We recently attended the launch of the all-new BMW X4 in Spartanburg, USA.
We were quite surprised that the new model followed so shortly in the footsteps of the new X3, as there was a three-year gap between the previous models. The first-generation X4 was only on sale for four years, which, in automotive terms, is a fairly short lifespan.
Even so, it managed to post impressive sales figures, with the first-generation car managing to hit 200 000 units at the end of its run. To put that in perspective, the Spartanburg plant produced 265 000 X6s during its six-year production run.
After our visit to the Spartanburg plant, we now understand why the X4 is following the X3 so closely. They’re literally built on the same line. You’ll see three X3s, followed by two new X4s, with another X3 after that.
And to be quite honest, we’re glad we didn’t have to wait three years for an all-new X4. The previous car wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t exactly memorable. The all-new X3 is a different story, however. We tested the 20d a few months ago and at the moment you’d struggle to find a better premium mid-size SUV. Is the same true of the all-new X4?
The X4 is obviously based on the X3, but there are a few significant changes, apart from the distinct crossover coupé exterior.
Like the X3, the X4 is bigger in every direction that matters, which results in more interior space and a bigger boot. That makes it relatively practical, perhaps even practical enough to purchase as the family’s main means of transport. We gave it a proper once-over and we see no reason why a family of four couldn’t comfortably drive down to Durbs for a weeklong holiday.
Is the X4 sporty?
Yes, definitely. It’s quite happy being pushed to the limit as well, but more on that later.
The mountain passes were more for assessing the X4’s grand touring abilities than its on-the-limit handling prowess.
Normally it takes us a good hour or so to get comfortable behind the wheel of a left-hand drive car in a country where they drive on the wrong side of the road, but the X4 is one of those SUVs that shrinks around you. Within minutes we were braking later for corners, turning in harder and accelerating out earlier.
And even though it’s a diesel, there’s much fun to be had. The M40d we were in had 240kW and 680Nm on tap, allowing it to accelerate to 100km/h in under five seconds.
The X4 managed the passes with ease, which is astounding considering that that kind of terrain was more suited to a Fiesta ST- or Polo GTI-size hatch than a mid-size coupé crossover.
Can it off road?
We didn’t get the opportunity to explore the “Activity” part of the SAV acronym all that much. The route did not include any gravel driving, seemingly for good reason. The forest was extremely dense and either graveyards or churches populated the gaps in between. The private access roads to houses were all gated, and as an added reminder of where we were, signs that stated the locals wouldn’t hesitate to phone 911. Couple that with America’s infamous attitude towards gun control, and you have a recipe for a bad case of lead poisoning.
The closest we got to gravel was the driveway of an inviting church, but that didn’t provide enough driving time to deliver any kind of useful verdict.
On the track
BMW allowed us to drive a fleet of M40ds on its testing track, near its plant in Spartanburg.
With BMW’s electronic nannies engaged in the various driving modes, the X4 is an extremely flattering car. It intervenes very late in the process, making the driver feel like hero. Even the ABS system is tuned for spirited driving. We know this because it can’t be switched off, yet we never felt it engage during the nine hot laps. BMW has become extremely good at building performance cars that can be enjoyed by everyone.
For the last few laps we were allowed to switch all the nannies off, relying only on mechanical grip. We’d like to tell you it was a different ball game, but with all-wheel drive and the brilliant suspension still in play, it was difficult to get the X4 to misbehave. You could coax some oversteer out of it by lifting through the corners, but it’s very predictable and easy to handle.
We’ll simply state that the X4 M40d is extremely capable when the need an opportunity to drive enthusiastically presents itself. It has loads of power, torque and an automatic gearbox that knows exactly what gear it should be in, no matter what the situation. So much so that we never even bothered with the paddles.
The noise the engine makes deserves to be mentioned separately. BMW has a history of building epic diesel performance cars, most notably the X6 M50d, which we were privileged enough to run as a long termer a few years back. It did everything spectacularly well, but it lacked a decent soundtrack. To us a sonorous noise booming from the rear is as important as the ability to turn in with confidence, so the X6 never really won us over on an emotional level.
With the M40d, BMW has solved this problem. It’s now finally producing a diesel that emits a deep, grumbly noise when pushed hard. We still maintain that the M40i’s six-cylinder petrol sounds better, but the M40d gets extremely close. This bodes well for upcoming X models.
How much is it?
The X4 will arrive in South Africa in September.
The X4 xDrive 20i four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and xDrive20d will retail for exactly the same price – R843 000. The X4 M40i, fitted with the same superb 265kW six-cylinder petrol as the X3 M40i will also be available, retailing at R1 132 800.
The X4 M40d will only arrive in South Africa early in 2019.