How do you make a crossover SUV not just another crossover SUV?
One way is to chop the roof — and make it look less like just another crossover SUV.
Another way is to make it drive differently than other crossover SUVs — by putting something more than merely utilitarian under the hood.
BMW has done both things with the 2019 X4.
It’s just missing one thing.
WHAT IT IS
The X4 is a more interesting X3.
Both are mechanically and even dimensionally similar, but the X4 has a much sleeker (and much lower) profile.
This costs a little headroom — and cargo room — but not so much of either that the X4 becomes an impractical X3.
Base price is $50,450 for the xDrive30i; the high-performance M40 — which gets a 360 horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.0 liter straight six in place of the otherwise standard turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine — stickers for $60,450 to start.
Unfortunately, no M40d — diesel — for us.
Cue Soup Nazi voice.
That version of the ’19 X4 is only available outside the U.S.
The 2019 X4 is completely redesigned — ahead of the X3, which carries over unchanged into 2019.
The new X4 is similar in concept — and overall appearance — to the 2018 X4, but it’s a bit more practical now because it’s a little bit larger now.
BMW added three inches to its length — as well as some to its width — and that made it possible to punch out some more room for cargo, both behind the second row and with the second row folded.
It’s still not quite as much cargo space vs. the X3 — but the difference is less now: 50.5 cubic feet of total capacity for the X4 vs. 62.7 for the current (2018) X3.
There’s also about an inch more legroom in back, too.
There’s slightly less headroom now, too — in both rows — but there’s still enough of a margin for most people to not have to duck and cover.
Almost as practical as a same-sized crossover — but doesn’t look like other crossovers.
Doesn’t drive like most crossovers.
AWD is standard in both trims (it’s optional in the X3).
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Much more pricey than the X3 — which stickers for $41,100 to start.
Apple CarPlay is available — but optional. And subscription-based.
AndroidAuto isn’t available at all.
WHAT’S UNDER THE HOOD
The standard engine in the X4 is BMW’s familiar 2.0 liter turbocharged four, tuned in this case to 248 horsepower and 258 ft.-lbs. of torque at 1,450 RPM.
It’s paired with an eight speed automatic transmission and BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system as standard equipment.
This is a point of departure vs. other crossovers — which for the most part offer AWD, but optionally (and at extra cost).
There’s another — related — way in which the X4 is different from the majority of crossovers:
Most of the time, most of the X4’s power goes to the rear wheels — because the X4 (like the X3) is built on a rear-wheel-drive layout, which it shares (or which shared its development with) the 3 Series sedan’s layout.
Most of the other crossovers on the market are based on front-drive layouts (including the Audi Q5 and Lexus RX350) because they were spun-off of front-drive car layouts — and so most of the time, most of the power goes to the front wheels.
The BMW’s rear-biased AWD system is a built-in advantage from a cornering/high-speed handling perspective — in part because of power transfer — and also because of balance. The FWD-based layout means more weight over the front wheels rather than more evenly spread over the length of the vehicle.
The weight of the BMW’s drivetrain is split exactly 50-50.
Equipped with the 2.0 liter engine, the X4 gets to 60 in six seconds flat and gets a 22 MPG city/29 MPG highway rating from the EPA.
The M40i gets the larger 3.0 liter in-line six, its power goosed to 360 horsepower and 365 ft.-lbs. of torque by a pair of turbochargers. It also comes with the eight speed automatic and xDrive AWD, with a heavy-duty locking rear differential added to the mix.
This version of the X4 can get to 60 in an exceptionally speedy 4.6 seconds, or nearly as fast as a new Mustang GT. But with AWD and eight inches of ground clearance, the BMW isn’t flummoxed by snow — or even the absence of pavement under foot.
Interestingly, you’ll pay almost no gas mileage penalty for selecting the M40i’s much stronger six cylinder engine — which rates a dead heat 20 city, 27 highway. The difference is so slight that in real-world driving you’ll probably never notice the difference.
Until you press down on the accelerator pedal.
Both engines are saddled with auto-stop/start systems — which cut off the engine automatically when the vehicle comes to a stop and then automatically restarts the engine when the driver takes his foot off the brake. These systems are sold as gas savers — and they are.
But they don’t save much gas.
The difference here is about 1 MPG vs. the same ride without the auto-stop/start. It’s not much matter to the owner — but it matters much to BMW (and the other car companies) as it helps them comply with government fuel efficiency decrees — which compliance is calculated on the basis of “fleet averages.” A difference of 1 MPG matters when factored over say 40,000 X4s built in a year.
The good news is you can disable the system, if you prefer to keep the engine (and AC and other accessories running) when you’re stopped at a light. The bad news is you have to disable it every time you go for a drive — by pushing the “off” button that’s integrated with the pushbutton ignition.
ON THE ROAD
You may have read about the four-door Mustang Ford is apparently thinking about making.
The X4 beat them to the punch.
