There are many ways to expand reach and extend market share, and spin-offs are a good way to go about it. Television uses it to great effect, and automakers are getting big into that particular game as well.
Nothing too hard about it, and it beats turning out a completely new trick from ground up, cost and time-wise. Identify an existing model and see how you can make it so it’s differentiated enough from the original, and voila, new cake.
BMW is getting very efficient at this – plenty of variations and sub-takes to be found in its model inventory these days, but the F30 3 Series / F32 4 Series Coupe and latest F36 4 Series Gran Coupe trinity is a good an example as any of how to stretch the net for effect.
That train of thought has spread to their cousin, the F25 X3, and the result is the X4, a vehicle for the BMW buyer wanting to go the taller route, doesn’t care for the F15 X5‘s shape, loves the E71 X6‘s (or the second-gen F16‘s) flash but thinks it too big, preferring something along the lines of an X3 dimension-wise, but thinks the latter too stoic and wants something with more visual dynamism. Here’s the extrovert then.
Strange when you consider that when the X3 first came along, it was the sportier option to things, but such is how things have progressed that a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV) isn’t seen as being sporty enough these days. Enter the second, smaller iteration of the Sports Activity Coupe (SAC).
As its type designation suggests, the new F26 adopts an outlook based along X6 lines, with the rear mimicry evident. The latter has done considerably well, despite its size not making it a vehicle for all, with more than 250,000 sold since its debut in 2008, so a smaller option should prove to be a bigger winner, or at least that’s the hope.
Nothing wrong with the rear half of the equation – it’s quite fetching, really, reworking the lines of the X3 into something with far more energetic visual appeal. The front, however, doesn’t quite blend into things as well, to my eyes at least. There’s a flatness to it and more than a passing association to the X3 in that mix, minor redrawn lines notwithstanding.
From some angles, the X4 works, and from others, less so. It’s a face that one can eventually get to love, I suppose, but it’s not ever going to be classified as pretty, now or ever, and there’s definitely less of a uniqueness factor to it than the X6 – like that one or not, the E71 has presence. This one looks ungainly, despite attempts to doll it up to recreate a similar effect.
Externally, the X4 measures in at 4,671 mm long, which is 23 mm longer than the X3, and at 1,624 mm tall, sits 51 mm lower than the X3 (1,675 mm tall). Otherwise, the width and wheelbase of both vehicles are identical, at 1,881 mm and 2,810 mm respectively.
The X3’s underpinnings continue on inside, with the dashboard fascia of the X4 being a good place to play the spot the difference against the X3 game. Actually, as with the F30/F32/F36, the approach is downright generic, in a “you know you’re in a BMW, but which BMW are you in?” manner.
A selection of high-gloss black panels and aluminium trim strips are available, as is an optional M Sport dress-up package, while standard equipment levels are higher than that of the X3, but it’s all status quo otherwise. As with the 4 GC, some differentiation in design would have been nice, but this is how it is, like it or not.
So, aside from the external rework, the differences can be felt from a height perspective – the X4’s body sits 36 mm closer to the road than the X3, with the driver/front passenger sitting 20 mm and the rear passengers 28 mm lower to keep things in line with the coupe overtones.
Like the 4 GC and the 3 Series, there’s a difference in cabin height dimensions as well in terms of measurement from top of the seat base to roof line – at the front, this is 1,014 mm and at the back, 950 mm, on the X4. The X3’s corresponding numbers are 1,033 mm (+ 19 mm) and 994 mm (+ 44 mm).
In practice, it doesn’t feel too pinched, as demonstrated by the above pix, with Richard Leu of the Bangkok Post ensconced in the rear of an xLine level xDrive30d that was on display in Bilbao Airport – he’s a lanky fellow, and the lack of thigh support from the rear seat base is very apparent, but accordingly knee room is decent. The seating arrangement is for five, but more readily serves four with a fifth occasionally.
As with the 4 Gran Coupe evaluators on the double model drive, all the X4 mules on call in Bilbao were outfitted with a light beige interior, presumably to give a better rendition of cabin space. Clever move, actually. Boot capacity, meanwhile, is 500 litres, increasing to 1,400 litres with the 40:20:40 split-rear seat bench folded down flat.
