2018 BMW X4 review, test drive
Published on Aug 14, 2018 06:00:00 AM
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The second generation of the BMW X4 has arrived just four years after the original X4 was launched, which is a pretty short life cycle for any car. One reason why BMW didn’t give the X4 the usual mid-life facelift and chose to replace it completely is because the competition is heating up and it no longer has a monopoly of the segment it invented.
With Mercedes jumping into this SUV-coupé niche with the GLC Coupe, and Audi set to follow next year with the Q4, BMW wants to keep the X4 as fresh and contemporary as possible. But the main reason why the all-new, second-generation X4 was introduced so quickly is to align its life cycle with the latest X3, with which it shares BMW’s CLAR platform and the same production line in Spartanburg, USA.
The X4 is essentially the coupé version of the new X3 and, under the skin, there’s a lot of commonality between the two. While the X3 is the practical one, the X4 is the sportier sibling, thanks to its sleek looks and more dynamic character.
But to craft a high-riding SUV with large wheels into a svelte coupé is always a tricky job for designers, and the result is usually something that isn’t easy to digest. Like the X6 before it, the scaled-down X4 has the same love-it-or-loathe-it styling, which SUV purists may turn their nose up at. True, the upright front and vertical grille are at odds with the swooping roofline at the rear, but with the second-generation X4, BMW has got the proportions right and the massive wheels (21-inchers on the M Sport version) give it an aggressive road presence.
BMW skipped bringing the first-gen X4 to India as the India plant was not ready to locally produce it, and, as a full import, the customs duties would have priced it out of whack. Now with a more robust assembly operation in place and a bigger dealer network, the German luxury car brand is ready to launch more of its niche models to expand and plug the gaps in the range. With the new X4, BMW is targeting style-conscious Indians who want a bit more flash in their SUVs and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of practicality. But is it all about style? Or does it also drive like a BMW should? We go to its home in Spartanburg to sample the latest X4, fresh off the assembly line.
Style and practicality are two fundamental requirements that are always at odds with each other, and the point where they collide in a car that aims to look good and be spacious at the same time is the back seat. So let’s get that bit out of the way first.
The coupé-like roofline does eat into headroom and six-footers sitting at the back will brush the roof lining with their heads. Legroom though is surprisingly good and is the result of more space being carved out by the generous 2,864mm wheelbase (54mm more than the previous X4). The seat squab is quite generous too, but the seat back is too upright for long drives. I was hunting for a lever to adjust the backrest angle but realised that there’s no recline function, which is an option on the X3. No, this is not the car to buy if you’re a six-footer and mainly chauffeur-driven.
The place to be, of course, is in the front and it’s here that the X4 feels quite similar to the all-new X3, which we’ve recently tested. The dashboard is a direct lift from the X3, so you get the same spot-on driving position, the sensibly laid-out controls, virtual dials and the brilliant infotainment system that comes with the latest version of BMW’s iDrive system (now touch-sensitive) that’s intuitive to use as always. A 6.5-inch screen is standard but the M Sport-spec car we drove had the wider 10.25-inch display. Gesture control, which I find to be more of a gimmick than anything else, also makes its way here. For ease of use, there’s nothing to beat the chunky iDrive controller and good old hard buttons.
The equipment list is again similar to the X3 and the top-spec versions also get a key fob with touchscreen display, wireless smartphone charging and a large panoramic sunroof. However, BMW missed an opportunity to upgrade the infotainment system with Android Auto. Like in the X3, it’s still not available and is a miss for the large majority of smartphone users in India.
BMW has used a slightly higher grade of materials in the X4, and the front seats too are a bit sportier than the X3’s and offer extra support.
The X4 quite obviously doesn’t offer the same amount of luggage room as its more practical sibling, but with a capacity of 525 litres (25 more than the previous X4), you can stuff the boot with a fair bit more than a weekend’s worth of luggage. A 40:20:40 spilt for the folding rear seats also makes carrying large bags that much easier.
The X4 shares the X3’s mechanicals – a strong starting point – but to give it an extra degree of sportiness, BMW engineers have tweaked the suspension and steering. Also, a lower centre of gravity, M Sport differential at the rear and a reduction of 50kg (from the previous car) tighten the X4’s body control. Contributing to the dynamics in no small way is the rear track, which has been increased by a considerable 30mm.
All variants come with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system which electronically splits the torque between the front and rear axles. But being a BMW, the split is biased towards the rear.
