Performance with refined manners
Think of it as a scaled-down X6 that still delivers a fine driving experience and good economy
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.
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.