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BMW X4 review: From runway to highway
Spartanburg, South Carolina
THERE'S a certain species of car that people buy for looks alone.
I've sat through a more than few manufacturer's briefings stating that appearance is the key reason buyers lay down their money for one, and that 95 per cent of these owners won't ever use the car for its ostensible purpose.
If you concluded the type to be "overly powerful sports cars" then you're wrong: We're actually talking about Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs).
Machines like the BMW X4 make this trend even more plain to see. After all it was the X4, and the larger X6 which preceded it, which were arguably the first to mix an SUV's off-road style with the svelte muscularity of a sports coupe.
When the first BMW X4 appeared in 2014, it looked distinctive but was based closely on its sibling, the more conventional X3 SUV, so it drove pretty much the same way.
Thus if the looks didn't move you, there was absolutely no reason for you to buy one over an X3, given the X4 had less space for cargo and passengers.
Admittedly this was no great sin: The X3 has always been a decent handler, even for an SUV. The whole package was convincing enough for BMW to sell more than 200,000 X4s, and to secure the existence of the successor you see on this page.
Yet although BMW pioneered this sub-segment, strong competition has emerged from every quarter, including the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe, and the Jaguar F-Pace.
But the second-generation X4 has something simple up its sleeve that may give it a big advantage: It has the driving performance to back up its exciting appearance.
"The product and marketing team said people only buy (these cars) for the looks. But we questioned that, and decided we will make the X4 drive like it really should: like a BMW coupe," said Steffen Koch, the manager in charge of driving dynamics for the X4.
To that end, the new X4 is longer, lower and wider, which is a basic first step for making a car that handles better.
It's still closely related to the X3, but now has considerable differences from its brother.
The space between the rear tyres is 30mm wider than the X3's, and all variants of the X4 come with sport suspension (meaning stiffer springs and shock absorbers, which are optional on the X3) and variable-rate steering as standard.
On challenging and twisty roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains (yes, the very same mentioned in the John Denver song) it's obvious the X4 has real handling chops. While it's still a relatively tall car, even hairpins taken at less-than-sensible speed fail to faze it, and perhaps more importantly, its all-conditions composure avoids making your fellow occupants lose theirs.
The variant we drove, the X4 xDrive30i, came with a gutsy 252hp, 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, that delivered prompt power in all situations, from uphill climbs to freeway overtakes.
Singapore will receive this model and the xDrive20i, which has the same engine, but tuned for only 184hp. The sportiest model for us is the range-topping X4 M40i, with a 360hp 3.0-litre inline six engine. That car also receives a new M Sport Differential, which Mr Koch says helps it further emulate a classic rear-wheel drive BMW coupe.
Another classic BMW coupe trait the X4 manages, surprisingly, is comfort. It's neither crashy nor thumpy over bumps, thus escaping the common byproduct of engineers having to balance the high centre of gravity of an SUV. This means it's not just good at humdrum commutes, but long tours as well.
To that end, the interior is a carbon copy of the X3's, which means lots of leather, technology (including a new gesture-enabled touchscreen infotainment system) and refinement.
Going for the coupe-style also means fewer compromises this time around. The boot is only smaller by 25 litres, and the cabin has just as much passenger room for five adults.
Overall, the X4 has evolved into a machine a driver would actively enjoy driving.
Which isn't to say the original hook of the X4 has lost its sharpness. While the car looks outwardly similar, in person it's much more of a visual treat, the wide shark-like front a definite relation of the new 8 Series coupe, and the strip-style rear lights a fitting conclusion.
But eye of the beholder and all that, there's only so much we can speak for when it comes to appearances. At least with the new X4, there's far more to enjoy than just looks.
BMW X4 xDRIVE30i
Engine 1,997cc, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 252hp at 5200-6500rpm
Torque 350Nm at 1450-4800
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 6.3 seconds
Top Speed 240km/h
Agent Performance Motors
Availability Q3 2018