BMW isn’t afraid of creating a new vehicle class or two. In fact, when it introduced the X5 at the end of the 1990s, it laid the foundation for several (now extremely popular) blends of SUV, including this one.
The X4 is an SUV that looks like a coupé; luxuriously appointed and dynamic to drive it might be, but is it a niche too far? We’ll find out.
Our Car: X4 xDrive20d M Sport X
List price when new: £45,700 OTR
Price as tested: £56,775
Official fuel economy: 50.4mpg
December 11, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 39.7mpg
Exactly what makes a car premium is hard to quantify. There’s a very fine line between something that’s upmarket and something that isn’t. Take the seats. Thick and firm yet nicely yielding cushioning is considered premium. But it only takes a slight over softening or scrimping on material for something to feel budget.
I can confirm that the X4’s seats are premium all the way. The front head restraints, for example, can be adjusted back and forth to restrain movement perfectly. Even though you’re unlikely to ever use one as a pillow, they’re reassuringly deep and look as if they would be supremely comfortable if you did choose to.
The seats themselves are firm and multi adjustable. There’s an extension to the base that pulls out to give added support for the long of leg. The seats adjust electrically back and forth and up and down and obviously the rake of the backrest moves. There’s memory with two settings for the driver’s seat too. In addition, it features an electric lumbar support and you can even adjust the side bolsters of the front seat backs to grip you more tightly, or not, as the case may be.
The seats are in Red and black Merino leather which is soft and compliant to the touch. The foam beneath is firm with a compliant give. As seating experiences go, this has been well judged to be distinctly premium. However, this luxury does come at a price. The electric front seats are £945 extra. The lumbar support for the front seats will set you back a further £265. And the Merino leather throughout is £990.
Sadly, the thickness of the head restraints is replicated in the windscreen or ‘A’ pillars. The seating position is such that I find the pillars quite intrusive on my vision going forwards. It means my gaze is frequently moving from windscreen to side windows to look around them. Interestingly, my wife, who’s shorter than me, with a lower, further forward driving position, doesn’t have the same problem.
Of course, the X4 isn’t alone in having thick windscreen pillars. It’s a feature that car makers must now incorporate to meet increasingly stringent safety requirements. But it’s always struck me as ironic that something designed to improve safety will likely cause some accidents. It can’t be coincidence that the most cited cause of accidents is when drivers look but fail to see hazards.
December 4, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 39.7mpg
We’re consistently being told that self-driving cars are the way forwards and ‘our’ BMW X4 has what’s known as Level 2 autonomy. This is when two systems work in tandem to control the car while the driver maintains ultimate control. In the case of the X4, as with many other cars today, it has radar-assisted cruise control to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
In addition, the lane-keep technology ensures the car stays in its lane by reading the road markings. In theory, when driving on a motorway I should be able to recline the seat and have a kip. Don’t worry, I haven’t tried it. Nor have I climbed into the passenger seat and taken a picture of myself, like that Tesla-driving buffoon did a few months ago.
In fact, the X4’s technology has shown me quite how far we have to go before self-driving cars are the norm. This is no sleight on BMW. The £1,750 Driving Assistant Plus package appears to work brilliantly. Sadly, UK road markings aren’t so faultless; without white lines on both sides to clearly denote a lane, the car’s computer says ‘no’ as it can’t figure out how to maintain its trajectory.
The system does work well on motorways. But letting the car do everything like this requires a bit of a leap of faith. And it does feel rather odd when the steering wheel torques up and moves itself in your hands to take curves on a motorway. You know the car is doing its own thing because there’s a steering wheel with a green background in the instruments ahead of you. When the car can’t figure out what’s going on with the road, this background goes red.
It also goes red when it detects that you aren’t holding the steering wheel properly, as presumably it is checking you haven’t dozed off. Initially, I thought the lane keep function was a bit of a waste of time. But the more I use it, the more I like it. It definitely makes driving more relaxing. And it’s good to know that, combined with the blind spot monitoring, the car has got everything covered.
