BMW's display at the 2018 Chicago Auto Show was bewildering. Among the massive lineup of vehicles, the company had at least four obviously different models that were all connected by a common thread. From biggest to smallest, the BMW had a bunch of fastbacks—the 640i GT, X6, 330i GT, and X4—on display. To be sure, having multiple options across a body style is no different from, say, the Volvo XC40, XC60, and XC90, or Audi's Q3, Q5, and Q7. Automakers churn out different-sized cars for different market segments, and there's nothing odd about that.
But the BMW lineup stuck with me enough to bring it up in conversation later with Ars' automotive editor Jonathan Gitlin. BMW is taking this approach to fill automotive niches not even recognized by most other carmakers, and its recent fastbacks are proof. For all that unites them—those four doors and a sloping rear-hatch body style—there's plenty to differentiate. Size, for one thing: simple math tells us the 640i GT and X6 are obviously bigger than the 330i GT and X4. So we decided to review as many as we could to see if the world really needs all the fastback options.
I started with the 640i xDrive GT last March and came away impressed. The GT truly drove like a grand touring car, offering a quiet and posh ride coupled with excellent performance and handling but with a price tag starting well north of $70,000.
Next up for us is the 2019 BMW X4 xDrive30i. BMW calls it a "Sports Activity Coupe," which seems to be another way of saying SUV. BMW uses the "X" designation across a range of vehicles. The X1 and X2 look like sporty little hatchbacks but with better-than-average ground clearance. The X3 and X5 are readily identifiable as SUVs. The X4 and X6 look like fastback sedans if you ignore anything below the belt line, and they look like crossovers if you ignore everything above it. So let's call them… fastback crossovers.
2019 marks the beginning of the second generation for the BMW X4, which shares a platform with the third-generation BMW X3. The 2019 model is 3.2 inches (81mm) longer and about 1.5 inches (37mm) wider, with about two-thirds of the extra length added to the wheelbase. With the use of more aluminum combined with high-strength grades of steel, the weight of the X4 has been trimmed by around 110lb (50kg). The xDrive 30i is powered by a 2.0-liter twin-turbo inline four. Capable of 248hp (184kW) and 258lb-ft of torque (350Nm), the X4 can go from zero to 60 in just a hair under six seconds. If you want more power, you can upgrade to the M40 trim, which offers an inline six-cylinder power plant.
The X4 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and you can rock the paddle shifters if manual shifting is your thing. Also included are Dynamic Stability Control, BMW's M Sport suspension, and variable sport steering. If you want to use the X4 for actual SUV things, like off-roading, the X4 has a ground clearance of 8 inches (20.4cm) and a fording depth of almost 20 inches (50cm).
The X4 starts at $50,450. My test car, the xDrive30i, carried a sticker price of $57,995. That includes $2,200 for paint and interior upgrades, $1,000 for the convenience package, and $1,200 for driving- and parking-assist packages. Last but not least, the $1,600 premium package gets you CarPlay support (no Android Auto), 19-inch wheels, wireless phone charging, a heads-up display, and a heated steering wheel. Keep in mind that BMW is embracing the subscription model, and you'll need to pay $80 annually to use CarPlay after a year.
The driver-assist package does not include lane-keep assist or adaptive cruise control—that's another $1,700. If the inline-four is too puny for your driving needs, you can upgrade to the M40i and its 3.0-liter inline-six for another $10,000.
An odd trip from front to back
If you like BMWs and fastback body-styling, you'll appreciate the X4's looks. From the front, BMW's trademark kidney grilles almost look like a pair oversized nostrils between a pair of fiercely sloped headlight "eyes." The air intakes below the headlights now feature horizontally oriented LED fog lights. Combined with an elongated hood, the front of the X4 communicates a sense of power and aggression.
That impression changes as your eyes move toward the rear of the car. A dramatic downslope starts around the B pillar, and the back doors sit farther back on the chassis than one might expect. The slope tapers to the fastback rear, which can be opened by making a kicking motion directly under the license plate. There's a missing sense of proportion with the X4 from the outside, and it's no different on the inside.