The concept is essentially the same: Make a fun car — a stylish car — a more practical car. Or at least, make a fun and stylish car out of a practical one.
It amounts to the same thing.
Well, here we are.
The X4 drives a lot like the higher-riding 3 Series it kinda-sorta is. And the 360 hp M40 does a pretty good job of imitating an M3.
The AWD system even allows a little rear wheel spin (in Sport mode, when you’re really asking for it) which is a thing the FWD-based stuff can’t allow.
Especially since most of that stuff hasn’t got 360 hp to work with.
Both engines are exemplars of the new generation of turbocharged engines, which are designed to behave like bigger engines without the turbos. If you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell.
They are designed to deliver steady — linear — boost.
Not the slap to the back of your head — after a flat spot — that used to characterize turbocharged engines. The whole idea is to make up for the smaller size of today’s engines — which have been replacing bigger (non-turbo’d) engines for the sake of increased gas mileage — without sacrificing the power of those engines.
And without the peaky powerbands — which people who drive high-performance sports cars like but which aren’t practical in a . . . practical car.
So, the turbos are small and snugged up as close to the engine’s exhaust ports as possible, to get that boost flowing as soon — and as seamlessly — as possible.
The 2.0 engine’s peak torque (258 ft.-lbs.) is developed at 1,450 RPM and holds steady throughout the majority of the powerband. The six develops its peak 365 ft. lbs. of torque (output comparable to a 5 liter V8 without a turbo) at 1,520 RPM.
The result is big engine feel — without the big engine. And with a smaller engine’s appetite. Neither of these are gas-misers — and they both expect premium unleaded — but mid-20s (what you can expect to average) is better than the high teens you’d probably average with a bigger engine of comparable output.
With eight inches of ground clearance — almost as much as a Subaru Outback — the X4 should be a great snow sled, too.
Assuming snow-appropriate tires.
That’s where sporty crossovers like this one are often the most compromised. They tend to be fitted from the factory with sporty tires, to deliver the sporty steering response and high-speed handing grip that sporty-minded buyers expect.
And then it snows.
AWD — and ground clearance- can be stymied by sporty tires in the same manner that Dracula is stymied by garlic.
AT THE CURB
If you look at the X4 from the door pulls up, you’ll see the profile of the 3 Series coupe. The roofline is low and slicked back.
Its 2.2 inches lower than the X3’s roofline (63.8 inches vs. 66 inches).
Hence BMW’s term for this don’t-call-it-a-crossover . . . which they call a Sports Activity Coupe.
The four doors notwithstanding.
It’s longer — and wider — than the current X3, too.
This was done in order to make it a bit more practical than the first-generation X4. There’s almost an inch more backseat legroom (35.5 inches vs. 34.8 in the 2018 X4) and cargo space behind the second row has been increased to 18.5 cubic feet. Total cargo capacity is now 50.5 cubic feet, which is only about 11 cubic feet less than in the X3 (62.7 cubic feet).
The big one, though, is headroom.
Chopping the roof for the sake of looks sometimes has the same effect on practicality as wearing high heels to a track meet.
But not in this case.
The X4 maintains enough noggin space to remain . . . practical. It’s about the same headspace as before — 39 inches up front and 37.2 inches in the second row. For some sense of this, the X3 has 40 inches of headroom in its first row and 38.5 inches in the second row.
That’s a pretty impressive maintenance of headspace given the 2.2 inch chop job.
Some of the tech features that used to be available only in the highest-end BMW models like the 7 Series flagship are filtering to in-the-middle-models like the X4. For example, you can get gesture control, which you can use to adjust the sound system’s volume without actually touching anything. It’s included with the Premium Package, which also gets you a heated steering wheel and a Heads Up Display.
A flatscreen gauge display is available, too.
One of the few things that’s not is Android Auto, which is an odd omission.
AppleCarPlay is available, but you have to pay extra — and it’s subscription-based.
One area where the X4 could have been really different (and is really different, just not here) will be denied American buyers.
In Europe and other markets, BMW offers the X4 with a turbo-diesel engine — but will not offer it here because of compliance costs and also because of the radioactive fallout of the VW diesel “cheating” scandal, which has given diesel engines a dirty reputation they do not deserve — because they’re not.
This includes VW’s “cheating” diesels — which only emitted a hair-splitting bit more of a certain compound (oxides of nitrogen) than allowable on government tests. But the media — which thrives on exaggerating things — portrayed VW’s diesels as filthy planet-raping atrocities and the PR damage will take a generation to undo, if it ever can be.
In the meanwhile, we get thirstier gas engines — and stupidly expensive hybrid/electric powertrains.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you need a crossover but don’t really want one, the X4 could be the end-run you’ve been looking for.
Got a question about cars — or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Always feel free to comment below!
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos
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The Eric Peters Car Review is sponsored by the NMA Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting your interests as a motorist and citizen through the multi-faceted approach of research, education, and litigation. The Foundation is able to offer this assistance through tax-deductible contributions.