Contrary to the fact that all Super Utility Vehicles are utilitarian and are less sporty, the new second generation BMW X4 M40d has redefined that.
Sports Utility Vehicle or SUV, the guy who thought up the moniker, must be laughing because he was likely a sarcastic stand-up in the mould of George Carlin. Either that or a genius marketing whiz who realised that putting together a few words to make them sound nice would have people rushing to them. The simple fact is that most SUVs are not sporty at all, and that really isn’t their fault. It is just physics. You know, the set of axioms that govern our everyday lives. Things like mass, acceleration, velocity and centre of gravity. Yeah, SUVs don’t do any of those very well. And one could argue that in most “luxury” SUVs, the ones that wear an European badge for example, the utility part is also a bit questionable. You are not going to be going on a fishing trip to an upstream fishing spot in the mountains in a Bentley Bentayga or a Lamborghini Urus. But if you can afford either of those two cars, you can possibly afford your own mountain and helicopter to get there.
So, BMW in its wisdom started calling some of their SUVs the X4 and the X6-Sports Activity Coupes. Why? Because they definitely look sporty, a sharply raked roofline gave both cars a couple roofline that frankly made the first generation of both cars look very odd, because the shape of the car was at odds with their giant wheels that propped them miles off the ground. But just like the second-generation X6 worked on that, so has the second-generation X4.
I found myself in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the site of BMW’s biggest factory in the world, driving this car. Oddly for the United States, I found myself driving a diesel. Not just any diesel but the beefed up three-litre six-cylinder diesel that BMW will offer with the X4 in M40d trim that churns out a more than respectable 326 horsepower.
First things first, how does the second-generation X4 look? Very smart to be honest. Much like the second-generation X6, the new X4 looks much more proportionate. Still odd, as the shape might seem incongruous to many. But the roofline which merges into the tail much more smoothly than before makes the X4 seem much happier than before in a matter of speaking, and it does not like a X3 that is trying to wear a 19th century corset. I especially liked the car from its rear three-quarter angle while following other X4s around. The main question, however, with the X4’s looks is quite simply is it as good-looking as the Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe, its direct competitor? That is a very interesting question and one that I really cannot give an honest answer to unless both cars are parked next to each other.
Now, the driving. Before heading out to the beautiful hills on the North Carolina-South Carolina border, we went to BMW’s performance driving centre to put the X4 through its pace. Remember a couple of things before I start. First, even with its improved looks, this is still a high ground-clearance and heavy car. Second, this is a diesel. So when I tell you that this heavy, diesel car makes it from 0-100 in under five seconds, you should pay attention. Because, it does not go fast in a straight line alone. It can go fast around the corners too. BMW’s performance track might be designed for the likes of the M3 but the X4 acquits itself very well both with and without traction control.
One corner on the track in particular, a negative camber left-hand turn (a negative camber turn incidentally is one where the road slopes away from the turn and cars find these especially hard to negotiate at speed) the X4 handled, and I kid you not, like a sports car. Sure, at this point of time, I was driving with the traction control completely off and everything in the car on sports mode but I will be honest, attacking that one corner and a subsequent slight uphill corkscrew corner with a rapid change of direction, the X4 did not belie its size. Sporty? Hell yeah!
So the X4 does the sporty bit brilliantly well. But will it do the activity part well? Actually, it does not do it too badly. Driving with a camera person’s equipment at the back the car never felt in any way uncomfortable while climbing up the twisty winding roads of Wolf Ridge. And with traction control on, body roll was almost non-existent and on the straight highways, despite America’s ridiculous 65 mile an hour (110 kmph) speed limit, the car cruised comfortably. The X4 did the twistys well and it did the highway well. At no point did this feel like a compromise between performance and passenger and cargo utility.
Though, I do feel compelled to point out a few things. Firstly, the X4 is not a car to be driven in. The raked roofline makes the car look sharp but if you are mildly tall, and despite some clever engineering, the rear seats are not the space to be. If you want to be driven around in a luxurious BMW, stick to the 5-series. Secondly, if you are the type of person who does not mind taking your luxury SUV out on a fishing trip to the Ramganga river, the new X3 works a heck of a lot better in terms of practicality.
Thirdly, it is unclear how many engine variants BMW India will bring of the X4. While I drove the three-litre diesel, the X4 is also available in many markets with two petrol options — 20i and 30i — and two smaller diesel options, the 20d and 25d. But given that the X3 is still fairly new to the market, available in 20d and 30i, it is likely that BMW India will bring in the X4 only in the M40d spec, and while this car is brilliant, it will not be inexpensive. The Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe available only with the smaller AMG engine costs Rs 77.5 lakh, so expect this to cost around that benchmark.
And that is a pity, because the X4 is incredibly good fun to drive and it proves that SUVs, well “SAC” in this case, can be fun to drive.
Writer: Kushan Mitra
Courtesy: The Pioneer