Styled to look a little like BMW's X6 crossover, the 2015 BMW X4 features a fastback roof line and a suspension reconfigured to provide a more sporting drive than the X3 it is based on. Mostly it works, as it's one of the most enjoyable drives of its type even if the rear cabin suffers a little from the transformation.
What Is It?
BMW's newly introduced X4 is a sportier compact SUV designed to compete with the new Porsche Macan, Audi Q5, Range Rover Evoque and BMW's own X3. In fact, it's closely based on the X3, but the X4 is about half an inch longer and 1.5 inches lower overall.
Like the X3, the X4 is available with a choice of two gasoline engines. The base model is called the xDrive28i and is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 240 horsepower. For added performance, there's the xDrive35i, which uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder rated at 300 hp. Base price for the xDrive28i is $45,625, while the xDrive35i starts at $48,925.
Standard equipment includes easy-to-use dual-zone air-conditioning with air outlets for those in the rear, eight-way power front seats and a tilt-and-telescoping steering column. The long list of standard equipment also includes things like wood trim, rear seats that fold in 40/20/40 sections, park distance control, a power tailgate, dynamic cruise control, a 12-speaker stereo and automatic headlights and wipers.
There are two trim lines: the luxury-oriented xLine and the M Sport package. The main differences between them are decorative, each using alternative wood and metal decors, but the M Sport package also includes sport seats, an aerodynamic body kit, an M steering wheel and a black headliner, which is why it's more expensive.
How Does It Drive?
The BMW X4 is intended to be a sportier SUV, and certainly feels it from the moment you sit in its supportive front seat and grasp its thick-rimmed, leather-bound steering wheel. Apart from the fact that you sit usefully higher, its excellent driving position feels similar to a sport sedan. The view forward is excellent, but the oddly arched rear window reveals little of the world behind.
Apart from a gearshifter that's not the most obvious to operate, all the major controls are easy to use. The X4's responsive, firmly weighted and accurate steering makes it easier to position than most SUVs, and in corners it handles with the maneuverability of a compact car.
The xDrive label indicates all-wheel drive, with both the X4 xDrive28i and the xDrive35i benefitting from this as well as torque-vectoring, a feature that apportions thrust across and between axles to maximize grip and maintain your mid-bend trajectory. The result is an SUV whose road behavior is considerably less clumsy than its name.
Despite its generous 300 hp, the six-cylinder engine in the xDrive35i lacks a bit of low-down urge, and on the open road it's a surprise to find that you need to rev it well north of 3,000 rpm to get it to move in a manner appropriate to its sporting mission. This mild shortage of midrange thrust certainly tempts you into some reconfiguring of the BMW's controls when the road gets twisty.
Knocking the gear lever left into Sport triggers a more reactive accelerator and transmission, while toggling the center console's so-called Driving Experience Control into Sport intensifies the effect. You might want to use the paddle shifters, too, as the eight-speed transmission doesn't always choose the ideal gear for the most eruptive exits from bends.
That you'll be wanting to achieve this effect is a measure of the X4's confident way with corners. The steering's heft gives you confidence, as does the X4's buttoned-down body control.
According to BMW, the six-cylinder turbo xDrive35i accelerates to 60 mph in a brisk 5.2 seconds, while the 2.0-liter turbo of the xDrive28i makes 60 mph in 6.0 seconds. Both engines issue sportily eager soundtracks, the six-cylinder's a little smoother, although there's a slightly gritty quality to the noise of both motors. Neither is over-intrusive, though.
The X4's ride can feel a bit unyielding on some surfaces, although the suspension functions quietly. The extra-cost adjustable adaptive dampers are highly recommended, producing a more pliant ride for urban and interstate drives, and firmer, more roll-resistant progress for swiftly driven twisting roads.
How Does It Rate in Terms of Interior Comfort?
The X4's interior is nearly identical to the X3's, and provides the same high standard of finish. The materials quality is high, from the soft-touch plastics of the fascia to the leather upholstery and aluminum or wood decor. The front seats are very comfortable, too, but rear-seat passengers, who are not that generously served by the X3, will find that the X4 is even less accommodating.
BMW has lowered the seat cushion by more than an inch to maintain headroom beneath the X4's sweeping roof, but the result is reduced leg support, and you can't stretch your feet beneath the seats in front, either. It's fine for smaller kids, but adults won't thank you for lengthy imprisonment back here. Up front, however, there's plenty of space, and the trunk is decently sized, too.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
BMW has yet to issue EPA numbers for the X4, but given its similarity to the X3, those numbers should be a good guide. The X3 xDrive28i achieves 21 city/28 highway mpg, while the X3 xDrive35i returns 19 city/26 highway.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
In some respects the BMW X3 SUV is the X4's closest rival. The X4 is sportier, but if rear-seat space is important, the less expensive X3 may prove more convenient.
The Porsche Macan is pricier, but it's more entertaining to drive, has better rear-seat accommodation than the X4 and is highly customizable.
Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque is very stylish, but sacrifices some cabin space as a result. Its four-cylinder gasoline engine is a bit noisy and its ride a little stiff, but it's economical and handles well, if less entertainingly than the X4 and Macan.
The Edmunds "A"-rated Acura RDX offers an appealing mix of strong acceleration, good economy, capable handling, a soothing ride and plenty of features, too. If all-out performance isn't necessary, it's a good compromise.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You like the high driving position of the X3 but don't really need the same level of passenger- and cargo-carrying capability. Or you simply prefer its unique styling compared to its boxy-looking competitors.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The X4 is noticeably more expensive than the X3 and less practical, too.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.