If you thought that every possible car based on a 3 Series had already been conceived, then think again – now there’s also the BMW X4, a coupe version of the X3 – and in 3-litre diesel form, it combines good performance with decent economy, for a 4×4.
There’s the 3 Series Saloon, Touring and GT, the 4 Series Coupe, Gran Coupe and Convertible, and the X3. Many of these models can be specified with xDrive all-wheel drive. You’d think that such a choice would be enough, but now we also have the X4 – a mid-sized ‘Sports Activity Coupe’ version of the X3 – and little brother to the X6. It sounds like a great concept, but should you buy one?
The X4 is based on the same platform as the X3 and shares many of its components with the 3 Series/4 Series. Being an ‘X’-car, it also features all-wheel drive. All this means it has the basic foundations of being an excellent car. The main trick that it brings to the party is adding a coupe roofline to an X3-like body. This may make it fashionable, but it has one interesting consequence; it results in a large area of metal over the rear wheels, meaning that the X4 can easily look like it has really small wheels. The optional 20-inch wheels fitted to our test car were massive, but still only just looked in proportion to the huge amount of bodywork; any smaller wheels really do look miniscule on this car. The X4 has 18-inch wheels as standard, although 17-inch wheels are available to reduce emissions (by 7g/km CO2); these must look like roller skate wheels on the X4.
We rate the 3 Series very highly, and also the 4 Series, particularly with the right engine. One of our preferred powertrains is the straight-six, 3-litre turbodiesel unit in the 330d, as it does an excellent job of combining performance and economy. In terms of body styles, we like the Touring, as it’s practical for families, yet it’s compact enough to offer a great driving experience. It also looks good.
A frequent complaint that we’ve had about BMWs over the years is that people can’t get them off their drives if there’s a light dusting of snow. This is obviously down to tyres rather than the car, but BMW now offers xDrive all-wheel drive, and judging by the strong sales of models with xDrive, this has helped to give buyers more reassurance that the car has a better chance of being mobile all-year round. Adding xDrive to the already excellent 330d Touring surely makes one of the world’s best all-round cars.
So taking this one stage further and adding raised ride height and a coupe roofline to what is essentially similar to a Touring base, and ending up with the X4, must surely be even better?
Well, there are certainly still good points. The driving position is excellent (helped by the (optional) electric seats). The interior is virtually identical to most other 3 or 4 Series models, which again is a good point, as although the dashboard may not look as shiny or modern as that in a Mercedes, it’s ergonomically excellent – everything is where you want it. There’s a really thick, meaty steering wheel, which reminds you that you’re driving a 4×4, along with the huge storage bins in the doors that wouldn’t be out of place in a truck. There’s a large infotainment screen and the excellent iDrive controller – which is still the best system in the business in our view. The car also had the option of the excellent, although pricey (£895), head-up display.
The X4’s interior is comfortable and there’s a large, if shallow, boot. The X4 had no problem in accommodating 2 adults, 3 children, and lots of luggage on a trip to the Lake District.
The ‘30d’ engine is powerful and smooth, and the 8-speed automatic gearbox is virtually always in the correct gear – although you can change gear manually using the steering wheel-mounted paddles. When underway, the X4 is refined and it feels like a premium product, but there is some wind noise at higher speeds. With its raised ride height, it’s also ideally suited to the countryside – perfect for the undulating landscape of the Lake District, where the X4 was tested.
You also get the now familiar BMW Drive Mode settings: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. This does give you all the range of settings you want, and our car was also equipped with the option of Electronic Damper Control (EDC), which no doubt was a factor in the X4 delivering an excellent ride.
So it all sounds good so far. And it’s got a lower centre of gravity than an X3. However, compared to our benchmark – the 3 Series xDrive Touring – the X4 is bigger, bulkier, taller, and heavier (by around 150 Kg). This means that the same 30d engine doesn’t feel as powerful in the X4, it’s not as efficient, and the extra weight and height certainly means that the X4 doesn’t have the sports car-like agility of the Touring. This is an excellent example of the impact that weight (and aerodynamics) has on a car, and why the industry needs to reduce the weight of its vehicles.
The official NEDC combined economy figure for the X4 xDrive30d is 47.9mpg, with emissions of 156g/km CO2. With careful driving on long runs we managed 43.4mpg, but after a week we averaged 36.1mpg. In the BMW 330d xDrive Touring we averaged 42.0mpg – suggesting that our theory about the X4 being less efficient in real life driving is correct.
The basic price of the BMW X4 xDrive30d M Sport is £45,453. However our test car had a number of options including the M Sport Plus package (including 20-inch M Double-spoke style alloy wheels) (£2,490); interior comfort package (£1,095); electric glass sunroof (£945); media package – BMW Professional (£900); head-up display (£895); and electronic damper control (EDC) (£650). With all options, the price as tested was a fairly significant £55,248.
When we tested the BMW 330d xDrive Touring M Sport last year its basic price was £39,550 – that’s £6,000 less than the equivalent X4.
You can only get diesel engines in the X4 – there are three choices, the 20d, 30d and 35d, and they all come with all-wheel drive. We’ve not driven a 20d X4, but we’re pretty sure that it would feel underpowered. The 35d has 313hp compared to the 258hp of the 30d (and 630 Nm torque v 560 Nm), yet it has an official economy figure of 47.1mpg, only slightly down on the 47.9mpg of the 30d. There are SE, xLine and M Sport trim options.
The 3 Series is a great car, as is the 4 Series. The BMW 330d xDrive Touring was one of our 2014 Cars of the Year, for combining elements such as a rewarding driving experience, performance, efficiency, practicality and the surefootedness of all-wheel drive. The X4 adds extra height, extra bulk and extra weight, and this impacts on performance, efficiency and the overall driving experience. The X4 also adds a considerable price premium, which is basically for the ‘fashionable’ sports coupe 4×4 body style. So if you want to pay extra for such a body shape, then feel free. However we’d stick with the 330d xDrive Touring or the 430d xDrive Gran Coupe. If you genuinely need higher ground clearance or off-road ability then there are plenty of other choices out there. The X4 is a good car – but just not the best car in the 3 and 4 Series line up – despite its price premium. It gets a Green-Car-Guide rating of 8 out of 10.