The verdict: New styling and a boost to the wheelbase make the new X4 slightly less weird, decidedly more fun and marginally more desirable than before.
Versus the competition: There’s one vehicle the X4 is meant to fight: the equally silly Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, against which it stacks up toe-to-toe in nearly every attribute but ultimately succumbs to the Benz’s ritzier interior appointments. The Porsche Macan somewhat qualifies as a competitor, but it generally targets a different buyer.
The BMW X4 has always been a weird one. Like the larger X6, it builds off a perfectly good crossover SUV (the X3 in this case), takes away functionality by chopping down the roofline and cargo area in the name of a sporty profile, then charges you more money for the privilege of having less utility in your sport utility vehicle. Then BMW insists you call it a “coupe” — despite the fact that it has four full doors — thanks to its slammed profile. So what is it? A tall hatchback sedan? Some kind of sporty SUV that favors the S in the equation more than the U?
This is the second generation of the X4. It’s back for 2019 with a stretched chassis that adds more length and wheelbase, plus restyled looks that make it a bit less weird than before. Dynamically, the 2018 X4 was a lot of fun in its higher-performance M40i version. Do the improvements balance out the new one’s remaining shortcomings?
It Looks Better
BMW added 3 inches to the X4’s length, including 2 inches to the wheelbase, and the effect on the overall look is a definite improvement; it doesn’t have that hunchback look the outgoing model suffered from. The new one is sleeker, proportioned better and feels lower overall. The more balanced styling is one factor making the new X4 more desirable.
I drove an X4 M40i, which is the sportier version of the X4 (a base xDrive30i can be had with a four-cylinder engine and without all the sporty equipment). The M40i includes an aerodynamic kit with more aggressive styling bits for the bumpers and sills, plus a “shadowline” exterior trim package that blacks out most of the exterior chrome. By contrast, the latest Mercedes-Benz GLC300 Coupe still looks odd, with a bulbous rear end that doesn’t do it any favors despite providing some decent headroom for backseat occupants. Porsche seems to have found a more acceptable shape in its Macan despite overall similar proportions and roofline.
It Drives Better
The M40i I drove was powered by a 355-horsepower, turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine. It was also blessed with an adaptive sport suspension, larger M Sport brakes, a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and several customizable drive modes that allow you to set everything exactly how you like it.
Along with the improvement to the X4’s looks comes a decided improvement to its behavior. The M40i is gnarly fast, with immediacy to its power delivery that will have you dipping into the throttle often just to get the rush from its snorty acceleration. (BMW reports a zero-to-60-mph time of just 4.6 seconds.) Steering is much more traditional BMW than many of the company’s current products, with a connected, direct feel that’s lacking in bigger vehicles like the X5.
Body control is impressive; hustle the X4 around a track or down your favorite back road, and it moves with smart authority. Out on the highway, the damping is excellent. Add in the X4’s quiet ride and you’ll find yourself traveling much more rapidly than you thought you were going.
Ride quality is on the firm side, even in Comfort drive mode, thanks to big wheels and high-performance tires. But I like that the modes actually change the characteristics of the car; the Sport modes do in fact give the vehicle a sporty feel, and there’s even a Sport Individual setting that allows you to change various factors independently. I kept the steering and engine performance in the highest Sport mode but left the transmission and suspension in Comfort mode, allowing me responsive power and sharp steering feel without a punishing ride or having the transmission constantly in a gear too low for normal driving. The only annoying part was I had to reselect those modes every time I started the car; there’s no memory function for this feature.
The X4 stacks up well versus the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, with models at every level designed to go toe-to-toe with BMW’s chief German rival. There’s a GLC300 Coupe with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s meant to go up against the X4 xDrive30i, and there’s an AMG GLC43 Coupe with a twin-turbo V-6 there to match up against the X4 M40i. The GLC63 Coupe brings a twin-turbo 4.0-liter V-8 to the party, while the GLC63 S Coupe amps that engine up to max performance. Above the X4 M40i, however, BMW fights back with the X4M and X4M Competition variants, though it skips the V-8 in favor of even hairier versions of the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six.
