Engine: Turbo 3.0L I6
Power: 300 HP / 300 LB-FT
Transmission: 8-Speed Auto
0-60 Time: 5.2 Seconds
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Base Price: $48,000
As-Tested Price: $61,275
BMW has been in the line-blurring business of late, with the original X5 "Sports Activity Vehicle" muddling the line between SUVs and sport sedans in 1999, the 5 Series Gran Turismo challenging what our definition of "Gran Turismo" means in 2009, and pretty, low-roofed four-doors like the 6 Series Gran Coupe and the fresh new 4 Series Gran Coupe broadening the meaning of the word "coupe."
In the midst of all of this, BMW blurred the lines around both the SUV and coupe genres with its big, heavy, and in many ways ridiculous X5-based "Sports Activity Coupe" (cue collective eye-roll), dubbed X6. Auto wags scoffed at its lack of utility, compromised outward visibility and added cost, but a more emotional public was apparently smitten enough by its aggressive looks to avail itself of some 250,000 of them worldwide in six model years on sale.
Enter the all-new 2015 X4 crossover – err, "Sports Activity Coupe" – which BMW hopes will perform as well in the compact category as the X6 has on the next rung up the ladder. Like the X6, the X4 is a tough sell on paper: it's more expensive and less practical than the X3 on which it's based; it's heavier, despite the loss of interior space; and it doesn't even hold as much stuff in the back as the 3 Series wagon. As with the X6, the X4 is essentially a high-riding style statement that, like proper coupes (the two-door kind), says to the world, "You fools can take your need for practicality and shove it. I just want to look good."
Whether or not one actually looks good in the X4 is up to the beholder, of course. One thing is for sure: no one will be indifferent toward it. The front fascia is unique and busy, with oversized air intakes and high-set foglights, though everything else in front, including the huge kidney grille intakes, scowling quad-element headlamps and the hood are shared with the X3. The beltline rises dramatically to meet the fastback roofline at the ducktail tush, while the swage line that runs the length of the body at door handle height is cut into two segments, giving added definition to the rear fender. The side window graphic is cut into four decreasing glass sections that culminate in a small quarter window interpretation of the Hoffmeister kink. The rear end itself is flat and tall, despite BMW's valiant attempts to visually widen it with lots of horizontal elements in the taillamps and bumper. In person as in pictures, the X4 looks short, stubby, and almost Napoleonic. If the X4 took human form, we'd see him as a five-foot, four-inch gym rat with sleeve tattoos. And he'd probably read a lot of car magazines.
As with the X3, the X4 will be available in the US with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 240 horsepower between 5,000 and 6500 rpm, and 258 pound-feet of torque from 1,450 to 4,800 rpm, as well as BMW's wonderful 3.0-liter N55 inline-six, producing 300 hp from 5,800 to 6,000 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque from 1,200 to 5,000 rpm. Both come mated to BMW's fabulous eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive with brake-based torque vectoring. At the X4's official media launch in Spain, BMW led with its strong foot, bringing only X4 xDrive35i models equipped with the $1,900 M Sport line for us to drive. The testers were also equipped with the $1,900 lighting package, the $3,150 Technology package, $1,000 Dynamic Damper Control, and a host of other goodies that bloated the price from $48,000 to $61,275 delivered. While we won't issue our final judgment about the X4 until we get a chance to drive the X4 28i (which starts at $45,625), we have to say that the loaded-to-the-gills X4 xDrive35i made a great first impression from behind the wheel.
Not surprisingly, the X4 drives a lot like an X3. To account for its lower center of gravity and offset the slight weight gain (38 pounds for the inline-six models and 62 pounds for the four-cylinder model), BMW has recalibrated the X3's powertrain and chassis settings and managed to sportify the driving experience in the process. Launches are fun: with some throttle braking and the Dynamic Drive Control system in its Sport setting, the X4 35i catapults forward with startling force and absolutely zero wheel chirp. BMW claims to have shaved a few tenths from the sprint from 0 to 60 mph, which takes the 28i model 6.0 seconds and 35i model just 5.2 seconds (0.6 and 0.3 seconds quicker than their respective X3 counterparts), but we wouldn't be surprised to see those numbers prove to be a bit conservative. Thanks to its long, flat torque curve, the 35i model we drove was never without thrust for passing. Some credit must go to the paddle-shifted ZF eight-speed automatic, which is as delightful here as it is everywhere else it's found in BMW's family, serving up rev-matched downshifts, snappy gear changes, and when left in its sport setting, full manual control.
