beg to dif­fer...

tHE ALL-NEw (sEC­oND­GEN­Er­A­tIoN) X4

The rea­son for our visit to South Carolina was the in­ter­na­tional launch of the all-new X4.

We were quite sur­prised the new model fol­lowed so shortly in the foot­steps of the new X3, as there was a three-year gap be­tween the pre­vi­ous mod­els. The first-gen­er­a­tion X4 was only on sale for four years, which, in au­to­mo­tive terms, is a fairly short life­span.

Even so, it posted im­pres­sive sales fig­ures, with the first­gen­er­a­tion car man­ag­ing to hit 200 000 units at the end of its run. To put that in per­spec­tive, the Spar­tan­burg plant pro­duced 265 000 X6s dur­ing its sixyear pro­duc­tion run.

Af­ter our visit to the Spar­tan­burg plant, we now un­der­stand why the X4 is fol­low­ing the X3 so closely. They’re lit­er­ally built on the same line. You’ll see three X3s, fol­lowed by two new X4s, with an­other X3 af­ter that.

And to be quite hon­est, we’re glad we didn’t have to wait three

years for an all-new X4. The pre­vi­ous car wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t ex­actly mem­o­rable.

The all-new X3 is a dif­fer­ent story, how­ever. We tested the 20d a few months ago and it’s pretty darn good. Is the same true of the all-new X4?

Is It an X3 In drag?

It’s a bit of both, to be hon­est. The X4 is ob­vi­ously based on the X3, but there are a few sig­nif­i­cant changes, apart from the dis­tinct cross­over coupé ex­te­rior.

Like the X3, the X4 is big­ger in ev­ery di­rec­tion that matters, which re­sults in more in­te­rior space and a big­ger boot. That makes it rel­a­tively prac­ti­cal, per­haps even prac­ti­cal enough to pur­chase as the fam­ily’s main means of trans­port. We gave it a proper once-over and we see no rea­son why a fam­ily of four couldn’t com­fort­ably drive down to Durbs for a week­long hol­i­day.

Its X3 roots re­ally shine through when you look at it with prac­ti­cal­ity glasses on, although to fo­cus only on that would be to com­pletely miss the point of the X4. As BMW puts it, the X4 is built for ex­tro­verts in the mar­ket for some­thing sporty, who don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to sac­ri­fice prac­ti­cal­ity. Think of it as the per­fect up­grade for a 140i owner who just found out that he/she is be­com­ing a par­ent.

They might feel the X3 is a bit too sub­ur­ban­ite and that it might be too anony­mous in the kinder­garten park­ing lot it’ll in­evitably end up in. With the X4, you still get that in­her­ent BMW sporty drive, eye-grab­bing styling, plus the abil­ity to load a stroller.

Is It the ul­tI­mate drIv­Ing ma­chIne?

If you’re pay­ing a pre­mium, you ex­pect more than just a style up­grade and the X4 de­liv­ers in spades.

We were lucky enough to be seated at a din­ner table with the man charged with mak­ing the X4 the best han­dling car in its seg­ment. The buck stops with him as far as the driv­ing abil­ity of the X3 and X4 are con­cerned and he gave us a com­pre­hen­sive break­down of the dif­fer­ences

be­tween the two ve­hi­cles.

These in­clude soft­ware up­grades for the xDrive al­lwheel-drive sys­tem, a lower cen­tre of grav­ity, a slightly more ag­gres­sive steer­ing setup and a wider rear track. Ba­si­cally small, sub­tle changes that add up to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

We were im­pressed with the X3, as it’s now more com­fort bi­ased than ever be­fore. It glides beau­ti­fully over all sur­faces, which we think is ex­actly what a cus­tomer in that seg­ment wants. It may not re­spond in a sports car-like fash­ion (un­less you go for the M40i) but that’s not what it was de­signed to do any­way.

When it comes to the X4, you want the op­po­site to be true. That sporty char­ac­ter should be om­nipresent, with ride com­fort be­ing a sec­ondary con­cern.

We didn’t have to wait long to find out, as we were im­me­di­ately is­sued with the key for an X4 M40d, which BMW hopes will be the big seller when the car ar­rives in South Africa.

The M40d will ar­rive only in the first quar­ter of 2019. From Septem­ber; how­ever, South Africans can buy the 20i, 20d and M40i. None of these were avail­able at the in­ter­na­tional launch. If you can’t wait all the way to 2019 for the M40d, the M40i is prob­a­bly your best bet. The M40i is an epic en­gine.

Back to the M40d and our first drive in the USA.

The first bit of high­way driv­ing was fol­lowed by a 30km drive through small towns in the sur­round­ing area. We could tell im­me­di­ately that the ride was firm, but not too firm to spoil the daily com­mute.

In com­fort mode, it’s that per­fect mix of firm­ness and plush­ness that BMW do so well.