Fuel economy ratings are decent for the X4 M40i: the EPA rates the crossover 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined. My week with the X4 saw an overall combined rating of 24 mpg despite me driving it fairly aggressively, especially on the highway. It beats out its main rival, the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe, which is rated 19/24/21 mpg despite the Benz having an extra cog in its nine-speed transmission versus the BMW’s eight-speed unit.
It Feels Better Inside
Along with exterior updates, the X4 got some welcome interior spiffs, as well. There’s a new dash and door design employing more high-grade materials, and it all looks much ritzier than before. The leather (both real and artificial) covering the interior feels good to the touch, and the diamond-pattern aluminum trim is unique and appealing. It’s not quite to the level of sophistication seen in the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, but that sort of judgment is increasingly becoming more a matter of taste and preference than one of blatant superiority. Thankfully, BMW hasn’t yet fallen into the “touchscreen everything” trap, so there are actual high-quality buttons to push and knobs to twist, unlike in the latest Land Rovers and Jaguars.
The biggest improvement comes in the backseat, which gains some legroom and headroom and is a much more comfortable and usable place than it used to be. You still pay a price for that sporty roof, however, with backseat headroom coming in around 2 inches less in the X4 than in the X3 SUV on which it’s based. Cargo room is similarly compromised by the sloping rear window, which curtails the amount of stuff you can carry. At 18.5 cubic feet, the X4 has 10 cubic feet less space behind the backseat than the X3, and 12.2 fewer cubic feet when it comes to total cargo room (50.5 in the X4) with the seats folded. That said, it still has more cargo room behind the backseat than the Macan or the GLC Coupe, though not by much.
The latest multimedia system from BMW also works well, with one major caveat: In order to access Apple CarPlay, you must connect via Bluetooth to the car’s system — a process that’s neither terribly quick nor intuitive. Simply plugging into the USB cable doesn’t do it — the connection has to be wireless. While this might sound like a decent convenience — especially combined with a wireless charging pad in the center console, allowing you to just drop your phone into that pad and automatically connect to CarPlay — we’ve had mixed success with the connection. Sometimes it drops inexplicably and can’t be reestablished despite the car and phone saying both are connected. This has happened in several new BMWs I’ve driven, with more than one phone, yet other staffers have reported no such issues.
To add more insult to the mix, BMW makes you pay for Apple CarPlay — an ongoing subscription, no less — after an initial free trial period. Requiring payment for a feature that’s standard in some of the cheapest cars on the planet — only to have it not work very well — is not cool, BMW. At least the big screen in the BMW allows for better CarPlay displays than you get on most smaller screens. BMW still doesn’t support Android Auto at all.
The 2019 BMW X4 has not been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard safety equipment is sparse by modern standards — as is common in German luxury cars, where most safety technology costs extra. You get BMW’s Active Protection System standard, which detects an imminent collision and pretensions safety belts, activates a post-crash braking system and closes the windows. The system also includes a fatigue sensor. Active Guard, with front collision warning, pedestrian detection and autonomous braking, is also included. Features like blind spot and lane departure warning are options, however, as is active parking and a 360-degree camera system.
It’s Not Priced Any Better
BMW offers up two X4 models for 2019, starting with the four-cylinder X4 xDrive30i at $51,445 (all prices include destination fees). It has a much less powerful engine but still comes with all-wheel drive. The model I tested was a six-cylinder X4 M40i that also has standard all-wheel drive; it starts 10 grand more than the base model, at $61,445. A third version comes for the 2020 model year: the X4 M, featuring an even higher output version of the inline-six and a starting price of $74,395.
My test car included a few options, such as a Driving Assistance Package, Premium Package, Executive Package, 20-inch wheels with summer tires, wireless smartphone charging and a Harman Kardon premium audio system. It rang up a hefty grand total of $69,170.
Competitors are very closely matched in price and specs. The Mercedes-AMG GLC43 Coupe starts at $62,195 for a car with just as much power, standard all-wheel drive and an extra gear in its transmission. The Porsche Macan S also joins the fight, priced at $59,850 and featuring a V-6 that isn’t quite as powerful as either the BMW or Mercedes, and only a seven-speed automatic transmission. The mission of all three of these sporty quasi-SUVs is the same: on-road style over substance, fashion over utility. That said, BMW has upped its game with the latest X4, creating a vehicle that’s better-looking, more useful and a greater pleasure to drive.
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