By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist Photo courtesy of CARICOS
BMW calls the new X4 a “sports activity coupe” — notwithstanding its, uh, four doors.
Five, actually — if you count the hatchback.
So what is it, actually?
Imagine a fastbacked (and lowered) X3.
Or maybe a higher-riding M235i … with an extra set of doors.
Well, okay, three extra doors.
The idea being (says BMW) to combine these elements in a single package: The sporty looks of a coupe applied across four (er, five) doors. To give people who need an X3 — but would prefer a 235i — something in between the two.
And here it is.
WHAT IT IS
The X4 is BMW’s newest model, similar in concept and general looks/layout to the larger (mid-sized) X6 but in a compact-sized package.
Something for everyone, you know.
It’s higher-riding than a BMW 2 coupe — but not as off-the-ground as an X3. It’s also lower-roofed than an X3 — by about two inches — which gives it a swoopier profile.
Which also somewhat curtails the car’s cargo-carting capacity.
Still, it’s more “stuff” (and people) viable than a sexy but not-so-practical 235i — while being different enough (BMW hopes) from the X3 it shares a platform with to make it a viable alternative to either of those, so that people who’d like both but need it all in one vehicle stay within the BMW family rather than shop another brand.
The X4 comes two ways:
Base trim is the $44,700 xDrive 28i, which is powered by a turbocharged 2.0 liter four (the same engine that’s also standard in the current 3 and 5 Series, as well as several other BMWs).
The $48,000 xDrive35i gets BMW’s turbo six, pushing 300 hp (down a bit from the M235i’s 320 hp version of this engine).
Both X4s come standard with xDrive all-wheel-drive and eight-speed automatics.
The next-closest thing to the X4 is probably the $41,400 to start Range Rover Evoque — which is available in both four door (plus liftgate in the rear) and two-door (plus liftgate) versions.
As above, the X4 is all-new — the latest addition to BMW’s rapidly proliferating product portfolio.
Gives the otherwise-X3-inclined a bit more driving jazz without losing most of the X3’s everyday driver versatility.
Very quick with either engine — and quicker with either engine than Evoque with its only available engine.
Extra ground clearance (same 8 inches as the X3) and standard all-wheel-drive make this a snow-day viable ride … which an M235 isn’t.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Swept-back roofline costs cargo space: 17.7 cubic feet in the X4 vs. 27.6 in the X3.
Backseat legroom is noticeably tighter than in X3: 34.8 inches vs. 36.5.
Backseat headroom is also tight: 37.4 inches vs. 39.1 inches.
Evoque costs a few grand less up front (though Land Rover depreciation rates are pretty steep and that ought to be taken into account, too).
UNDER THE HOOD
The X4’s standard 2.0 liter turbocharged four is becoming BMW’s small block Chevy (so to speak). They are putting it in everything. It’s the standard engine in the 3 and 5 Series sedans, the 4 coupe and — of course — the X3 (which shares its platform, or underlying chassis, with the X4) and several others, too.
As with the once-ubiquitous small block Chevy (which back in the ’70s and ’80s, could be found under the hood of not just Chevys but many other GM vehicles, too) the BMW’s turbo two is prolific because it’s widely adaptable, a Swiss Army Knife of internal combustion. It is small, but powerful (240 hp) and delivers not-bad gas mileage (20 city, 28 highway). In the X4, it’s paired with an eight-speed automatic and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system.
Here’s where things get a little… interesting. Turns out the X4 is quicker than the X3 equipped with basically the same drivetrain, including the same final drive ratio (3.38). Check it out:
Zero to 60 in six flat vs. 6.2 for the X3.
At first glance, this may not be a surprise. After all, the X4 is the sportier of the two. But it’s also — oddly — the heavier of the two: 4,130 lbs. vs. 4,030 for the X3. That’s 100 pounds — not an insignificant difference. If the power output of the 2.0 liter engine in the X4 is the same as the output of the 2.0 engine in the X3 — and both have the same gear ratios — shouldn’t the lighter X3 be quicker?
Or at least, not slower?
It is possible that BMW is being less than honest — in a good way — about the actual output of the 2.0 engine in the X4. I won’t tell if you won’t.
