Versus the competiton:
The sleekly styled 2015 BMW X4 doesn’t differentiate itself enough from the excellent-driving X3 to overlook its decreased usability and bloated price tag.
The 2015 BMW X4 is an all-new model based on the luxury automaker’s second-best-selling SUV, the X3, but with coupe-inspired styling similar to the BMW X6. BMW calls the result of this strange cross-breeding a “Sports Activity Coupe” — the same name it gives the X6 — but it’s a fraction of the X6’s size and price. Don’t let the word “coupe” fool you: This is an SUV with four doors and a liftgate. At its core, it’s an X3, with the same powertrain options and interior design, and the xDrive all-wheel drive functionality of an Audi – and it’s this similarity to the X3 that is both the X4’s biggest strength and biggest weakness.
Like the X3, the standard engine in the base X4 xDrive28i is a 240-horsepower, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder found in many other BMW models. The xDrive35i employs the venerable 300-hp, turbocharged inline six-cylinder. Compare the X4 with the X3 here. Both engines pair with an equally impressive eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive. Both the 28i and 35i variants of the BMW X4 have three trim levels that BMW calls “lines”: a base model, a luxury-oriented xLine and a performance-oriented M Sport. I tested the X4 xDrive35i M Sport. The M Sport adds an aerodynamic package, sport suspension and unique interior appointments. Our test car stickered at $55,300, including a $950 destination fee.
BMW’s X6 isn’t exactly tearing up the sales charts; it’s BMW’s lowest-volume SUV. It’s strange, then, that we’re seeing the same stylistic focus appear in BMW’s lineup again with the X4. (The coupe-like sloping roofline is also a popular trend among luxury sedans, like the BMW Gran Coupe series and Mercedes-Benz’s CLS-Class.)
Mercedes also wants in on this strange niche of coupe-styled SUVs, if the recently introduced GLE Coupe is any indication. Land Rover’s Range Rover’s Evoque, though, is actually available with two doors, so it wins the battle of most coupelike SUV. Compare the X4 with the X6 and Evoque here.
The X4 is closer in size to the BMW X3 or four-door Evoque than it is to the X6 or Mercedes’ GLE coupe. It’s 0.5 inches longer than the X3 and 2.2 inches lower at the roof. BMW went for an aggressive, muscular appearance with the X4’s front styling by using large air intakes on the outer edges and defined character lines along the body side. The X4 M Sport is a spot-on impersonation of the $100,000 BMW X6 M, the automaker’s 567-hp rocket-ship SUV. M Sport X4s wear unique front, side and rear styling plus 19-inch wheels, with the option of 20-inch wheels.
The BMW X4’s front seats are mounted 0.8 inches lower than the X3’s, and rear passengers sit 1.1 inches lower to create a carlike seating position. There’s still a lot of SUV characteristics in the handling department, even with the performance-oriented M Sport suspension.
The M Sport’s aggressively tuned sport suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires give the BMW X4 a stiff, bouncy ride quality that’s not for the faint of heart. The tightly tuned suspension might be more trouble than it’s worth, considering the X4 still drives a tad on the hefty side. It has a nose-heavy disposition, though body motion is well-controlled, and there’s no question this car is connected to the road, letting drivers know they’re in a sporty SUV.
The M Sport’s fixed-firmness suspension is replaceable with an optional $1,000 Dynamic Damper Control suspension featuring adjustable firmness. How the X4 handles with its sport suspension is still impressive for an SUV, but it doesn’t go above and beyond the X3’s capabilities. Land Rover’s Evoque is 450 pounds lighter than the X4 (4,130 pounds versus 3,680 pounds) and that comes across in how light-footed and nimble the Evoque drives.
Like the X3, the turbocharged, 300-hp six-cylinder in the BMW X4 xDrive35i is a potent engine with enough grunt to make mundane errands entertaining. The responsive engine and quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission always keep passing power right at your toe tips, so there’s no waiting for a downshift when it’s time to light off and go. Acceleration is especially vigorous in the BMW’s sportier modes. They’re selectable via a toggle switch and dial up accelerator and transmission response from mild (in Eco Pro and Comfort) to wild (in Sport and Sport+ modes).
Unlike the X3, all-wheel drive is standard in the BMW X4. The powertrain is a fantastic combination, but also not very different from the X3. BMW says the X4 xDrive35i does zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, while the X3 gets there in 5.3 seconds. One tenth of a second is not felt in the seat of your pants.
