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Piloting the impressive, high-tech, agile BMW X4

Latest uncanny X model spun from the 3 Series

Published: June 04, 2014 12:00 PM

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If you have trouble keeping track of BMW’s new mind-boggling model mix, you’re not alone. The new X4, a coupelike version of the X3 SUV, isn’t the first or the only four-door hatchback coupe grown from the quintessential BMW 3 Series roots. In fact there are two others: the 3 Series Gran Turismo and 4 Series Gran Coupe.

You can also view the X4 as BMW’s interpretation of the genre-bending Honda Crosstour or Toyota Venza. Vive la différence.

By definition, a coupe is more about form than function: sleek, low-slung, and hard to get into or exit. Let’s put that limitation aside for now. Likewise, whether you want to consider the X4 a hatchback, a wagon, a coupe, or an SUV, it drives like a BMW and a good one at that.

To get some first-hand experience with this latest 3 Series mutant, we rented an X4 from BMW. Like most other Xs, it will spring from BMW’s South Carolina assembly plant. The entry-level, if that’s the right term, version is the 28i, powered by a 240-hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. It starts at $44,700. We rented the higher-trim 35i from the automaker, motivated by a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo straight-six. Starting at $48,000, various desirable options cranked the final price up to $61,325.

As in the X3, you sit tall in the saddle, but you won’t feel like you’re driving a truck. Instead, the X4 feels sporty, tied down, and athletic. It gobbles up twisty, bumpy roads with barely a whisper.

The turbo six-cylinder engine, mated to an excellent eight-speed automatic, is as creamy smooth, muscular, and unobtrusive as any you’ll find. Those so inclined can select Sport and Sport Plus modes—which alter throttle response, transmission shift points and steering effort—to add more zest to the driving experience.

Or you can just sit back and enjoy the normal mode’s effortless thrust, quiet cabin, supremely well-finished cockpit, and seats that are comfortable and provide good support. The ride is steady and compliant, and if it weren’t for the $1,900 M Sport package with its 19-inch wheels, the ride would probably be even better.

BMW’s iDrive unified control system works well once mastered, but there’s a learning curve. Its display screen works in conjunction with a large central knob between the seats. To manage the audio, phone, and navigation functions you press, rotate, or nudge that knob fore, aft or sideways, eliminating the need to touch the screen.

The view straight back and to the rear corners isn’t that great, since it’s restricted by a small back window and tiny rear side windows. The rear hatch is large, though, and, happily, is power operated. It opens to reveal a generous cargo area that you can stretch further by folding down the sectioned rear seatbacks. But of course, the sloping roof robs the car of some cargo capacity.

After some time behind the wheel, we found the X4 taut, agile, powerful, beautifully made, and brimming with high tech. If you can come to terms with the restricted rear visibility and the undefined type of car the X4 is, you have a heck of a sporty luxury car with the versatility of a hatchback. But, you’ll get more for the money with a more traditionally shaped X3.

Gabe Shenhar

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