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A car that straddles the line between practicality and performance. Does BMW have a winner on its hands?
Way too often, we come across a car that is weighed down by expectations as a result of what came before it. This BMW too, is an SUV that has a lot riding on it. Its elder sibling, the X6, when it first debuted with its bulbous proportions, was a game changer, establishing BMW as a manufacturer that heralded niche segments or body styles and found mainstream success with them.
Over time, every luxury manufacturer worth their salt jumped onto the bandwagon and created their own version of the Coupe SUV and all of them have, with time, become increasingly better and the proportions have now become a lot more muscular courtesy some good work by the designers. This second-generation X4 seeks to find the middle ground between the practicality of an SUV and the dynamics of a sedan. To begin with, the X4 has its basics in the right place, as it borrows its underpinnings from the accomplished X3 and is thus based on the lightweight and modern CLAR platform.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. The X4 has tremendous street presence. Even though it isn’t that big an SUV(4.7m long), its clever designing and coupe proportions make it stand out, especially from the side. The sheet metal looks like it has been wrapped onto the taut body of the X4 and the aggressive contouring, the bulging wheel wells with 19-inch wheels lend it an athletic stance that’s difficult to miss. The lines that run along the sides meet the tail neatly, and the swooping roof adds that touch of drama to the way the X4 looks. To add even more drama, there are elements like the sculpted side skirts, roof spoiler at the top of the rear windscreen and the rear diffuser. Add to that the sprinkling of MSport badges and the blue brake callipers on this xDrive 30d variant. Things, however, take a downturn at the front, which looks like any other BMW and the enlarged grille too doesn’t add anything.
On the inside, a lot has been understandably borrowed from the X3 and that is not a bad thing at all. Everything that you touch on the dash feels great and is put together very well. The leatherette on the top of the dash is a nice touch and so are the metal buttons on the central console. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is great to hold and everything falls to hand easily. This is a driver-centric car without doubt. The iDrive display is high res and as in other current-gen BMWs, all the controls are easy to use and you can get into a good driving position easily. Be warned though: the X4, with its huge pillars and raked windscreen, has big blind spots. There is gesture control that, for the most part, works as advertised. There are some bits, however, that don’t belong in a car of this stature. The steering adjust is not electric and the plastics towards the lower part of the doors and on the glove box lower down are scratchy. However, overall quality is what you’d expect from a Bimmer. The HUD is a feature that is unusual in this segment of car and displays important information in your line of sight.
The rear seats aren’t as comfy as the ones upfront and the swooping roof eats into headroom. However, the sunroof makes the space feel a lot less claustrophobic. Overall, the X4’s cabin is a comfortable place to be in, with its plush, comfortable seats and wonderful infotainment system.
The car we tested came with the 3-litre, in-line six diesel engine that produces 262bhp and 620Nm of torque and is clearly the best part of the X4. It is paired to an 8-speed torque converter unit from the ZF. And the two work together splendidly. The engine produces a good amount of power, and loves revving all the way to the limiter. While delivering the goods, the six also sounds nearly as musical as it does in a ‘real’ sports coupe with a petrol motor. The gearbox does a great job of selecting and holding the right gear in most any condition, but the shift paddles are always at the ready when the driver seeks a little more involvement. The engine and the gearbox together ensure that the X4 gets to 100kmph in a claimed 6 seconds. Acceleration, therefore, is sprightly but rather surprisingly, the big 3-litre diesel engine is extremely quiet and refined even when pushed hard. Not just that, it even managed to return a respectable fuel efficiency figure, even after long spells of spirited driving, both on the highway and in city conditions.
The X4’s electrically-assisted variable sports steering system is tuned for a little more heft in the normal Comfort driving mode. Adding weight to the steering doesn’t bring any additional feel for the road, but we did prefer the sense of finer control in Sport over Comfort mode on the twisties.
The brakes do an incredible job of stopping the X4 with a great progressiveness to the pedal travel, something I haven’t felt on any other BMW before. There is loads of bite too, and it urges you to push the X4 even harder. What we didn’t get to do was try the X4 on any surface farther off-road, but then again, owners are about as likely to go off-roading as they are to enter a drift competition.
In short, yes! The X4 handles like a dream and there is very little body roll while cornering. The 50:50 weight distribution of the car along with the active differential at the back ensure that you are always aware of where the limits of the car are and even when you do breach them, it’s easy to bring the car back in line. The wide-section tyres don’t break traction easily either and coupled with the rear-biased AWD, there is loads of grip and absolutely no drama even while using launch control. The X4 really defies physics when the roads get twisty, sharing the rigid chassis and overall refined behaviour from the X3, which we’ve already praised in the past. In fact, it improves on its platform-mate, while sharpening the handling. In the adaptive driving mode, it sharpens the suspension, steering and drivetrain response, delivering the perfect mix of driver involvement while not being uncomfortable to drive or be driven in. Even really bumpy surfaces or broken roads couldn’t upset the X4’s composure. The X4 has an inherent firmness to the ride that doesn’t break your back over speed bumps and potholes, and is just right for you to have some fun behind the wheel on the twisties. Even in Sport Plus mode, the ride is pliant. Throttle responses, however, quicken up quite a bit and the steering weighs up too. However, the added weight to the steering feels rather unnatural and doesn’t do any wonders to the excessively-assisted and vague steering wheel.
The X4 is a lot more than the sum of its parts. Everything from the ride, to the handling and even the performance hits the sweet spot that every automotive engineer dreams of hitting. It does that while looking like a million bucks. Every last ounce of performance is accessible, even to someone without too much driving skill. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring. It keeps you engaged and all that in a car that is supremely comfortable too.
The X4 is, without a doubt, an incredible car. The high-sided body style is immensely practical and the level of performance and handling it offers ensure that you can have fun behind the wheel. For the sticker price that puts it in between the X3 and the X5, you get a lot more over the X3. Most importantly better dynamics and that sexy coupe roofline along with refinement that was lacking earlier. The X4 could turn out to be just the right product for the Indian luxury car buyer who has, for a few years, continually drifted towards the comfort and refinement of another German marque. With no direct competitor in sight and a fantastic product to boot, BMW finally has a winner on its hands.