Not really trusting the technology has as secondary benefit: it means I’m no less vigilant when it’s working. But it’s reassuring to know that the BMW Driving Assistant Plus has got my back, as any good assistant should.
November 26, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 39.8mpg
The elephant in the room with the X4 is its looks. In the Foxall household opinions are divided. Mrs F likes it, my 18-year-old daughter loathes it and I sit somewhere in the middle. The front is a good example of my ambivalence. Although it’s fussy around the fog light and number plate areas, the top section encompassing the grille and lights is rather handsome in customary BMW manner.
In profile it’s not bad looking either and I particularly like the front three-quarter angle where its testosterone-fuelled muscularity reminds me of one of those Dakar Rally buggies. Our car sits on 20-inch double spoke light alloy wheels as part of its £1925 M Sport Plus package. If I was speccing the car for looks alone, I’d plump for the optional 21-inch wheels. And I suspect on the standard 18-inch light alloy double spoke wheels the body would look too heavy so I think the 20-inch wheels are a good compromise.
Our model is the M Sport X. To affirm its off-road credentials, BMW supplies its approach and departure angles (25.7 degrees approach and 22.6 departure if you’re interested.) It even has a fording depth of 50cm. While these aren’t competitive with a real off-roader, and I doubt the Bridgestone Alenza tyres would be up to much trail bashing either, the butch intentions are clearly there, cloaked in (to these eyes at least) a sophisticated and sporty shape.
While I can see this notion of a coupe SUV might make sense – especially if you’re in a focus group lubricated with Liebfraumilch – I’m not sure the reality does. After all, the sleek silhouette can’t disguise that the X4 is a car of large SUV dimensions but a boot that’s the same size as a regular 5 Series.
And the shape has another significant downside. As it swoops down to the tail, it robs the rear of headroom. This isn’t too much of a problem inside the car. Getting into it is a different matter. My daughter doesn’t travel in the car very often. However, when she does get in it, she bangs her head on the door frame despite being only 5ft 4. I suspect that might be the real reason why she’s taken against it.
November 19, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 39.3mpg
Cars have so much going on in them these days that the Human Machine Interface (HMI) as it’s known is a vital part of life with any motor. Broadly speaking, I think that in the BMW is logical and intuitive. But there are some anomalies.
I find it baffling that there are three ways to adjust the sound system’s volume. You can use the steering wheel control, the regular dash-mounted volume knob and BMW’s ‘gesture control’. This last feature is part of the £1690 Technology Package – and I think it’s an innovation too far.
By the time you’ve waved your hand around like a loon in front of the screen, you could have altered the volume using either of the buttons. And on one occasion, the car interpreted me moving my hand upwards from the iDrive controller to the steering wheel as a cue to increase the stereo volume to maximum.
On a related note, the iDrive controller is one of the most logical around. For anyone who remembers the rather unfortunate original iteration of iDrive, this is leagues ahead. But the option to switch from iDrive to Apple CarPlay is a mixed blessing. On the plus side it makes it very easy to listen to music and podcasts on my phone. Not so good is that it’s a bit clunky navigating between iDrive and CarPlay.
Apple Maps is a fairly rudimentary app and when I once wanted it to navigate me round something, it seemed to decide this was above and beyond the call. Trouble is, once you’re in CarPlay, you can’t access the BMW navigation. But weirdly it works the other way round. So if you input your destination via iDrive and then switch to CarPlay, you still have the benefit of BMW’s navigation, while accessing podcasts and iTunes is simple too.
One final point, I still struggle to know when the car sound system is going to turn itself off. After a few weeks of it only turning off when the car was locked – most irritating as you’d miss part of any programme you were listening to – I thought I’d asked it to switch off when the door was opened. It did that for a few weeks but now seems to have reverted to its bad habits. I clearly have work to do if the X4’s HMI is going to bend to my will.
November 13, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 39.0mpg
There was a time when, in my eyes at least, a sunroof was a most desirable optional extra. At the push of a button a small panel in the roof would magically slide back to reveal a sliver of sky. Since then, my attitude ‑ along with sunroofs themselves ‑ has shifted dramatically.
