By David Colman
Hypes: Sportiest All Activity Vehicle Ever From BMW
Gripes: Poor Rear Visibility
On a winding back road, the $54,550 28i version of the X4 will match a twin turbo Porsche Macan, move for move, while costing you $33,000 less. What’s the secret recipe here that BMW used to transform the practical but ponderous X3 platform into an Olympic grade decathlete? It’s the X4′s brilliant front mid-engine configuration. One look under the counter balanced hood reveals a vast empty crush space stretching from the radiator to the front face of the compact twin turbo four. Less weight over the front axle eliminates understeer. The central concentration of mass results in low polar moment of inertia, the key ingredient in the handling equation. The little 240hp 2.0 liter is tucked so far back against the firewall that it sits over and behind the front axle.
BMW capitalizes on this nearly ideal 49.3% front/ 50.7% rear weight distribution by pinning the X4 to the road with massaged suspension components. Buried at the rear of the engine bay is a tubular strut tower brace tying the cast alloy upper shock absorber mounts to the firewall. The optional $2,300 M Package further stiffens the underpinnings with “sport suspension” upgrades, making for a tolerably firm ride. Handling gains precision through M Package 19 inch light alloy rims which replace available 17 and 18 inch stock variants. These double-spoke pewter alloys, shod with 245/45R19 Goodyear Eagle LS2 tires, drop aspect ratio from 55 or 50 to 45 series sidewalls that are much more responsive to steering input. The blocky all weather Eagles proved surprisingly agile, carving apexes without any loss of adhesion or audible protest. The X4′s tight 39 foot turning circle further enhances maneuverability.
Variable power distribution to each wheel afforded by xDrive’s all-wheel-drive system ensures relentless adhesion. You can even tailor the grip to your personal preference by selecting – via a slide switch on the center console – one of four available “Performance Control” dynamic driving programs. Most insidious to performance is “Eco Pro” which minimizes fuel consumption (20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway/23 MPG Combined) by imposing glacial acceleration strictures on throttle response. More acceptable to the enthusiast is the “Comfort” setting which achieves what BMW calls “a balanced tuning” of all parameters. Added performance leeway is available in “Sport” mode which provides, according to the owner’s manual, “consistently sporty tuning of the suspension and engine controls.” In practice, “Sport” allows you to boogie within the limits dictated by Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). My favorite choice invariably became “Sport+” because it reconstitutes the entire feel of the X4 in a way that emphasizes sports over utility. “Sport+” switches on Dynamic Traction Control (DTC), a higher performance version of Dynamic Stability Control favoring forward momentum over driving stability. In other words, you’re still allotted some CYA insurance coverage, but not the platinum policy offered under DSC. “Sport+” also tightens steering response. Feedback at the wheel becomes more precise and rewarding. Ride firms measurably as the shocks assert more jounce and rebound control. The throttle responds with dispatch to the most minute pedal application. The X4 is now prepped to rumble in full beast mode.
The gearing for the 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission is delightfully short and peaky, perfect in fact for autocrossing, with a top sped of just 50mph in second gear. Third and fourth are equally short and closely spaced. For maximum enjoyment you will want to slip the console lever into the manual slot and control all shifts with the oversize aluminum paddles appended to the steering wheel. The gear chosen indicator window located in the base of the tachometer is 12 point typeface, when it really needs to be 24 point for instant reference. It’s hard enough to see in the daylight, and really gets lost in a sea of orange illumination at night.
The interior feels much more sports car like than any comparable SUV because BMW lowered the seats, front and rear, 1 inch to compensate for the reduced height of the fastback (or “Sport Activity Coupe”) roofline. This shuffle plants your butt crucially closer to the ground than the X3, or the Macan, for that matter. Instead of enduring the usual sports futility sensation of swaggering through turns on a barstool, the X4 feels reassuringly squat and glued. The fastidious level of interior refinement is soothing in the way you’ve come to expect from BMW. Concierge lit exterior door handles guide your way at night. Though BMW’s brave new confection may look like a Bavarian Cream Puff, it’s got a molten lava core ready to bubble over with a little help from your right foot.
2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i
- Engine: 2.0 liter 16 valve inline 4 with twin power turbo, direct injection and double VANOS variable valve control
- Horsepower: 240hp
- Torque: 258lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/28 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $54,550
- Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars