X4-Play: Driving the BMW X4

Back in 2008, the original X6 was unleashed onto the World, promising the sportiness and drivability of a Coupe with the attributes of an SUV, all packaged in a more dramatic looking body. Like most other new concepts from BMW, it was received with shock and confusion by the motoring press. Although it drove rather well with its torque vectoring drive-train, some thought it was pointless while others balked at this monster of a machine that only sat 4 (rectified to sit at least 5 later in its production life). No need to mention those who fainted just from the sight of it. It looked “interesting” to say the least and even i compared it to the Warthog from Xbox’s Halo (In the nicest way possible of course!).

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We were all wrong of course as the BMW X6 went on to become a big sales success. It sold so well Mercedes-Benz is now trying to pry sales off BMW by creating their very own X6-esque vehicle. So well that it has spawned not only a sequel, but a “lite” version, in the form of this new BMW X4.

Before we begin though i have to make a confession, I’m not the biggest fan of the BMW X6. It might handle and drive exceptionally well for such a large vehicle, but it’s those very dimensions that i thought made it a little bit cumbersome for our local roads. Unfortunately for the smaller X4, i didn’t exactly take too kindly to its introduction to the BMW stable because of my previous encounters with the X6. So it came as quite a pleasant surprise how much i actually liked it soon after i saw it in the dealership’s basement carpark.

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When i first saw the press shots of the new BMW X4, i thought it looked a little strange and maybe a bit fussy, but this is one of those cars that really needs to be seen in the flesh to be appreciated. What might look a little stumpy in photos actually translates to a rather pleasing shape in real life. The more aggressive face, the way the roof-line slopes down, the cut-lines that point downwards along the sides and most importantly of all, the overall size of the X4 is spot on. Allowing it to keep the sportiness aesthetic of the X6 while forgoing most of its bulk, giving it a more athletic and lighter design and feel.

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For me at least, i think it looks really good. Good enough that i kept turning back whenever i parked it up. Especially in our test car’s Alpine White paint work with contrasting black elements for the wheel-arches, side-skirts and bumpers. If you spec your car with the optional M-Performance kit, those contrasting bits will be replaced with color-coded body panels. I’d personally go without the M-Performance bits as i reckon they add too much visual bulk to the design and makes the X4 look more slab sided and chunky.

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One of the issues that X5 and X6 punters had when deciding which one to go for was interior space. While the Coupe-Esq tapering roof-line gave the X6 a much more sport appearance, there was some compromise in terms of interior packaging, made more obvious when BMW initially launched the X6 as a strict 4-seater. Choosing the more menacing looking car meant giving up a not just headroom for those in the back, but an additional row of seats which the X5 could accommodate. It was quite a bit of a compromise.

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For those choosing the X4 over the X3 however, they have a lot less to lose out on. Like the X4, the X3 does not have the option to add a third row of seats, so those who choose the X4 over the X3 are really only giving up a bit of headroom for the rear passengers and some space in the boot, which on the X4 still easily swallows up plenty of shopping bags, golf bags and even the occasional bit of furniture.

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Inside, ergonomics are without a fault and with our car’s brushed aluminum trim, looks and feels good even though the dashboard styling is similar to its X3 brethren and might look slightly dated if i was to be fussy.

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Seats are extremely supportive with electrically adjustable everything and inflatable side bolsters to pinch and clamp you into your seat. Those in the back also get a decent amount of space with a nice amount of legroom. Surprisingly, the tapering roof-line does not intrude too much into the cabin and with the rear seat bench positioned lower than the seats up front, passengers in the back are well accommodated for. Two full-sized adults will be most comfortable while three will find it adequate with no need to encroach into anyone’s personal space.

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On the road, the BMW X4 drives as well as any other BMW should, with excellent body control and equipped with Dynamic Drive Control (DDC) and Electronic Damper Control (EDC), allows us to adjust the ride characteristics of the X4 from Comfort to Sport, to an uncomfortably bumpy Sport-plus which feels somewhat harsh for a car of this type and I’d personally leave off when driving on local roads. On all 3 modes however, damping is nicely calibrated, giving a comfortable ride while allowing slight bumps to travel through to your bottom and steering wheel. BMW’s characteristic underlying firmness is ever present and keeps the X4 planted and straight as long as one keeps things sensible. If the driver chooses to wing it, the X4 is surprisingly agile on its feet and equipped with xDrive, has the advantage of 2 wheels up front helping to pull the SAC (Sports Activity Coupe) out of tight situations. For a car sitting somewhat high up, it drives extremely well.

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With BMW’s multi award winning Twin-scroll charged 3-liter up front running through ZF’s lovely 8-speeder in our top-of-the-range test model pumping out a very respectable 300 horses and 400Nm of torque from just above idling speed, acceleration is not going to be much of an issue here, if you must, 100km/h comes up in 5.5 seconds, slightly quicker than the X3. Mid-range overtaking maneuvers remain effortless and with its smaller footprint, allows you to dart it through traffic much easier than its bigger X5/X6 brothers. With Porsche’s Macan S straight in its sights, i guess the X4 needs everything its got.

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I really do like the new X4, it drives and handles really well, is perfectly sized for Singapore’s roads and it looks good enough to make me keep turning back everything i park it up. With the X4, BMW has done something all other SUV/SAVs have failed to do, make me seriously consider having one. (If i can pony up the cash of course, all 355 Gs)

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