Driven: BMW's brawny new SA-bound X4
Spartanburg, South Carolina - You would understand if the second-generation BMW X4 felt a little lost among all the hype surrounding BMW's ever-expanding X range, with all the recent focus being on the mic dropping X2, the more bush-friendly fourth-generation X5 and the highly-anticipated Texas-sized X7. And yet of all BMW's modern 'X men', the X4 arguably remains the most faithful to BMW's original USP of grin-inducing driving dynamics.
Like its predecessor, it's essentially a non-identical evil twin of the X3, although this time around it has a more distinct personality, both in the way it looks and how it drives. To get a first-hand experience of the latter, BMW invited us to the production home of the X4, its Spartanburg facility in South Carolina, which also has the distinction of being the biggest BMW plant in the world. In fact, this facility has become so swamped by global demand for X models, that our own factory in Rosslyn had to switch over to X3 production to help ease the load.
Back to the evil twin, there might be very little to tell the new X4 apart from the X3 from the front angle, but it's a whole new ballgame at the other end, where it flaunts slim 3D-style taillights and a smooth new tailgate, with the number plate moving down to the bumper. As before, a coupe-inspired sloping roofline gives the vehicle a hunkered down, ready to pounce kind of stance (although it still boasts a fairly useful ground clearance of 204mm), something further reinforced by the 37mm increase in width and muscular new haunches.
Talking dimensions, second-gen X4 is 81mm longer than its predecessor, with 54mm going into the wheelbase to improve legroom. Average sized humans will be quite comfy back there although that sloping roof will make taller folk crouch. The 525 litre boot is surprisingly useful too, bearing in mind that it's vast but shallow. Yet perhaps the X4’s biggest design brag is its weight-loss, of up to 50kg depending on model, through more liberal use of aluminium and high-strength steels.
That of course makes lighter work for the turbocharged engines, of which four xDrive models will be offered to South African consumers in the form of four-cylinder 20i and 20d and the six-cylinder M40i, all arriving this September, with the M40d hitting our shores in early 2019 (see prices below).
Needless to say, all X4s offer the safety net of xDrive permanent all-wheel-drive as standard, as well as eight-speed automatic transmission, with the ‘40’ models receiving the 'Sport' version thereof, as well as launch control.
The 20i petrol derivative is good for 135kW, 290Nm and an 8.3 second 0-100km/h sprint, says BMW, while the 20d oil burner is credited with 140kW, 400Nm and an 8.0 second acceleration time.
BMW SA is skipping right over the 25d, 30d and 30i versions due to a lack of demand for middle models, meaning the next rungs of the ladder are the M Performance six-cylinder cars, which also get various design and chassis tweaks.
The M40i petrol model generates 265kW and 500Nm, while the M40d pushes 240kW and 680Nm, with respective zero to 100 times of 4.8 and 4.9 seconds. The M40d was the only locally-relevant model available to test drive at the US launch venue, and it proved to be an absolute cracker of an engine, with mountains of instantaneous torque offering meaty acceleration and overtaking ability, while also lifting the mood with a deep, bellowing soundtrack.
The xDrive has a rearward torque distribution bias in all versions of the X4, while M Sport suspension and variable ratio steering are also part of the deal. In addition, the M40i and M40d receive an M Sport differential, as well as M Sport braking and 20-inch alloys with mixed tyres.
Our launch route included some twisty sections where the X4's sense of agility impressed. The suspension is firmer than the X3's, but it proved comfortable enough on the route, although the jury's still out on how it copes with rougher roads.
Back at BMW's Performance Centre near the factory in Spartanburg, we got to throw the M40d around a tight circuit in three different chassis modes.
In the first runs, with the standard traction control left to do its thing, the X4 felt stymied and understeered a fair amount, but this is still the ideal setting for safeguarding against hazards in everyday driving conditions. Next up we tried it with BMW's Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) dialled in, and it immediately felt sharper, better balanced and able to tackle corners at higher speeds, while completely deactivating the traction control for the last few runs allowed some oversteer, but without making the vehicle too tail-happy.
It’s debatable whether these dynamic abilities really mean much to the average target customer, yet those who appreciate the BMWs of yore will no doubt find this an easier transition to the crossover market than most rivals. Those wanting to adapt the chassis characteristics can opt for Adaptive Suspension with adjustable dampers, or the M-tuned version thereof in the case of M40i and M40d.
The '40' models further flaunt their brute status through unique interior and cabin styling features, including 20-inch alloy wheels, Cerium Grey exterior trim, sports seats and M badging, but the regular '20' derivatives can also be livened up through one of three optional trim grades: xLine, M Sport X and M Sport, each featuring distinctive design touches and 19-inch rims (standard X4s roll on 18" alloys).
The xLine models, for instance, come with Glacier Silver metallic exterior trim, and a combination of gloss black and pearl-effect chrome trim in the cabin, which also receives sports seats upholstered in a cloth and leather combo. The M Sport X switches over to Frozen Grey external accents and the cabin gets Aluminium and pearl-effect chrome garnishes along with an M specific steering wheel. The M Sport is the most racy of the trims, featuring high-gloss black treatment on the outside.
Want to stand out even more? Look no further than BMW's 'Individual' catalog.
The X4's cabin is largely borrowed from the X3 and also features the latest-generation iDrive command centre. A 16.5cm screen is standard, while the optional 26cm Navigation System Professional gives you touchscreen functionality and a tile-style layout. A new generation Head-Up display, boasting a vastly expanded projection area, is also on the options list, along with a multi-mode digital instrument cluster and a whole range of driver aids, including Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go, the Driving Assistant Plus pack with steering assistance, Parking Assistant Plus (including vertical parking help) and BMW's digital Display Key.
BMW X4 PRICES
|X4 xDrive20i||R843 000|
|X4 xDrive20d||R843 000|
|X4 M40i||R1 132 800|