The front seats are comfortable and roomy. Racing-style seats are all the rage with sporty SUVs and crossovers these days, and BMW is all-in. The seats are not aggressively bolstered, however, and they offer a firm, but comfortable, ride. The cockpit is typical BMW, with all the knobs and buttons necessary to tweak your Ultimate Driving Machine to your preferences.
The 10.25-inch HD display on the dash runs BMW's solid iDrive infotainment system. I've covered iDrive in my previous BMW reviews, so read those if you want to know more about how it works. If you have a phone capable of wireless charging, you can take advantage of the charging pad located just past the cupholders. I just upgraded to an iPhone XS Max, and I appreciated how I could place the phone on the mat and use CarPlay without a USB cable. iDrive can also split the display between CarPlay and the native iDrive, so I was able to use Waze on the left two-thirds of the screen and see the song and artist from satellite radio on the right. It's smart.
The backseat is a different story. Just getting in there is harder than it needs to be, because the back doors are set so far back that you have to account for the wheel well as you get in. The combination of the fastback body style and panoramic moon roof means there's not much clearance in the back. My 5'11" photographer's head brushed against the ceiling, and at 6'1" I had to crick my neck to fit. And neither my wife, mother, nor son—all of whom are 5'6" or shorter—enjoyed being in the back.
Behind the back seat is 18.5 cubic feet of cargo room, significantly less than both the X2 and X3. That space expands to 50.5 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded flat.
Behind the wheel
There's plenty of zip in sport mode, as the four-cylinder, 2.0L twin-turbo is more than capable of propelling the two-ton car down the highway. I heard the usual piped-in engine noise, although the roar of the engine was higher pitched than I expected when I floored it for the first time. The noises are more akin to a smaller, high-performance car than what I'm accustomed to hearing in crossovers and SUVs.
As luck would have it, the X4 was the first review car I tested on a track. That automotive safe space we call the track allows a vehicle to be pushed in a way that just isn't safe or responsible on the street. But if it seems like an unnatural habitat for the X4, that's because it is. The steering felt vague and mushy while cornering. There wasn't really any instability or roll, but compared to the other SUVs I drove on the same test day, the X4 didn't feel as composed. That said, the sensation accelerating out of the apex and down the straight was one of power and exhilaration.
The X4 is rated at 25mpg: 22mpg in the city and 29mpg on the highway. In a week of combined city and highway driving, I got 23.4mpg.
If you need to navigate the X4 into tight quarters—I have to pull into a garage bay from an alley each time I park—you'll appreciate BMW's parking-assist tech. Once activated, you'll get a split view on the iDrive display. One side shows a 360-degree, top-down view of the car, while the other half shows the view from one of the cameras. You can touch a camera icon to change views, which is useful to see if you're in far enough.
No alarms and no surprises
There are no surprises piloting the X4 around the suburbs or down country roads. The ride is steady, comfortable, and quiet. The difference between normal and sport mode is marked, with the former providing a more comfortable ride and the latter offering up a stiffer ride with more aggressive shift points. If you've spent any time behind the wheel of a BMW, you'll find no surprises here—the X4 is driver-focused, through and through.
But take a moment to think of your passengers. While the front row is great, the car shows its shortcomings in the back seat. It's cramped and uncomfortable for most adults, which makes the X4 difficult to recommend for anyone with tweens or teens. If you focus on the front three-fifths of the car, all you see is a powerful and comfortable-looking vehicle. When you look at the fastback bits and those rear doors, you realize that the rear of the car is a bit of a mismatch for the front. If you really like the hatchback styling and want more space in back, drop the additional $13,000 or so to move up to the X6, which is a half-foot (15cm) longer.
- The X4 is fast and handles well
- iDrive, CarPlay, and wireless charging create an excellent combination
- BMW's heads-up display is top-notch
- Sleek fastback lines with SUV clearance, if that's your thing
- A backseat that's surprisingly difficult to get in and out of
- Lack of headroom for normal-sized adults in the back
- No spare tire. Run flat, anyone?
- Paying an additional $80 per year to keep CarPlay unlocked
- The look on my son's face when I told him he had to sit in the middle seat