The X4 features the 21st century take on the sunroof, which BMW (and many other manufacturers) calls panoramic because it stretches rearwards for 924mm and is 890mm wide. The glass panel is split in two. This enables the front panel to move up and glide over the rear one, opening the interior to the elements.
If you want to let in fresh air, you can just tilt it. Or you can have the glass shut so that it floods the cabin with light but no air; there’s also an electrically operated blind that whirrs forwards should you need some shade.
The early sunroof was entirely logical. It lets you enjoy fresh air without opening the windows or buying a convertible. But I question the relevance in a modern luxury motor. That’s because one of the joys of a car like this BMW – and one of the reasons why you spend 45-plus grand on a car – is that it is so cosseting and refined. Climb aboard, shut the door with a reassuring thunk and you’re in an environment with the sort of refinement you’d have expected from a Rolls-Royce a couple of decades ago.
The standard acoustic glass of the windscreen (it’s also optional for the front side windows) is brilliant at keeping out wind noise. And although our car sits on sizeable 20-inch wheels, insulation from road racket is excellent, too. All of which begs the question: why would I want to open the roof and make it so noisy my passengers and I have to shout at each other?
Perhaps on a nice day at low speed around town it might be nice to bask in the sun while stuck in a traffic jam. But then I’d also be basking in all manner of pollution. The glass roof I understand; it lets in light and the interior would be gloomier with a solid roof. But the opening panel? For me at least, in a car as luxurious as the X4, things have moved on.
November 5, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.2mpg
If I was specifying our X4 there are definitely some changes I would make. The interior is a work of art in many respects. But the Fiona Black and Red extended Merino leather isn’t really my cup of herbal. The fact that it’s a £990 option makes it even less appealing in my book!
But if the red seats in the rear were replaced with black, the dark headlining might make the interior appear a rather gloomy and joyless place. Perhaps Ivory White or Tartufo brown for the upholstery would make a better choice. Either colour would certainly have made it easier to decide on which shade of ambient lighting to go for. You did read that right. First World problems, eh?
There was a time when you’d be lucky if there were more than a couple of rather feeble interior lights inside a car. Now some premium cars have ambient lighting that you can personalise. The X4 is one such with a choice of six shades that bathe the interior in gentle relaxing hues such as mauve, pink and blue.
Courtesy of LEDs in the door panels and dash, parts of the car are illuminated in a way that reminds me of a night club I used to frequent in the 1980s. Very on trend of BMW and something else to keep the front-seat passenger occupied via the iDrive during late night drives.
What BMW calls the Welcome Carpet plays a more useful role. Unlike other cars which employ lights in the bottom of the mirrors to shine on the ground and illuminate puddles, the X4 has a second-generation system.
When you unlock the car as you approach it, LEDs come in the door sills, beaming strakes of light across the ground. And because the source is so low down, you don’t interfere with it as you get close to the car.
Both these lighting features are standard on this generation of X4. They might not be as useful as other standard equipment such as the parking sensors and reversing camera, the comfortable sports seats and the LED front fog lights. However, both the interior lighting and the Welcome Carpet give the X4 a night-time wow factor that goes some way to offsetting that eyebrow-raising price tag.
October 30, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.1mpg
There was a Twitter post recently showing the profile of a selection of SUVs and asking people to identify them. I found it nigh on impossible, a bit like trying to tell modern Formula One cars apart without their colour schemes. It’s a truism that, in profile, the majority of the current generation of SUVs look as if they’ve been designed to a very specific set of rules - although that’s not a charge that can be levelled at the X4.
As a consequence, its design has a polarising effect on people: some ‘get it’, others don’t. I like the fact that you can instantly tell what it is. I’m not convinced by BMW’s claim that it has a coupé silhouette, however. To me it looks rather like a high-riding saloon.