The BMW X4’s two flavors include the xDrive35i, which has EPA-estimated mileage of 22 mpg combined (it’s 19/27 mpg city/highway), and the 23-mpg xDrive28i (20/28 mpg city/highway). The Evoque is rated 24 mpg combined (21/30 mpg), while the X3 is expected to get 24 mpg combined (21/28 mpg) with the four-cylinder and either rear- or all-wheel drive. The six-cylinder X3 is rated 21 mpg combined (19/26 mpg). A stop-start feature shuts the X4’s engine off automatically to save fuel when the car is stopped. Its execution in the X4 is a little rough, but drivers who dislike it can turn the feature off.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too when it comes to the X4’s coupelike shape. The sloping roofline decreases backseat headroom and inhibits visibility. (At this point, the X4 really is beginning to sound more like a coupe than an SUV.) Rear headroom shrinks from 39.1 inches in the X3 to 37.4 inches in the X4, though other backseat dimensions remain unchanged. Even up front there’s 0.7 inches less headroom than the X3 offers.
Perhaps the most noticeable consequence of the BMW X4’s coupe styling is rearward visibility. A small rear window, thick body pillars and a miniscule piece of glass behind the back door windows offer limited visibility; the Evoque and X3 have less limiting rear sightlines. The roofline’s intrusion into backseat space requires passengers to duck more than they normally would to get in. The backseat features two bucket seats and a raised middle seat, as opposed to the X3’s flat bench.
The interior design is nearly identical to the X3, with a classy execution of material quality and fit and finish. The M Sport features brushed aluminum trim, an M steering wheel and upgraded headliner material. On the downside, there isn’t much distinction between this and the X3, and genuine leather still isn’t a standard feature; imitation leather comes standard, while leather is a $1,450 option or available as part of a $2,200 Premium Package.
BMW’s iDrive system has come a long way since its much-maligned initial years. I still don’t find the knob-based controller for the multimedia and vehicle functions the easiest to use, but BMW seems to improve its function incrementally with each new version. In the BMW X4, it’s still easy to get lost in the menus despite shortcut and back buttons. Gaining familiarity with the system’s multiple screens and pages takes a good amount of time and patience.
Our X4 test car had BMW’s optional, $500 Enhanced Bluetooth and Smartphone Integration adapter. It’s a feature that docks the phone securely inside the center storage console and uses the car’s cellular antenna for its signal. It also charges the phone and gives full function to the multimedia and navigation system. It’s a much cleaner installation than a long cord and keeps the center storage console tidy. Various adapters are available to work with different phones.
Cargo room behind the backseat is down from the X3’s 19.4 cubic feet to 17.7 cubic feet, and overall cargo volume is down from 56.5 cubic feet to 49.4 cubic feet. The Evoque has a smaller exterior footprint than the BMW X4 by more than a foot in length yet has more cargo room, at 20.3 cubic feet or a maximum 50.1 cubic feet.
A power liftgate is a standard feature just like on the X3, though a rear window wiper is not (one isn’t even offered). BMW really went for the coupe motif by excluding the rear wiper, but I wanted one during my drive time to clear snow and debris from the back window.
The X4 had not yet been crash-tested at the time of publishing. Optional advanced safety features include forward collision warning with automated braking, lane departure warning, a “surround-view” backup camera with a top-down view of the car, plus front and rear parking sensors. You can see a full list of safety features here.
A starting price of $45,650 for a four-cylinder BMW X4 is $4,200 more than an all-wheel-drive, four-cylinder X3. Beyond an all-wheel-drive X3’s standard equipment, the X4 adds high-intensity discharge headlights with adaptive function, rear parking sensors and variable sport steering.
Step up to the more-powerful engine, and the X4 xDrive35i costs $48,950. The M Sport Line adds $1,900 ($2,300 on four-cylinder models), the Driver Assistance Package (with the backup camera, adaptive cruise control and front parking sensors) is $700, heated seats are $500, and our test car’s $2,200 Premium Package included smart keyless access, lumbar support, leather seats and a one-year satellite radio subscription.
The tab added up quickly and the car we tested, at $55,300, didn’t have navigation, smartphone app integration or a much-needed blind spot warning system. A few things it had that I’d do without include the M Sport Line and even the more-powerful engine. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is such a good engine in other BMW products, it makes the six-cylinder a hard sell; I have a hard time believing it wouldn’t do well in the BMW X4. Zero to 60 mph is still a respectable 6 seconds for the smaller engine, compared with 5.2 seconds for the big guy.
At its core, the BMW X4 is mostly a design exercise. Maybe shoppers will flock to the coupelike SUV in the X4 simply because it’s in a more reasonable price range now, coming in a whopping $15,000 less than an X6. You’d really have to be in love with the look, though, to fork over an extra $4,200 given the BMW X4 isn’t that different from the already exceptional X3. Styling and a few features are the only differences, and the negatives of decreased room and visibility are hard to ignore in day-to-day driving.