Per­for­mance with re­fined man­ners

Think of it as a scaled-down X6 that still de­liv­ers a fine driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and good econ­omy

The Star Early Edition - - ROAD TEST - DE­NIS DROPPA

Upon en­coun­ter­ing a duck­billed platy­pus or a BMW X4 for the first time, one might be in­clined to ask the same ques­tion: what the heck is it?

The platy­pus is an odd con­coc­tion of ot­ter, beaver and duck, and the X4 is a sim­i­lar mish­mash of a coupé, hatch­back and SUV.

It’s based on the BMW 3 Se­ries plat­form but has the all-wheel-drive run­ning gear of the X3 and the fast­back-style roof of an X6, and BMW refers to it as a pre­mium mid-sized Sports Ac­tiv­ity Coupé.

If this is all too con­fus­ing and you want to put it into a neatly boxed cat­e­gory, think of it as a scaled-down ver­sion of the X6.

If the platy­pus com­par­i­son sounds like a den­i­gra­tion of the X4’s looks, it isn’t, as this Beemer’s mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ties gel to­gether in an eye-pleas­ing man­ner.

Un­der that sex­ier coupé roofline is still a de­cent amount of func­tion­al­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity, how­ever.

The X4 is marginally longer than the X3 and of­fers roomy seat­ing space for four adults (or five at a push), and there’s a gen­er­ous 500 litres of lug­ging room, ex­pand­ing to a cav­ernous 1 400 litres. It’s not too much smaller than the 550-1 600 litre cargo ca­pac­ity of the X3, although both ve­hi­cles ride on run­flats and come with a punc­ture-re­pair kit in­stead of a spare wheel.

The five-de­riv­a­tive X4 range in South Africa of­fers three petrol ver­sions and two diesels, the more pow­er­ful of the oil-burn­ers be­ing the X4 xDrive30d on test here.

Sell­ing for R798 975 which comes with a 5-year/100 000km Mo­tor­plan main­te­nance con­tract, it’s moved along by the punchy 3-litre straight six tur­bod­iesel which is well known for pow­er­ing var­i­ous other high- end diesel Beemers, and it’s paired with an eight-speed Step­tronic auto. This is one of our favourite en­gines for its abil­ity to de­liver a vis­ceral punch with a vel­vety voice and low thirst.

On call un­der your right foot is a thump­ing 190kW and 560Nm, the lat­ter avail­able from as low down as 1 500rpm, which makes for in­stant and lag-free ac­cel­er­a­tion in any driv­ing sit­u­a­tion. It’s good enough to shift this heavy car to a 234km/h top speed but, more im­pres­sively, for a ve­hi­cle with a hefty 1.8-ton mass it re­ally gets off the mark very swiftly: BMW claims a sea-level 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds and we achieved 6.3 seconds in our Gaut­eng-al­ti­tude test which is quick enough to dice with Golf GTIs.

All this boy-racer per­for­mance is de­liv­ered in a re­fined and soft-spo­ken man­ner, and the fi­nal part of this tur­bod­iesel’s im­pres­sive tril­ogy is a fuel thirst of around 8 litres per 100km – a re­spectably eco­nom­i­cal fig­ure even if it didn’t come close to the 5.7 litres claimed by the fac­tory.

Like the X3, the X4 has an all­wheel-drive xDrive sys­tem and the same 204mm ground clear­ance which makes it ca­pa­ble of some light of­froad work. The stan­dard 18” wheels come with not-too-low-pro­file 245/50 run­flat tyres that cush­ion out the bumps quite ef­fec­tively, but the op­tional sports sus­pen­sion of our test car didn’t quite make it float.

The xDrive is a per­ma­nent four wheel drive sys­tem with a fully vari­able torque split be­tween the front and rear axles.

It also has hill de­scent con­trol, ad­justable to as low as 6km/h.

The dual-pur­pose X4 leans more to­wards the road-car side of things and dis­plays BMW’s typ­i­cal fast-cor­ner­ing flair, although with its weight and el­e­vated ride height it’s ob­vi­ously not as fleet-footed as a 3Series.

Aside from the stan­dard ABS brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol, the X4 is avail­able with op­tional Driver As­sis­tance gad­gets like a head-up dis­play, anti-daz­zle head­lamps, and a Driv­ing As­sist fea­ture which com­bines Lane De­par­ture Warn­ing and Ap­proach and Pedes­trian Warn­ing sys­tems with City Brake Ac­ti­va­tion.

Stan­dard spec in­cludes an elec­tric tail­gate, au­to­matic wipers and head­lights. Also, Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence Con­trol lets the driver choose be­tween Com­fort, Eco and Sport set­tings that change the en­gine, trans­mis­sion and steer­ing re­sponses and also (if op­tion­ally fit­ted) the adap­tive sus­pen­sion.

Other stan­dard gad­getry in the X4 xDrive30d in­cludes items like a rear-view cam­era, a fuel sav­ing au­to­matic start-stop func­tion, and a tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor (which un­for­tu­nately didn’t pick up that one of the front tyres had a slow leak).

That’s rea­son­able for the R796 000 price, if not over-en­dowed with spec. For in­stance we’d have ex­pected fea­tures like elec­tric seats and com­fort ac­cess (where the key stays in your pocket and you lock and un­lock the car by touch­ing the doorhan­dles) to come stan­dard. Th­ese are only op­tional, how­ever, along with items like nav­i­ga­tion, adap­tive LED head­lights, and sports seats which to­gether with a few other op­tional items pushed up the price of our test car to R960 000 – ouch!

The cabin’s the typ­i­cally sober and well-fin­ished ef­fort of BMWs. From its the look and feel of its in­te­rior you can’t tell the X4 apart from an X3 or X6 and some ex­tra ef­fort could be made, I think, to maybe give the X mod­els their own character. Just a thought. VER­DICT As X6 is to X5, the X4’s the slicker-styled brother of the more utal­i­tar­ian-styled X3. If you can live with los­ing a lit­tle boot space, the X4 of­fers still-de­cent prac­ti­cal­ity with a dash more “hip­ster” and savoir­faire.

PIC­TURES: DE­NIS DROPPA

Of­froad­ing isn't its pri­mary pur­pose, but the X4 has the trac­tion and ride height to play in the dirt.

Cabin is BMW’s usual business-class ex­e­cu­tion but the rather sober de­sign lacks a bit of styling flair.

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