This is slightly less than that of the X3, which offers 550 litres and 1,600 litres in the same configuration. The X4 features an automatic tailgate, but an optional Smart Opener function, which opens the tailgate with the movement of a foot (like that as initially seen on the Ford Kuga) can be specified. Like that seen on the 3 Series Gran Turismo, the boot area features a double rail track, which makes up the base for a variable attachment system that helps secure cargo.
Standard equipment includes a variable sport steering, Performance Control and a sports leather steering wheel with gearshift paddles, while optional kit includes a full-colour head-up display and Adaptive LED headlights.
Six engine options are available for the X4 at this stage, three petrol and three diesel units. The petrol line is a familiar trio, led by the 306 hp and 400 Nm 3.0 litre straight-six that provides the basis for the xDrive35i model. The 2.0 litre twin-scroll turbo N20B20 is found on the xDrive28i and xDrive20i in their different states of output tune, these being 245 hp/350 Nm and 184 hp/270 Nm respectively.
The oil burners are made up of an in-line six-cylinder turbocharged 3.0 litre, on the xDrive35d in a 313 hp at 4,400 rpm and 630 Nm at 1,500-2,500 rpm output tune, and on the xDrive30d in a 258 hp at 4,000 rpm and 560 Nm at 1,500-3,000 rpm tune. The xDrive20d, meanwhile, features a 190 hp and 400 Nm 2.0 litre four-pot turbo.
In Spain, like with the 4 GC, a single petrol variant was used across the entire X4 drive fleet, and this was the xDrive35i in Melbourne Red and equipped with an eight-speed ZF auto transmission, attendant M Sport package as well as 19-inch alloys dressed with staggered fitment 245/45 front and 275/40 rear Michelin Primacy 3 rubbers. Not small by any measure, the double five-spoke wheel, but it looked somewhat undersized at points on the X4.
From a drive and dynamics viewpoint, the X4 returned a mixed bag of results. Pluses include an ability to be driven hard in the twists. Despite its bulk and 1,890 kg kerb weight, the xDrive35i never felt distended, with commendable body roll control and mid-corner stability aspects. Traction levels are high, even in the wet, and the adaptive suspension does a brilliant job in keeping everything composed and tidy.
It’s all enough to make the X3 feel downright pedestrian in comparison, but there’s a caveat to it. The X4 is dynamically sound and capable enough as a corner-carver, but there’s also an unshakeable heavy-set way about how it plies its wares. You can always feel its workings, and transitional aspects are obvious – there’s none of the glide-about integration and light-footed nature in handling switchbacks as the 4 Gran Coupe.
Granted, the mass of an almost two-tonne SAV – despite the reshape to a coupe-like form and reclassification as an SAC – isn’t ever going to translate to delicacy in motion. Provided you look beyond the fact that it’s not naturally-gifted in that sense, the drive – and handling prowess – will be gratifying enough. For sure, the ‘coupe’ nuance is bound to encourage drivers to explore the limits of grip more often than not.
That thick-set impression also imposes itself on straight-line performance. It takes 5.5 seconds to get the X4 from standstill to 100 km/h in the case of the 35i, but the X4 never felt as rapid as that getting off the line in Spain despite that suggested by the on-paper stats (coming in to it from the sprightlier 4 GC back-to-back may have had much to do with it, in fairness). Midband response is good though.
Otherwise, the X4 offers sport-like ride behaviour, that on the xDrive35i being firm but not jarring, keeping in line with its design posture. The steering is a bit dull in feel but quick and precise, and most won’t find fault with the chosen tactility. Also, rearward visibility could be better and takes further gloss away, but that’s to be expected with going the ‘coupe’ route.
On the flip-side, wind noise levels are low, with very little noticeable window turbulence at 120 km/h crusing speeds, and road noise levels are also decent – there was some tyre roar, but nowhere close to being as intrusive as that on the 4 GC.
Having a diverse two vehicle drive inadvertently brings one to the forefront at the expense of the other. With the 4 Series Gran Coupe and X4 equation, I ended up liking the 4 GC more despite having been initially more curious about the X4.
Viewed in isolation, however, the BMW X4 has more than a bit going for it. Until the smaller X2 eventually arrives on the scene, the spin-off should well appeal to the SAV buyer who thinks the X5 and X3 too straight-laced, the X6 too big and the 3 Series GT a neither-here-nor-there kind of vehicle. You can imagine that there are quite a few folk who think like that around here, so it’s likely to have a higher adoption rate compared to the X3, provided the pricing is right. The answers in due course.