We spent a fair amount of time at triple-digit speeds on northern Spain's smooth motorways, and alas, found that despite the wide 245-series front and 275-series rear tires, the X4 is no 4 Series in the high-speed stability department. Strong crosswinds occasionally pushed the X4 around in its lane, while wind noise emanating from the mirrors bordered on furious.
Off the motorway and along the twisty two-laners that snake around the Basque country, however, the X4 proved to be thoroughly entertaining. Steering could use a bit more feel, as ever, but turn-in is sharp and precise, with no delay in response and no on-center dead spot. With its added power, sharp steering response, and rear-axle torque distribution, corner carving in the X4 was easy if a bit surreal, considering how high up we were sitting. The performance dampers are a worthwhile option, keeping the X4's tall body from heaving over even a little, and thanks no doubt to the wide, low-profile summer run-flats wrapped around the 19-inch M Double Spoke wheels, grip around some of the decreasing radius corners seemed endless. We didn't attempt any tail-out shenanigans, but we dare say we had more fun in the X4 than the slinky 428i Gran Coupe we drove the day before (more on the latter soon – Ed.), suffering as the latter does from the F30's well-documented steering numbness and dull turn-in characteristics. And alas, when the wind wasn't rushing around the mirrors, the splendid sounds of the N55 motor filled the cabin.
Speaking of the cabin, it's essentially pure X3 inside, with the seats mounted about an inch lower to offset the 1.5-in lower scalp job. Fortunately, the front seats are still tall enough to afford occupants a commanding view, though they lose about a half inch of headroom overall. In back, the sloping roofline cuts a more significant 1.7 inches of noggin space, leaving respectable headroom in the backseat for anyone under six feet, but be prepared to hear some feedback from any tall folks you leave back there for long, especially considering they also lose about two inches of legroom compared to the X3. It can get a little dark in there, too, thanks to the low ceiling and the black headliner; fortunately, a single-pane sunroof is offered, which doesn't appear to impact rear seat headroom.
On the plus side, the X3-based dashboard is arguably one of BMW's best and most ergonomically sound current designs; iDrive has never worked better, and there is a vast array of available comfort, convenience and safety technologies to make it feel every bit the BMW that it is. The optional aluminum trim on our tester is completely in character with the X4's sporting proclivities, and the X4's sport seats look great, particularly in off-white Nevada leather with red trim. Stiff piping around an inch-wide, striped leather panel on our tester's driver's seat rubbed our shoulder blades, and not in a good way. The passenger seat didn't inflict the same pain on us, so we'll chock this up to the vehicle being an early production model; in any case, make sure you sit in one before you plunk down some cash on one of these.
The X4 goes on sale in July, and as unusually packaged as it is, it will face some stiff competition from the swagger-laden Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, the Audi Q5/SQ5, and most significantly, the handsome and swift Porsche Macan. The X4's stiffest competition, however, may in fact be sitting right next to it in the BMW showroom: the fair X3 we've been referencing this whole time is offered with most of the same stuff, but its pricing starts about 10 percent lower when equipped with the four-cylinder ($41,325 vs. $45,625) and six percent lower with the six ($46,025 vs. $48,925). Factor in the extra passenger space, practicality, and lighter weight, and buying an X3 makes far more sense.
But as we said before, the X4 does not make sense. It looks unique, and it puts a smile on its driver's face. But like the X6, the X4 does not – and probably never will – make sense to anyone outside of those who actually buy one. Anyone, that is, aside from BMW's gratified accountants.