Half four-door coupe, half SUV, the X4 follows in the footsteps of its illustrious elder sister, the X6. But how good is it to drive and just how practical is it, especially with that tight-fitting roof?
In our constant endeavour to get you the story first, we at Autocar India often go to extraordinary lengths. In the past we’ve picked cars up from ports, we’ve driven them off the backs of trailers, and early last year, we even drove a couple straight off the motor show floor.
What we are about to do this time around, however, is something we’ve never done before. We’re not just here at the BMW plant outside Chennai to pick up the new X4. No, we’re here to drive it, get this . . . straight off the end of the production line. No dispatch delays, no days lost in transport, no calling the stockyard, nothing – just wait for the car to be produced, get in, and drive off.
It’s actually even crazier than it sounds. The car starts off as a bare-metal shell at one end, and by the time it’s out the other end, we have to drive it away. And what’s stranger still is loading all our kit into the boot of the X4 at the end of the light tunnel, while final quality checks are being carried out.
I undertake my own walk-around. As always, job number one, before taking off on a long drive, involves checking the spare. Thankfully, most BMWs now get one, and what’s nice is that – like in the 5 Series – the space-saver in the X4 sits in its own little stowage area under the floor of the boot. This does mean there’s a bit less space for luggage now (it’s just 395 liters) and the boot floor is a now higher still. So if you have heavy bags, you’ll have to do some heavy shrugs. Still, this is clearly more practical than having to toss your luggage on top of a spare that’s carelessly strapped to the floor; something other luxury manufacturers do.
Spoiler inspired by stealth bomber engine intakes.
We’re still a few minutes from departure, so I take a quick walk around the shiny new X4. And I like what I see, especially from the rear. The wide rear haunches and the steeply raked windscreen really do hit the spot, and then there are plenty of neatly executed details like the three-dimensional cladding along the bottom of the doors and the stealth-bomber-inspired mini spoiler at the top of the rear windscreen.
The stand-up nose and steeply raked front windscreen get my attention next. And what also leaves a strong impression is just how bulky it looks from the side. At 4.7m long, the X4 isn’t huge, but it doesn’t look a whole size and a half smaller than the gargantuan X6 either. The nose, with its high-mounted grille and LED lights, however, is a bit too safe and generic.
It’s not every day you drive a car off the production line, but that’s what we did.
Under the skin, the X4, like the X3 and almost every new BMW since the 7 Series, is based on the CLAR platform or cluster architecture. Extensive use of aluminium and high-strength steel help make it around 50kg lighter and it even gets a longer wheelbase for better rear legroom. As ever, BMW claims a perfect 50/50 front-rear weight distribution.
BIG TORQUE, STRONG PERFORMANCE
Finally, it’s time to get going, so I walk under the arc lights, climb up into the X4 cabin, start-up and gently drive off the line. . . . .odometer reading zero. Fancy that. We have to stop again for a pre-delivery check before we head to the East Coast Road (via a back road), and this takes a bit of time. But once on the road, all thoughts of that delay disappear. And the reason for that is the simply awesome straight-six diesel engine under the bonnet.
30d straight-six delivers loads of performance.
Now new engines these days don’t really need any running in. Modern-day tolerances are a far cry from what we had in the past and, as a result, cylinder walls, liners, pistons and piston rings don’t quite ‘grate’ like they used to. Still, I just can’t get myself to ‘whack’ open the throttle on this brand-new engine. So, initially, I only lean on the throttle gently. I lift off early, don’t let the engine spin faster than 3,000rpm and, every time I need to slow down for a corner, I avoid downshifting too.
However, even fresh out of the box, BMW’s prime mover feels so responsive, so meaty and so effortless, the X4 just slingshots past slower traffic, even when I so much as tap the throttle. Wow, this engine has certainly evolved over the years. Injection pressures are now up to 2,500bar, the engine puts out a max of 265hp in this state of tune, and what makes everything feel so effortless is the chest-thumping 620Nm of torque. Past 2,000rpm, you all but surf a tsunami of torque.
Later, I begin to drive with less mechanical sympathy and a heavier right foot, and the performance gets even stronger. The straight-six pulls hard all the way to 5,000rpm, and in Sport (and manual), you can even coax it to 5,600rpm. Is it any wonder then that it often feels like a free-revving petrol? BMW says the X4 30d can do 0-100 in a claimed 6sec. Nahhhh, this thing feels even faster!
In the X4, this updated engine also feels more refined. Now BMW’s diesels aren’t always the most refined units around, and this is true of Munich’s big six as well. However, the clatter at idle, rattle on overrun and even resonant boom are all better damped.
