BMW X4: How can this coupe SUV feel so wrong but still feel so right?

It’s styled like your obese uncle squeezed into spandex, but the new X4 drives like Jagger

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Year: 2018
Fuel: Diesel

BMW’s new X4 is a marmite car: you either love the coupe SUV look or you find it laughable. I have long found myself in the latter camp. I just can’t understand why you would want a chubby coupe on stilts. Its proportions are anathema to every principle of car design. It has all the sleek styling of your obese uncle squeezed into a tank top and spandex shorts.

It shouldn’t work, it couldn’t work, and yet it does. And I speak from experience, having driven the daddy of this oddball offerings – BMW’s X6 – around the famous Nordschlieffe lunatic motoring asylum several years ago. It was fitting for a car that seemed as brash as the boom times of conspicuous consumption into which it was launched. Love SUVs and coupes? Hell, why compromise? In your face, taste.

This was around the same time when we were asked to test a new small plane in the Motors section. It was reasonably priced, coming in within the same range as a top-end BMW 7-Series, so it was perfect for the commute to Galway for the weekend or even over to France for a few bottles of plonk for the Friday evening barbecue. And my colleague at the time went ahead and tested it.

You could sense the hedonism was coming to an end, however. Driving the X6 back to Dublin from Germany in the pouring rain on a Monday in July 2008, the BBC Today programme introduced us to two new names: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. This pair were trouble – and in trouble in the US. The report also referenced a new term to us: subprime lending. Lehman Brothers may have headlined the crash, but Fannie and Freddie's dodgy subprime loans were what sped the US over the cliff.


Needless to say, it was hard to sell anyone a new BMW in the months after this, never mind a Celtic Tiger chariot like the X6.

Out and proud

Fast-forward to today and, for all the criticisms laid at the door of the X6, it's still out and proud. Whatever about attitudes towards it in Ireland or even western Europe, it has proved a big hit in Asia. And once more BMW proved itself ahead of the critics. The media mocked the iDrive, yet every rival followed suit. We mocked the coupe-SUV crossbreeding, yet rivals have all followed with their own copycat versions. Hats off to the Bavarians once more.

So, finally, to the point of all this ranting: the X4. This is the shrunken version of the X6. This is actually the second generation, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing there was a first one, given that just over 200 were sold here. In terms of the revamp, the design department didn’t overtax themselves with this effort. It looks very much the shrunken X6.

It shares its platform with the more traditional X3 SUV, but in terms of handling prowess, it’s much closer to a low-set saloon. Part of that is down to the fact the wheelbase is actually longer and wider.

All X4s come with BMW's stiffened M Sport suspension. That can make things a little choppy, but you can opt for adaptive suspension that lets you dial in a little more comfort.

The test car was powered by the firm’s favoured 2-litre 190bhp diesel, which puts out 400Nm of torque and offered the sort of smooth delivery through the eight-speed automatic transmission that you’d expect from a larger engine. Kick down and you have plenty of power to call upon, though the noise levels do rise. And it’s a diesel grunt rather than a petrol roar. Colleagues who have driven the petrol versions of the X4 are agog at the deep-throated roar the 3-litre six-cylinder engine emits when you kick down. Alas, it will take a major shift in emissions rules before we see that engine in Irish versions any time soon.

I've driven proper coupes that weren't as much fun to drive as this motoring mongrel mixed breed

Thanks in part to the fact you are coccooned in its cabin, it never feels fast, even though it records an official 0-100km/h time of 8 seconds.

Twisty bits

Where it does deliver is on the twisty bits. I’m not a fan of BMW’s chunky steering wheels, but the fast reaction times of the X4’s steering more than makes up for that, while the sports suspension really shows its worth in keeping the bodyroll in check. It does feel like you’re far closer to the tarmac, tucking into bends and always in control. Part of this is probably down to the lower centre of gravity, but I’ve driven proper coupes that weren’t as much fun to drive as this motoring mongrel mixed breed.

Probably its closest rival is the Mercedes GLC coupe, but it’s even odder-looking than the X4, like an SUV doing squats. The Merc’s outgoing 2.1-litre diesel doesn’t have the match of its BMW rival either, though we are promised that the next generation will feature Mercedes’s much better 2-litre diesel.

Internationally, the X4’s arch-rival is the Porsche Macan, but in reality Irish buyers will struggle to see it as such, given that used Macan diesels are selling in Dublin for €94,000. That’s a long price walk from the €61,226 starting price on the X4. Even still, this car is not cheap. By the time our M Sport auto version (€65,148) was dressed up for the road with a few extras, the price was touching close to €72,000. You could pick up a fully-fledged X5 for that money. Or an X3 for roughly €10,000 less.

The X4 sacrifices the space you might get in an equivalent X3 in favour of coupe roofline, and sacrifices the sportiness of a coupe in favour of an SUV stance. It’s fair to say that on paper it’s the worst of both worlds.

And yet the car delivers on its promises. It’s not quite a racy coupe on the road, but it’s a much better car to drive than the average SUV. It may not have the practicality of the fully-fledged family-friendly SUVs from BMW, but it’s a lot more functional than the average coupe.

You can see how some folks might think the equation adds up.

Lowdown: BMW X4 2.0d M Sport auto

Engine: 1995cc four-cylinder diesel engine putting out 190bhp @ 4,000rpm and 400Nm or torque from 1,750rpm

0-100km/h: 8.0 seconds

L/100km (mpg): 5.6 (50.4)

Emissions: 146g/km

Price: as tested €71,677 (From €61,226)

Verdict: It shouldn't work, it still looks odd, but somehow it adds up to much more fun on the road than you'd expect

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer

Michael McAleer is Motoring Editor, Innovation Editor and an Assistant Business Editor at The Irish Times