Our M Sport X is new to the X4 line up. This X model features newly designed air intakes, side skirts and a rear underguard, all in Frozen Grey. According to BMW: “This radiates an air of off-road-focused sportiness.” I’m not entirely sure what that means but I do know our farmer neighbour looked very sceptical when I ventured the X4 was four-wheel drive. And I don’t think I’d want to take one on the Dakar Rally. But it does give the X4 a certain ruggedness that hints at a certain off-road prowess. And the X4 does feature BMW’s xDrive intelligent four-wheel drive as standard.
This employs the Dynamic Stability Control sensors to tell which wheels have the most grip and uses an electronically controlled multi-disc clutch to divert power to the wheels with most traction. In everyday driving it works seamlessly and can send virtually 100 per cent of the engine’s power to either axle. Like I suspect the majority of X4 owners, I haven’t taken it off road and have no intention of doing so, making it unlikely I’ll ever know if it can live up to its looks.
On a more mundane level, not incorporating a rear wash/wipe into the design is an irritation. Now is the time of year when you get to the car in the morning and it has dew on any surface up to about 60 degrees from horizontal. The rear window is one of these and because there is no wiper, you have to rely on the wind to blow the moisture off and dry it before you can see anything useful from the rear-view mirror.
Clearly one area where the designers got their way over the department charged with user-friendliness.
October 23, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.1mpg
Our X4 is the 20d model with BMW’s B47D20 engine, a 2.0-litre, inline four-cylinder, all-aluminium unit with a single turbocharger (with an entirely diesel line-up apart from the range-topping model). With 190PS (187bhp), it’s the smallest, least powerful engine the X4 comes with - and from my experience over the past couple of weeks, that’s probably not such a bad thing.
First things first: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this engine. It’s as a smooth as a peach and not clattery in the slightest on start-up from cold. With 295lb ft of torque, as I’ve mentioned before, there’s plenty of heft from a standing start. But the X4 is a heavy car, tipping the scales at 1,740kg. The result is a 0-60mph time of 8 seconds and a top speed of 132mph.
That’s plenty quick enough for everyday use and it achieves all this without ever sounding laboured or intrusive. Equally, neither does it overwhelm you with power. I’d describe it as adequate for drivers wanting to make unfussed progress. Anyone who is buying a BMW because they’re after a machine that will put a smile on their face would be better off considering the more powerful 30d or 40d versions.
However, if you want this BMW because you’d like a car that won’t break the bank in running costs, this is the model to go for. Of all the X4s, this is the most economical. It produces 146g/km of CO2 and its official EU Combined economy, according to the old NEDC rules, is claimed to be 50.4mpg.
However, the best I’ve seen on the car’s trip computer is 38.2mpg, which is obviously some way short of the claimed figure. That said, I’m not overly disappointed. This is a big car and as clever as BMW’s engineers are, they’re unlikely to be able to defy the laws of physics.
In basic trim, the difference in price between the 20d and 30d is £5,815. TV architect Kevin McCloud always advises people to spend their money on getting the building basics right and then anything left can go on cushions. With a car, I suppose the equivalent is paying for as big an engine as you can afford. Take some of the electronic driver aids off our 20d’s price and you’d go a long way to covering that extra for the bigger engine.
October 16, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.0mpg
If we take any car component for granted, surely it’s the key. But with the X4, BMW has managed to make it a useful feature and a conversation piece. The X4’s key is much more than a simple device for unlocking and starting your car. It performs both those functions and goes a step further - this is a mobile information device about your car.
If, like me, you have Compulsive Checking Disorder and can’t leave the house without ensuring you haven’t left the gas on or a tap running, this is the key for you. While it’s in range of the car, which as far as I can tell is about 50m, it will give you a status update. Worrying that you’ve walked away without locking the car or have perhaps left the sun roof open is now a thing of the past. The key’s small screen will tell you that the car is secured with all doors and the boot locked, roof closed and alarm on. Or not, as the case may be.
You can also use the key to tell your car to warm the interior while you’re sitting snugly (and smugly) in your home. It’ll even tell you how much range your car has in the fuel tank.
Downsides? There are a couple. Most obviously there’s the key’s size. It’s so bulky it’s rather like carrying a second mobile phone around. If you’re wearing a suit, it really doesn’t do any favours for the line of your trousers.