The other X4 we have with us, the 30i petrol, gets only four cylinders and a displacement of two litres. And this means torque is nowhere near as strong; this one has 350Nm. The TwinPower turbo-petrol, however, does make a very healthy 252hp. So while it doesn’t feel as effortless and lacks the sheer oomph of the diesel, it still feels happy to rev, zingy and quick enough once you rev it hard. In fact, once past 4,000rpm, the petrol engine sort of comes into its own. And this is because, unlike some turbo-petrols, this one actually likes to rev. Sure, it will not slingshot you forward like the diesel, but you can still extract plenty of performance from the engine by wringing it out.
Steering isn’t one of BMW’s best efforts recently.
What makes doing this even more enjoyable is the ubiquitous 8-speed ZF automatic, available on both petrol and diesel engines. The torque converter-equipped gearbox is smooth, jerk-free, and when you are in a hurry, it upshifts with a satisfying thump. Even on downshifts, it’s reasonably quick. And what makes it particularly pleasant is that it doesn’t have that ‘protective pause’ many twin-clutch gearboxes seem to develop when mated to torquey engines.
COMFY AND FUN
The back road we are on is sinuous, pretty traffic-free and runs through picturesque farmland. The surface, in general, is reasonably good, but every now and then we come upon a small town, and then it all ruts, along with broken patches and deep potholes. With its healthy ground clearance, the X4 is just the tool for the job. Sure, there is a bit of stiffness in the springs, and on the deeper holes and sharper-edged ones, you do experience the occasional thud. But the suspension feels robust and absorbent enough to drive through most rough patches. The ride over bad roads too is good enough to be termed comfortable, with very little actually filtering into the cabin. What’s also impressive is that the suspension is silent, has almost no slop – and BMW says that’s even with the X4’s adaptive dampers set in ‘Comfort’.
Cladding along bottom of doors looks super cool; should be quite practical too.
The X4 drives around corners reasonably well. Body roll is kept nicely in check as you enter a corner, there’s plenty of grip from the wide tyres and with the four-wheel-drive X-drive system, you can add plenty of power even out of slow corners on exit. Just don’t be impatient or add power too early; this causes the nose to run wide, and putting the X4 in Sport or even Sport+ doesn’t improve things much either. Yes, in Sport, with its stiffer dampers, it is a bit more poised in corners, and this means you can carry a bit more speed and enjoy punting it around a bit more. Still, that early onset of understeer often plays spoilsport. The steering too is clearly not impressive either. It is both inconsistent and unnecessarily weighty at the same time, and as a result, it doesn’t give the driver much confidence.
With its elevated driving position, swept-back A-pillars and typically flat SUV bonnet, the X4 gives the driver a clear view of the road ahead. The steering adjust is manual, which is odd for a car at this price, but the X4 establishes its sport-luxury credentials with the presence of adjustable side bolsters for the front seats and other goodies like a head-up display. What also helps puts you in the mood for a nice, long stint behind the wheel is the fabulous driver’s seat. It offers just the right amount of thigh support, especially with the manually extendable seat base, the lower back support is excellent and what embellishes the experience are high-quality bits like the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel with its cool to touch metallic inserts, the high-gloss gear lever and the beautifully finished and comfy to use pedals.
Rear seat gets recline, but it still feels upright.
As with most luxury car brands today, the design of the dash is very generic. There are new materials used in some places and the all-leather, soft-touch dash with red contrast stitching feels sumptuous, but bits like the screen-based dials, the air-con controls and the touchscreen are so widely shared between various BMW cars, they make the X4 feel a bit ordinary. Quality levels, however, are another matter entirely. It is almost impossible to spot any badly put-together parts or poor material quality here. And what makes the experience even nicer is that functionality is first rate too. For example, you get a big iDrive knob, a touchscreen, voice commands, and even gesture control where you can just twirl your fingers to control the volume and stab the screen with two fingers to change the channel. BMW designers have even left the air con and audio system buttons in for added practicality.
Rear visibility poor due to slot-like windscreen.
With its low roof and focus on form rather than function, the X4 was never going to be the perfect chauffeur-driven car. Yes, the long wheelbase means legroom is good, and the X4 is wide, so sitting three abreast isn’t much of an issue either. And the presence of the panoramic sunroof means you can always brighten up the rear. Those over 6ft, however, will find headroom to be tight, and thigh support isn’t great as the seat squab is short; the backrest isn’t particularly comfy either. It can be reclined via a lever on the seat base, but the range of movement is severely limited; even with it all the way back, it still feels a bit too upright.
Build quality of steering wheel is very good.
And, since we are talking about the rear, don’t try and reverse by looking back through the slot-like rear windscreen; visibility out the back is almost as bad as on a supercar.
X FOR GEN X
With prices starting at Rs 60.60 lakh for the 20d (not tested here), and topping out at Rs 65.90 lakh for the big-hitting 30d, the X4 nestles snugly between the new X3 and the X5. It doesn’t quite offer the practicality of the X3 and nor is it the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to driving pleasure. Yes, it’s quick, especially the 30d and 30i (Rs 63.50 lakh) variants, but quite frankly, the only reason to spend so much more over an X3 is for the attitude and style the coupé-like X4 exudes.