The X4 has been launched internationally with a wide range of engines, which include three petrol and four diesels. The India-spec X4, however, will most likely mirror the X3’s engine line-up, which is currently limited to the base 190hp, 2.0-litre diesel or xDrive20d, and the xDrive30i, which is really a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol that puts out a hefty 252hp. More powerful variants like the 354hp M40i and 326hp M40d top the X4 range, but it’s unlikely these will come to India in a hurry and even if they do, they will be launched as part of the mid-life facelift to keep the excitement going.
For the media drive here in South Carolina, BMW has arranged just two engine options – the XDrive30i and M40d. So when the keys are being handed out, it’s the 30i’s fob I rush to snap up, as this is the variant most relevant to the Indian market.
I still can’t get used to the fact that the ‘30i’ moniker is no longer for a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre, straight-six but a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol. However, you wouldn’t guess the number of cylinders at idle, and BMW’s latest-gen four-pot B48 motor is silky smooth from the minute you fire it up. With a claimed 0-100kph time of 6.3sec, it packs a decent punch too. The strong mid-range endows the 30i with effortless performance and it was hard to stick to the speed limit. You don’t have to wring the engine to get the most out of it like the earlier naturally aspirated motors, but, at the same time, this inline-four doesn’t sound as sweet as the six. It doesn’t rev as freely either, but when you have a decent 350Nm of torque to play with, you won’t find much need or the inclination to visit the upper reaches of the rev band. There’s hardly any turbo lag either and the X4 responds to even the smallest of inputs from the finely calibrated throttle pedal. The eight-speed gearbox is as smooth and quick as ever, and, in Sport and Sport+ mode, it holds on to each gear longer. The engine-gearbox combo is so good that you don’t really need to shift gears manually, but it’s always fun playing with the paddleshifters.
There’s more of a pause from the gearbox in the M40d but it’s a momentary hesitation before the floodgates are opened. The twin-turbo 3.0-litre diesel spools up instantaneously to deliver a colossal slug of torque – 680Nm to be exact. The rev counter does a merry dance as each gear flies through the rev band. The claimed 0-100kph time of 4.9sec is entirely believable and it continues to pull beyond this speed relentlessly. It was also in the M40d that I was set loose on BMW’s small test track behind the factory, where I could properly experience its sheer pulling power just in the way it would slingshot out of corners on this tight, point-and-shoot circuit.
But it was also on the track that I discovered something I didn’t like about the X4; it’s a bit too understeery for a BMW. Yes, with the traction control on you can’t expect to get the tail out, but more telling was how it handled on the wet skid pad. We were allowed to switch the DSC off completely and were instructed to build up speed and control the rear end with the throttle and steering; if you’re not a pro that’s easier said than done, even on a wet surface. I had to be brutal with the steering and throttle to get the tail out, which ended up in a spin a couple of times. The thing is, the rear end is so well tied down that, even on slippery, wet tarmac, the X4 defaults to strong understeer on the limit.
Christopher Früh, who worked on the dynamics of the new X4, admits it has a fair bit of understeer dialled in. “The wider track at the rear, which we wanted more for the looks and the stance, has resulted in making the car understeer a bit,” he says.
The steering doesn’t have the legendary BMW feel either. It has a dead zone around the straight-ahead position and isn’t quick off-centre. Früh says this is deliberate. “We ◊ ∆ have built some slack into the steering. Our customers don’t want it to be too quick as it makes the handling edgy and nervous for them at high speeds.”
Drive it marginally below the limit and you’ll be rewarded with taut body control and impeccable ride and handling. The X4 is a surprisingly agile car that fluently strings together a set of corners in a way that is remarkable for a high-riding SUV. The brakes too are brilliant and ratchet up your confidence with the way they shed speed. The ride has an underlying firmness to it but it’s never harsh, and the suspension competently manages to round off sharp edges. It’s only on the optional 21-inch rims that the ride gets quite brittle.
THE PRICE OF COOL
Looking at it practically, the BMW X4 is essentially a svelte version of the X3. It’s less of a family car and more for the individual wanting an extra bit of style. So, if you’re considering the X4, chances are that its design appeals to you and you don’t mind sacrificing rear seat space and a bit of practicality. Just bear in mind that it will come at a cost. When the new X4 goes on sale in May 2019, it is expected to be priced at Rs 65 lakh – a good Rs 7-8 lakh over the equivalent X3, and that’s a hefty premium to pay just for the way it looks.
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