And, like a mobile phone, this needs to be charged. Yup, that’s right. I now have another device in my life that I need to keep on top of charging. I hadn’t really thought of this until it lit up with a red warning glow to inform me that its battery was nearly dead.
Charging isn’t too much hassle, however. The X4 has a wireless induction charging plate in front of the cupholders. Pop the key on that and it seems to replenish its battery very quickly. But while it’s there, you can’t charge your mobile phone. The key is also in a funky looking leather case which slides around on the charger, so you can think you’re charging it when, in fact, the red light indicates that you aren’t.
I like the information the new key gives me - but I can’t help thinking a mobile phone app would do the job just as well.
October 9, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.1mpg
The X4 has been employed for a couple of trips into central London recently which has let me witness BMW’s EfficientDynamics in action. Obviously I can’t actually see the weight loss. But apparently the aluminium and ultra-high strength steel diet this X4 has been on has it tipping the scales at around 50kg less than its predecessor. The results are there for me to enjoy via an ‘infotainment’ system that is beyond thorough.
For a start, there’s a choice between Sport, Comfort or EcoPro driving profiles. Choose EcoPro and rather than racy red backlighting for the driver’s digital instruments, you get a more mellow blue. And the rev counter is replaced with an eco dial. This tells you how many mpg a twitch on the accelerator removes, and also reveals when the X4 goes into mild hybrid mode, harvesting energy as you slow to re-charge the battery.
It also displays two pieces of information that I’ve never had a car divulge before. The first is how much fuel you’ve saved by choosing to drive more conservatively; the second is how much time you’ve spent with the engine not running, courtesy of the stop-start system. With the latter, it’s astonishing how quickly a few seconds here and there turn into minutes, particularly when you’re driving in a congested major conurbation.
Delve into the menus further, via the iDrive controller, and you can judge how efficient you are with your use of the accelerator and anticipation of road conditions. Along with a star rating, it even gives you driving hints. That said, if you follow all of them and coast up to junctions from a mile away you’re going to incur the wrath of fellow road users. Nonetheless, it makes it easier to occupy the hours while you queue waiting for traffic lights to change.
The ease with which you can access this information is testament to how BMW has developed its iDrive system. I remember back in the late 1990s, the then-new iDrive was widely panned for how clunky it was to use. BMW stuck at it and, helped by advances in technology, the company has turned it into one of the most user-friendly systems around.
Now the challenge is not finding the information, it’s more about not being distracted by the sheer amount of data at your fingertips.
October 1, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 38.0mpg
As stressful experiences go, moving home is up there with the best of them. Shifting your only daughter to her new life at university in London should therefore have been extra traumatic. And, of course, it was emotionally testing. But it was made as easy as it could have been by the X4’s ability as a load lugger.
I doubt many people spend £50k-plus on a premium Sport Activity Coupé like this to shift large amounts of stuff on a regular basis. However, it’s reassuring to know the capability is there when you need it.
Back when I left home, I remember walking into my halls of residence with one large bag. My daughter had three times that in clothes alone. Then there were pots, pans, bedding and before I knew it a huge pile was blocking the hall. I was confident the X4 would swallow it. I wasn’t so convinced it would do so without either strapping the daughter to the roof or sending Mrs F up on the train.
In the event, I needn’t have worried. The X4 has a 525-litre boot without the seats folded down. That’s easily sufficient for a family’s suitcases without removing the twin load covers. The rear seat backs fold in a 40-20-40 ratio so we put down one side plus the middle seat. They don’t collapse completely flat, but they were sufficient to pack in bags containing the duvet and pillows plus food. With some judicious distribution, we managed it with room for three people remaining.
On the drive up to London, the 20d 2.0-litre engine coped admirably. This is the starting point for X4 engines. With 295lb ft of torque there’s plenty of oomph when you accelerate from a standstill. But with only 190bhp, the X4 quickly runs out of steam. And cruising on the A roads round us where tractors are an everyday reality, it doesn’t feel like there’s much in reserve should fast acceleration for overtaking be necessary. However, on the motorway it was fine.
