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HomeFEATUREDBMW X4 – First Drive Impressions

BMW X4 – First Drive Impressions

If there is one thing that BMW’s X division has co-authored the textbook on, it is building luxury SUVs that are great at going fast. So, when the company recently launched the all-new X4, it left DEON VAN DER WALT pleasantly surprised.

The preamble to BMW’s ‘Dynamics for Unwieldy Vehicles’ undoubtedly contained sketches of the Bavarian carmaker’s first SUV, the X5, and one big question mark splashed next to the word dynamisch?

While it couldn’t have been easy to incorporate ‘car-like’ performance and handling characteristics into a package that in addition to these qualities also had to have some form of ground clearance, SUV-like packing space and seating comfort to rival that of a private jet, they nevertheless pulled it off. The result? An ever-so-popular premium luxury SUV that has become synonymous with performance.

Then, in 2003, BMW tried to replicate this success by creating the X3, a concentrated version of the bulkier X5.
It was only during the closing clutches of 2007, however, that BMW started production of something that must, at the time, have seemed stranger than fiction; the X6. An X5-sized SUV, with the roofline of a coupé.

FOUR THE INDIVIDUALISTS

BMW X4

The SUV-buying landscape has morphed, though. Full-blown and conventional premium SUVs that perfectly represented a marriage between performance and practicality just isn’t enough anymore. Buyers wanted to check the boxes of individualism and non-conformity as well. And, you might be wondering, what of the BMW X6 then?

Well, it was and still is one expensive SUV and therein, we argue, lies the brilliance of BMW’s smallest and more affordable Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV), the X4.

See, the first generation was so popular among buyers who refused to conform to middle-of-the-road SUVs, that in its four years of production the X4 sold around 200,000 units worldwide. To put that into perspective; that’s around a 3.6% share of all BMW X-badged SUVs sold since the first X5 in 1999.

CARRYING THE TORCH

BMW X4

So, does the new X4 make as big an impact as its predecessor? Visually, I’d say probably not. Don’t get me wrong, however, the lines of the newest X4 are still striking, nicely proportioned and aesthetically pleasing, but instead represents a styling progression of the baby SAV.

It retains its coupé roofline, which has been tweaked with a more pronounced shoulder line that runs from the door handles to the new taillight clusters that render better uniformity with the overall look of the SAV.

At the front, the new LED headlights have been separated from the more pronounced kidney-grille, thereby creating the impression of a wider stance. This is also not entirely down to clever design tricks, since BMW’s newest SAV is 37 mm wider than its predecessor, while it has also been lengthened by 81 mm. The wheelbase similarly received a 54-millimetre stretch.

This translates into more boot space that can now gulp 525 litres of luggage with the rear seats in an upright position. When folded down, this figure increases to a substantial 1,430 litres. That’s an increase of 25 and 30 litres respectively.

If that is not enough, it also offers an underfloor compartment that’s perfect for storing any number of odd bits and bobs.

THERE’S SOME SPACE

The new exterior dimensions directly translate into better interior roominess in the X4. One such outside-to-inside benefit is the extended wheelbase that improves legroom for rear passengers. And speaking of rear passengers, we tested the head- and legroom of the rear seats using a front-to-back seating test, and it receives the nod of approval despite the declining roofline.

As is a BMW hallmark with its exceedingly logical cabin, everything is still exactly where you expect it to be. There have, however, been one or two new welcome additions. Like its X3 sibling, the X4 now also features a digital instrument binnacle, while some attention-to-detail touches like X logos on the doors set the X4 apart from the herd of conservatism.

THE BUSINESS-END

For now, BMW has only launched the X4 with three engine choices. Our choice of the lot, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel as fitted in the 20d, produces 140 kW and 400 Nm of torque, while the 2.0-litre petrol mill of the 20i churns out 135 kW and 290 Nm of turning power.

If that, however, doesn’t get your blood pumping, there’s also the option of the 3.0-litre in-line six-pot twin-turbo breather (260 kW and 500 Nm) that lives under the bonnet of the X4 M40i, while a high-performance diesel model is also expected to make its appearance in the near future.

The reason, says BMW, for these rather limited engine choices, is that the middle ground is shrinking, and buyers tend to buy at the entry-level clutches of a respective range, or fork out and buy the range-topping models on offer.

DRIVING THE X4

BMW X4

On the launch route around KwaZulu-Natal, we found that the X4 mainly does what it says on the box, by offering a sporty drive for what is essentially an SUV-coupé.

Driving both the 20d and 20i variants, we’d have to say that it’s the diesel that takes the performance cake with a more responsive throttle feel and plenty of torque that makes small work of any uphill section.

The petrol engine, on the other hand, felt slightly overwhelmed with the task of propelling the near 1.8-tonne SUV forwards.

On the handling front, though, it is quite easy to forget that this is indeed a heavy SUV, what with its responsive steering and corner-taking abilities. While the 20” tyres inarguably takes the credit for most of the car’s adhesion to the road, there are also clever electronic tricks – like the electronically controlled differential lock and BMW’s Variable Damper Control – that provides an added edge in the dynamics department.

LAST WORD

While the BMW X4 might not be everyone’s cup of tea, for those looking to add a dab of individualism to their lives, this Beamer will deliver, and then some. Despite the above average (for the segment) entry-level price tag, we expect this Sports Activity Vehicle to rewrite BMW’s X chapter going forward.

We would, however, not specify it with the 20″ wheels that were fitted to the launch vehicles since it makes for quite the firm ride and that’s a pity, considering it bejewels the X4 so nicely.

Report by DEON VAN DER WALT | Images © BMW SOUTH AFRICA

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