DURBAN, KwaZulu-Natal – Coupé crossovers may have their detractors but they are undeniably popular. Here’s a statistic for the naysayers (welcome to the club!): since its launch in 2014, BMW has sold 200 000 examples of the outgoing X4. Want an even bigger number? in 2017, a third of all BMWs vended were X models and, ever since the first X5 hit the market in 1999, 5,6 million Xs have found homes.
So it’s little wonder BMW has chosen to engineer sleeker, numerically even versions of its staple SUVs and will soon launch ultra-luxurious X7 and X8 options.
Following the X2’s introduction earlier in 2018 is the new, second-generation X4. Based on the accomplished underpinnings of the still-fresh X3 (BMW wasn’t about to waste any time in bringing the new X4 to market, unlike its strategy with the previous model, which arrived late in that generation X3’s lifecycle).
The local market receives a 20i, 20d and M40i, with an M40d following early in 2019. You’ll notice no models in the mid-range, a trend reflected in the upcoming X5 line-up and one BMW SA says will be applied to most of its ranges – 2 and 4 Series, for example – because variants such as the 30i and 30d tend to sell in small numbers and therefore the cost of bringing them in is high.
Compared with the old X4, 2018’s model is longer and wider, but lower. The design is more resolved than before – gone is the Bauhaus blockiness that characterised the older vintage’s front-end – and the scythe-like rear lamps look great in the flesh, imbuing the X4 with a character notably distinct from the X3.
Like the X2, three design lines are offered – standard, M Sport and M Sport X (the latter two are optional) – while the M40i receives bespoke design cues.
Inside, the resemblance to the X3 is more striking … but that’s hardly a criticism. The SUV’s cockpit is a paragon of user-friendliness, class-leading infotainment technology, appealing materials and practicality. Of course, the X4 sacrifices some passenger space – although my 1,85-metre frame had no issues finding enough knee and scalp clearance in the second row – and boot room, but 525 litres for luggage is still more than the old model could muster and, to my eyes, looked generous.
The two entry-level models each boast a 2,0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine but drink from different pumps. Where the 20i wins the refinement game, the 1 998 cm3 unit staying remarkably smooth for a four-cylinder petrol right until the rev needle buts up against the redline, it can’t match the diesel’s in-gear urge. The oil-burner, conversely, sounds and feels a tad gruff. On balance, I would recommend the latter, though; it’s the slightly more pleasurable steer and lighter on fuel to boot.
Standard X4 variants incorporate the suspension tuning from X3 M Sport models, whereas X4 M Sport and M Sport X options stiffen the setup further. Thankfully, however, the ride remains well damped – impressively illustrated on a rutted gravel road on the way to our lunch stop – but it’d be wise to opt for the adaptive damping option, which widens the dynamic range and seems like great value at R8 600.
An element which irked me during our drive was the variable-ratio steering. In theory, the system demands less input at speeds of up to 50 km/h, while the gearing relaxes above 50 km/h. In practice, however, the setup exhibits a nervousness that’s initially tricky to come to grips with.
That’s really my only noteworthy criticism of the new X4. It’s good to look at, surprisingly practical, beautifully built and, like we’ve come to expect from BMW, impressively light on fuel. I still maintain the cheaper, roomier X3 is the one to get but, if you’re sold on the concept of a crossover-coupé, the X4 might just perform a coup on your cash reserves…