Admittedly I didn’t have much visibility out of the rear window and the reversing camera was a must have rather than a nice to have. But I was grateful for the insouciant way the X4 rolled up its sleeves and got on with the everyday trials of family life.
September 26, 2018
Fuel economy this week: 37.8mpg
The first meaningful journey we’ve taken the X4 on was a day trip to Brighton. This usually take a shade over an hour on the A27 and from our rural home is a combination of country roads, fast A roads, dual carriageway and obviously, urban driving.
First impressions are that inside the cabin you’re very well insulated from the outside world. Unlike our previous long-term Mazda CX-5 ‑ a mass market model with premium aspirations ‑ the X4 really is a premium model: every interaction with the car oozes quality. Whether it’s the beautifully soft leather of the BMW Individual seats or the satisfying way the control wheel turns for the BMW iDrive infotainment system you’re in no doubt that this is an upmarket model.
Equally, the way road and engine noise is suppressed makes driving the X4 a relaxing and premium experience, whatever the road. That’s helped by the car’s size. This latest version of the X4 is 81mm longer than the model it’s replaced. Of that, 54mm has been added to the wheelbase. The result is this model looks longer, lower and more lithe than the previous iteration.
Inside, the cabin has plenty of space front and back. Despite the sloping, coupe-like roof line, there’s sufficient head room for a six-footer like me. And I can even sit behind myself without feeling cramped when it comes to either head or leg room. My daughter, who is 5ft 4, appreciates the slightly raised rear seats which have the ‘theatre’ effect of improving the rear-seat passenger’s view out.
But because everything’s so big, it appears to shrink its incumbents and that results in making judging the car’s exterior dimensions strangely difficult. I particularly noticed this when we got to Brighton and started looking for somewhere to park.
Public car parks aren’t known for their space. And judging by its Brutalist concrete design, the one we chose was constructed in the 1960s or 70s when cars were significantly smaller. As a result, navigating the twisting and tight entrance with its alloy-threatening kerbs and unforgiving steel rails was a buttock-clenching experience.
And, even when we’d found a parking space, the X4 stood out against other apparently sizeable cars as being rather a large beast.
September 19, 2018
How families grow. When BMW first launched an SUV nearly 20 years ago, it may have had a little brother in mind for the X5, probably not much more. Now the X5 has three SUV siblings and the X4 that we’ll be running over the next few months is nearest in size.
According to BMW, this is something other than an SUV: it’s a Sports Activity Coupe. The model we’re trying is the second-generation that was only launched in May this year. Our test car is the X4 xDrive20d M Sport X. Let’s decode that quickly. The xDrive part means that it has BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive. The 20d shows that it employs BMW’s two-litre four-cylinder engine and the M Sport X signifies a more off-road focused look to its external accoutrements.
In standard spec, our model would cost £45,700, almost as cheap as X4s come. But the price is hiked by various options. For a start there’s the very smart Sophisto Grey Xirallic paintwork at £670. Inside it has Fiona Red/Black Merino extended leather seats for a further £990.
Throw in the Technology Pack for £1,925, adaptive front suspension at £460, electric front seats with memory on the driver’s side costing £945, the Driving Assistant Plus for £1,750 and Parking Assistant Plus at £500. Along with a few sundry extras that you never knew you wanted, plus delivery tax, the price is suddenly a not-insignificant £56,775.
This latest generation of X4 employs the same oily bits as the X3 and 5-Series. But who is it aimed at? BMW says it’s people who want the hallmark features of an X model (versatility and good driving dynamics) with the sporting elegance of a coupé. With seating for five (four in a large degree of comfort) plus a commodious boot, it will also appeal to families.
That ‘fastback’ shape means it should attract drivers who don’t want the utilitarian lines that proper SUVs feature through necessity. And equally it should draw drivers who want a car that’s a little more daring than a regular saloon or estate.
Judging by the number you see around – ie not that many – it’s going to be bought by folk who aren’t afraid of ploughing their own furrow either. I like to think that’s me (who doesn’t?) so let’s see how seamlessly it fits into my family life.
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