Free from the con­fines of small-town USA, we were pre­sented with some of the most beau­ti­ful moun­tain passes on the bor­der be­tween North and South Carolina.

Ac­cord­ing to state law, a car doesn’t re­quire a front plate and all speed trap­ping is done via un­marked po­lice ve­hi­cles.

With zero space to park along these nar­row moun­tain roads where said un­marked ve­hi­cles could park, we were fairly con­fi­dent in our choice of not stick­ing to the 45mph (72km/h) speed limit.

The lo­cals also seemed to ig­nore the posted speed lim­its, so when in Rome or, in this case, Trum­p­land...

Is the X4 sporty?

Yes, def­i­nitely. It’s quite happy be­ing pushed to the limit as well. More on that later.

The moun­tain passes were more for as­sess­ing the X4’s grand tour­ing abil­i­ties than its on-the­limit han­dling prow­ess.

Nor­mally it takes us a good hour or so to get com­fort­able be­hind the wheel of a left-hand­drive car in a coun­try where they drive on the wrong side of the road, but the X4 shrinks around you as soon as you set off.

This qual­ity came in handy, as South Carolina’s moun­tain passes aren’t like most roads in the USA. Whereas most of the roads over there were built to ac­com­mo­date the likes of the Ford F-150, these roads were nar­row and snaked around like an earth­worm on acid. Think Pikes Peak with­out the views.

Go off the road in South Carolina, and you pum­mel straight into a seem­ingly never-end­ing for­est that looked mighty haunted to our eyes.

The posted speed limit sud­denly made sense, yet the X4 felt like it had so much more to give. For a few min­utes we re­jected the urge to go faster, for fear of be­com­ing an­other ad­di­tion to the mul­ti­ple ghosts we were sure were sur­round­ing us, but the crav­ing to push a lit­tle harder proved too strong.

Still in com­fort mode, we prod­ded the go-faster pedal a few mil­lime­tres closer to the car­pet. That’s all the bril­liant 3.0-litre six-cylin­der diesel needs to come alive. It pro­duces 240kW and 680Nm of torque.

The power fig­ure is im­pres­sive, but it’s the torque that makes the X4 as good at cov­er­ing ground as it is. With 80Nm more than the BMW M3, the M40d is sen­sa­tional on the straights be­tween the twisties.

The X4 man­aged the passes with ease, which is as­tound­ing con­sid­er­ing what it is.

And on grAvel?

We didn’t get the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the ‘Ac­tiv­ity’ part of the SAV acro­nym all that much. The route did not in­clude any gravel driv­ing, seem­ingly for good rea­son. The for­est was ex­tremely dense, with grave­yards and churches oc­cu­py­ing the gaps in be­tween.

The pri­vate ac­cess roads to houses were all gated, and as an added re­minder of where we were, there were signs that stated the lo­cals wouldn’t hes­i­tate to phone 911. Cou­ple that with Amer­ica’s in­fa­mous at­ti­tude to­wards gun con­trol, and you have a recipe for a bad case of lead poi­son­ing.

The clos­est we got to gravel was the drive­way of an invit­ing church, but that didn’t pro­vide enough driv­ing time to de­liver any kind of use­ful ver­dict.

BMW rather gave us the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence the all-wheel drive on a wet skid­pan, with all the elec­tronic nan­nies switched off. It didn’t pro­vide any use­ful feed­back, other than show­cas­ing the X4’s abil­ity to get

prop­erly side­ways when driven like a loon. The all-wheel drive also al­lows you so get it back in shape eas­ily enough, even af­ter achiev­ing some silly an­gles.

We suspect the X4 will be more or less in the same league as the X2, tested in the pre­vi­ous is­sue; will­ing and able to drive down a gravel road ev­ery now and then, but not par­tic­u­larly happy about it due to the sporty suspension set-up and low-pro­file tyres.

It’s worth men­tion­ing, how­ever, that we took the first­gen­er­a­tion X4 down to Chobe in Botswana on a Leisure Wheels Sa­fari, where it out­per­formed var­i­ous other SUVs.

on tHe limit

BMW’s test­ing fa­cil­ity, just across the road from the Spar­tan­burg plant, is a thing of beauty. The fa­cil­i­ties on of­fer in­clude bathrooms that dou­ble as storm shel­ters, a skid­pan, mini off-road course, a track and a braai, which an Amer­i­can fel­low an­noy­ingly kept on call­ing a bar­beque. It’s ba­si­cally petrol­head heaven.

We were un­der the im­pres­sion that we’d do some driv­ing around cones, as well as per­form some brak­ing tests. Wrong. BMW ac­tu­ally al­lowed us to drive a fleet of M40ds on the track.

