First Drive: Two sides to the story with BMW’s new 4-series

The new BMW X4 won’t set the world on fire, but the 4-Series Gran Coupe really shines

Wed, May 28, 2014, 01:00

BMW’s latest newcomers are being launched in conjunction with visits to the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Like the transcendental exhibits from Yoko Ono on display, they make you do a double take, wondering if it’s a hidden message or some act of mockery.

These are the ying and yang of the 4-Series range.

BMW is slicing and dicing its mainstream market with a mix of variants of the 3-Series that would make your head spin. Not content with creating mass confusion with its engine range naming convention, it has moved on to add multiple formats to every range.

To quickly summarise its moves in this particular section of the market: the 3-Series remains BMW’s regular mid-size saloon, touring estate and bulbous GT version. All practical and efficient. The new 4-Series incorporates the coupé derivative and the two new variants launched here, the X4 and the Gran Coupé. The former is really rather odd; the latter is a revelation.

First to the X4. This is a smaller version of the X6, a car that itself has divided opinion since launch. Adding coupé looks on an SUV platform always seemed a pointless exercise, but the beefy no-compromise styling of the X6 made us admire it, if only for BMW’s chutzpah in bringing it into existence.

The X4 is another matter. Out goes some of the radical design in favour of a soupçon of practicality, yet that’s always compromised when compared to the X3. And it lacks the deftness of a normal 4-Series coupé – in whatever format. The front styling is as aggressive as the rest of the popular X range from BMW, yet that dominance seems to melt into a level of uncertainty as you move towards the rear – not quite the coupé look of the X6, nor the functionality of the X3. It’s as if the X4 isn’t confident enough to live up to its own billing.

Extra weight
There’s no getting away from its extra weight either, and, even with the powerful 3-litre 313bhp petrol engine in our test vehicle, there were times when it needed to catch its breath before charging into the twisting bends. We can only imagine that the engine favoured by Irish buyers – 190bhp 2-litre diesel – would not set the world alight in the X4.

While there is plenty of legroom in the back – at least compared to a regular coupé– the rear seat headroom is noticeably more restricted than in the equivalent X3, while visibility through the postbox rear window is heavily compromised. A rearview camera would seem a must.

The new X4 arrives in showrooms on July 12th with prices starting at €57,720 for the entry-level 2-litre diesel auto SE version. That’s a sizeable jump from the equivalent X3 2.0D SE auto priced at €51,105.

And so we come to the 4 Series Gran Coupé, a car that on paper seems little more than a niche within a niche. Yet this car makes you reconsider not only the very existence of the regular coupé but also the need for the 3-Series saloon. It’s simply fantastic.

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