If six flat to 60 isn’t sufficiently speedy, you can always upgrade to the optional inline and also turbocharged 3 liter six. It carries a 300 hp rating in the X4 (as opposed to 320 in the M235i coupe) and bullets the X4 to 60 in a 5.2 seconds — also quicker than the X3 with the same (supposedly) 300 hp turbo’d six/eight-speed automatic (and AWD) combo… plus the extra 100 pounds.
Either way — and regardless of hp fudging — the X3 is much quicker than its only direct rival, the Land Rover Evoque. It, too, has a turbocharged 2.0 liter engine (paired with a new nine-speed automatic for 2015) and all-wheel-drive. And it’s lighter — 3,680 lbs. But it is much slower for some odd reason — taking 7.1 seconds to heave itself to 60. This is almost 1 full second behind the base X4 (four cylinder) and almost 2 full seconds behind the six-cylinder X4.
The final kick in the teeth? The Evoque’s gas mileage isn’t appreciably better: 21 city, 30 highway — a difference of 1 mpg around town and 2 mpg on the highway vs. the four-cylinder (and much quicker) X4.
ON THE ROAD
One of the main reasons SUVs and crossovers are popular is that people seem to like being perched up high. It gives them a better view of their surroundings — especially when you’re surrounded by other SUVs and crossovers. And, of course, it’s an advantage to have more ground clearance when it snows. The downside is that you’re not alone when riding high. The vehicle’s center of gravity is also up high — and this is not what you want in the curves.
BMW’s solution is — once again — interesting.
The X4 has the same ground clearance (8 inches) as the X3. But it is not nearly as tall: 63.9 inches vs. 66.1 for the X3.
It’s less top-heavy feeling when cornering fast. There’s still some body roll, but only noticeable if you’re running at much above the PSL. This is inside baseball, but I will spill. Almost any new vehicle — car, SUV or crossover — can effortless swing through 99.9 percent of the curves you’ll encounter without the slightest sign of being pushed near the brink — unless you’re operating at least 15 (and usually 20 or more) MPH above the posted speed limit.
The only reason to slow for curves is to avoid tickets.
The lowest limits of the least able vehicles built since the late ’90s are much higher than the capabilities of 9 out of ten drivers. This business of “handling” — as far as vehicle approaching its limits (rather than yours — or even mine) — is mostly like debating whether Batman would win if he got into a fight with Superman. Unless you drive like me, you’ll probably never get close to the X4’s discomfort level.
More everyday relevant is that the X4 is more stable when driven at high speed (80-plus) in a straight line — probably because it is less susceptible to being slapped around by crosswinds due to its more slippery (and less tall) silhouette. The X4’s suspension calibrations have also been tightened up relative to the X3’s and the standard xDrive AWD has Performance Control tuning, which basically kicks power to the outside rear wheel during cornering — which helps you maintain your line at high speeds. You can order a more aggressive “M” wheel and tire package, too. It replaces the otherwise standard 18×8 rims with more aggressive 19s or (your pick) 20s. A body kit is also part of the deal and it further smooths out the airflow, which contributes to the X4’s improved high-speed stability.
A neat-o feature is the LCD hp and torque display, which you can punch up via the iDrive rotary controller. It will show you exactly how much power and torque are being produced in real time — and if you floor it, each gauge will “peg” at the highest reading, which is a fun way to impress your friends. In addition, there are displays for body roll and pitch, also in real time.
The thing’s chief deficit is the atrocious rearward view — the result of a nearly horizontal pane of very small glass over the liftgate combined with (impeded by, actually) a set of too-tall second row headrests. The first is BMW’s fault — but at least it’s a case of form trumping function. The second is the government’s fault. In their superior wisdom, government mandated these uber-tall “anti-whiplash” headrests to protect the backseat occupants from… whiplash, if the vehicle is rear ended. Which is great except that now you’re more likely to get into some other type of accident (such as side-swiping a car in the next lane you can’t freaking see) because of the sightline-impeding “safety” headrests BMW (and everyone else) is now forced to build into their cars.