A slow lap first, but nine other laps fol­low­ing a pace car. The pace car driver wasn’t there to rein us in ei­ther, as he ac­tu­ally had to slow down a bit to al­low a bunch of right-hand drive ac­cus­tomed South Africans to ac­cu­rately place three X4s on the rac­ing line.

With BMW’s elec­tronic nan­nies en­gaged, the X4 is an ex­tremely flat­ter­ing car.

It in­ter­venes very late in the process, mak­ing the driver feel like a hero. Even the ABS sys­tem is tuned for spir­ited driv­ing, only in­ter­ven­ing when most rea­son­able lim­its have been ex­ceeded.

For the last few laps we were al­lowed to switch all the nan­nies off, re­ly­ing only on me­chan­i­cal grip. We’d like to tell you it trans­formed the X4 into an un­ruly an­i­mal of a car, but with all-wheel drive and the sporty suspension still in play, it was dif­fi­cult to get the X4 to mis­be­have.

You could coax some over­steer out of it by lift­ing mid­way through the cor­ner, but overindul­gence in the power usu­ally re­sults in safe un­der­steer, which is easy to cor­rect.

The M40d also proves that an oil burner can be fun on a track. The ar­gu­ment against diesel usu­ally re­lates to the lack of a pleas­ant noise and not as many en­gine rev­o­lu­tions to play around with. The eight-speed au­to­matic gear­box sorts the lat­ter prob­lem. It’s al­ways in the right gear, no mat­ter what the oc­ca­sion.

Ear­lier in the day, while cruis­ing Spar­tan­burg in com­fort mode, we tried count­ing the gear changes. They are so quick and smooth though that it’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to tell when the gear­box is shift­ing cogs.

On the track we had the op­por­tu­nity to shift man­u­ally, but soon re­alised that the gear­box com­puter was do­ing a bet­ter job. As we drove along, the pace car driver gave clear in­struc­tions on gear­ing, which the X4 fol­lowed al­most as if it was tuned into the two-way ra­dio sig­nal.

The noise the en­gine makes de­serves to be men­tioned sep­a­rately. BMW has a his­tory of build­ing epic diesel per­for­mance cars, most no­tably the X6 M50d, which we were priv­i­leged enough to run as a long-ter­mer a few years back.

It did ev­ery­thing spec­tac­u­larly well yet it lacked a de­cent sound­track. To us, a sonorous noise boom­ing from the rear is as im­por­tant as the abil­ity to turn in with con­fi­dence, so the X6 never re­ally won us over on an emo­tional level.

With the M40d, BMW has solved this prob­lem. It’s now fi­nally pro­duc­ing a diesel that emits a deep, grumbly noise when pushed hard. We still main­tain that the M40i’s six­cylin­der petrol sounds bet­ter, but the M40d gets close.

How mucH is it?

By the time you read this, the X4 will be weeks away from its local launch. The M40d we drove will ar­rive only in the first quar­ter of 2019, but from Septem­ber, BMW will of­fer three mod­els.

The X4 xDrive 20i four­cylin­der tur­bocharged petrol and xDrive20d de­riv­a­tives will re­tail for the same price: R843 000.

The X4 M40i, fit­ted with the su­perb 260kW six-cylin­der petrol mill will also be avail­able, re­tail­ing at R1 132 800.

sum­mary

The all-new X4 feels more spe­cial than the ve­hi­cle it re­places. In our opin­ion, there was never enough rea­son to buy an X4 over an X3. That’s not the case with the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion.

The new design is strik­ing and the me­chan­i­cal bits can ac­tu­ally cash the cheques writ­ten by the al­lur­ing body. It scores top marks in ev­ery cat­e­gory that matters, which means it’ll ar­rive here equipped to lure cus­tomers away from Jaguar and Porsche deal­er­ships.

Main: The BMW X4 is the first X car to fea­ture that new rear end, which is a huge im­prove­ment over the pre­vi­ous model, in our opin­ion. Above: The in­te­rior is lav­ish, spa­cious and made from top notch ma­te­ri­als.

Top: The front is very much X3, with a few unique styling de­tails. Mid­dle: The coupé styling hasn’t had a dras­tic im­pact on rear leg- or head­room. It’s still a spa­cious ev­ery­day car. Bot­tom: The M40d will only be launched in SA in the first quar­ter of 2018. If you can’t wait that long, go for the M40i petrol.

Op­po­site page: MA1313 proved to be a wor­thy com­pan­ion on South Carolina’s twisty moun­tain roads. En­ter­tain­ing, but not in­tim­i­dat­ing by any means. Top: BMW is stick­ing with its now fa­mous gear lever and ro­tary knob com­bi­na­tion. The X4 takes it a step fur­ther by ad­ding a touch-sen­si­tive screen, which works a charm. Above: The M40d en­gine is part of BMW’s M Per­for­mance en­gine line-up. These en­gines aren’t as pow­er­ful as the full-fat M en­gines, but they put a huge grin on your face.

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