If all vehicle purchases were completely based on practicality and rationality, the automotive landscape would look very different. Not everyone buys the car they need; in many cases, they buy the car they want. That idea, the thought of a car as an emotional purchase, is what brings cars to market that may not seem to make a lot of sense at first. But for buyers, it's always better to have more vehicles to choose from. That's where the X4 comes into play. Looking rationally at things, someone who wants a car that drives like a BMW 3 Series with a lot of cargo volume should probably buy a 3 Series wagon. Those who want increased ground clearance and a better view of the road can consider the X3 SUV. But for people who want the driving experience of a sport wagon with the seating position of an SUV, there's the 2015 BMW X4.
The X4 is built on X3 underpinnings, which gives the X4 higher ground clearance than a traditional wagon, but lower than an SUV. When looking at it, there is no doubt the X4 is not quite an SUV and it's not quite a car. Whether someone is a fan of the styling is a matter of personal taste. It wants to be a 4-door coupe, but to keep the 5-passenger X4 capable of toting up to 49.4 cubic feet of gear, BMW opted to keep the roofline closer to that of an SUV in the rear. The new model comes with a choice of turbocharged engines, either a 240-horsepower I4 or a 300-horsepower I6. Both engines use an 8-speed automatic transmission. Our test vehicle for this drive was the turbo I6-powered X4, equipped with the M Sport package and donned in a Melbourne Red. It had a price tag of just over $61,000. The interior was an attractive combination of white leather seats with bright red stitching, part of the M Sport package. That, plus the brushed aluminum trim, served as a pleasant color contrast to the black dash and headliner. The front M Sport seats provided snug bolstering and proved comfortable on long drives. In back, the legroom was tighter than in the X3, but better than expected.
The most pleasant surprise about the BMW X4 is its demeanor when driven like a sport sedan. It is not a light vehicle, weighing in at over 4200 pounds with the I6 and standard all-wheel drive, yet the excellent power the turbocharged engine puts out makes the X4 feel spry. Adding to that feeling is the way the X4 handles. Taking it on curvy roads, the Sports Activity Coupe (BMW's term) was nimble and genuinely fun to drive. It also has a lower center of gravity than the X3, making the X4 feel more confident in turns.
Each of the four driving modes--Sport+, Sport, Comfort and Eco Pro--have a unique feel. Sport+ is the most performance-minded, and Eco Pro the most frugal, with Sport and Comfort splitting the difference. Driving modes change transmission shifts, steering, throttle response and suspension. The steering is nicely responsive in Sport. The ride in our M Sport-equipped X4 was firm, which is fun in turns, but also let in a lot of road feel. Steering isn't as tight and precise in Comfort, and the vehicle feels a little more relaxed. Eco Pro mode, which optimizes throttle and transmission to help a driver achieve the best fuel economy possible in the X4, works with Auto Start-Stop and brake energy regeneration to squeeze every ounce of fuel efficiency out of this vehicle. (EPA ratings have not yet been released, but BMW estimates that the xDrive28i will achieve 21 mpg city, 28 highway and the xDrive35i should get about 19/26 mpg.) In the European-spec X4s we drove, the display on the dash showed the distance in kilometers saved by driving in Eco Pro mode. In all modes, the brakes worked well, feeling natural and linear.
Who would the X4 potentially steal sales from? There is always the risk that it could take away from X3, X1 or 3 Series wagons, but it will also appeal to people who prioritize unique style and handling prowess over the functional practicality of an SUV. Possible competitors could include the Range Rover Evoque and Mercedes-Benz GLK. This is not a vehicle that is meant to be a high-volume seller. When it goes on sale in July, those people who want something that fills the gap between luxury wagon and crossover, but want something smaller than the X6, will have a new option to consider.
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