Top speed for the X4 xDrive28i is a 130 MPH; the X4 xDrive35i is allowed to reach 144 before the saaaaaaaaaaafety computer cuts off the fun. Luckily, the computer can be over-ridden. Demand that the salesman show you how before you sign the paperwork.
AT THE CURB
To my eye, the X4 looks a little stubby. But on the other hand, I’m one of the few car scribblers who digs the look of the 6 Series Gran Turismo … so what do I know? Well, lets stick with the facts — and the stats.
The X4’s footprint is almost identical to that of the X3. It is fractionally longer overall (183.9 inches vs. 183.4 for the X3) and exactly as wide (74.1 inches) with the same wheelbase (110.6 inches).
The interior is very similar to what you’d find in any other new BMW — which is to say, cleanly laid out — with what appears to be real brushed metal trim plates and a general minimalist high-end vibe (if that makes sense) throughout. BMW does not try to dazzle you with a profusion of buttons and blinking lights. Ordnung muss sein — and it does. The iDrive input — via which you operate the infotainment — has been made light-years more user-friendly than the first-generation of its kind. And it’s nice that some functions — the seat heater buttons, for instance — are still button actuated. It’s simple, it’s effective — leave it be. I also like the modern yet traditional look of the big twin analog speedo and tach. Few Brands meld modern hip and old school cool as not-clumsily as BMW does.
When you buy a “coupe” — even if it does have four doors (er, five) — you accept some compromises in the usability department. The X4’s got less second row leg and headroom — the latter due to the rakish, “coupe” roofline — and there’s less cargo capacity (17.7 cubic feet with the second row folded and 49.4 with them folded vs. 27.6 and 66.1, respectively, in the X3). However, there’s a lot more second row legroom in an X4 (34.8 inches) than in a 2-Series (33 inches) and headroom, too (37.4 vs. 36.5) and it’s a helluva lot easier to get in and out when you’ve got rear doors, too.
So, the best of both worlds.
Or at least, some of both in one vehicle.
It’s not a bad idea given how demanding car buyers have become — and given the profusion of alternatives available. The X4 does fill a niche. It might not be a huge seller, but if it keeps people in-house and buying BMWs then mission accomplished.
The X4, like all new BMWs, comes with automatic start-stop. You have probably heard about it. Come to a stop — and the engine stops. Press the gas pedal, it comes back on. These systems are becoming very common — unfortunately. The fuel savings per car are minute. The only reason BMW — and the others — add this technology to their cars is because of the overall improvement, across their entire fleet of vehicles — which is the basis for the government’s “gas guzzler” penalties. It probably doesn’t matter to you whether your X4 gets 28 rather than 28.5 (or even 29 MPG). But it matters to BMW, which has to deal with Uncle. So you get the annoying auto-stop/start, want it or not.
Why is it annoying? Because there is a slight lag between the moment you stab the gas pedal (light just turned green) and “ignition” — and thus, launch. There is also a slight shudder as the high-torque starter re-ignites the stifled engine. It’s not awful, but — hey, I just spent almost $50k on a car and I’d really like it to not shudder at all. At least, not until it gets about 230,000 miles on it.
In some BMWs, there’s a turn-it-off button right next to the ignition button. In the X4, though, the only way to turn off the auto-stop is to engage Sport mode via the button to the left of the gear selector. If the auto-stop doesn’t annoy you, select Eco Pro, which leaves it on and also wicks back other functions to squeeze as many MPGs as possible out of the vehicle. The engine will actually turn off when you’re coasting — and only kick back on when the system senses pressure on the accelerator.
It’s interesting that BMW isn’t — for now — offering its superb turbo-diesel (available in the X3) in the new X4. Why not? BMW has gone to great lengths to tout the performance as much as the economy of its diesel engines and the combination of outstanding fuel efficiency (27 city, 34 highway in the X3) and very solid acceleration/performance (7.8 seconds to 60 in the X3, only a little less quick than the Land Rover Evoque).
Also, an M version — not just wheels and tires (and a sport wheel and sport seats) would be… interesting. The 3 liter six — remember, same basic engine as in the M235i — is already there. Another 20 or so hp is all it would take.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Land Rover may have been first to market with the “SUV coupe” concept … but BMW has done a better job of executing it.