New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2019 BMW X4

Just what we were expecting

SPARTANBURG, South Carolina — Today, we’re going to try something different: Instead of me writing this review of the new 2019 BMW X4, you’re going to do it.

Hold on, you say, I haven’t driven the 2019 X4! Probably true, since the new iteration of the X4 doesn’t go on sale until July, and I don’t recall seeing you at the press preview. But that’s why I chose a BMW for this little experiment: When it comes to product-to-product consistency, no one does a better job. If you’ve had any seat time in a late-model Bimmer, you’ll know exactly what to expect.

Don’t worry, I’ll talk you through the process. For starters, you’ll need a strong opener. A lot of reviews of a redesigned car start with comparisons to the old version; they’ll cite sales statics (200,000 sold since 2015) or tell you the new X4 is based on X3 bones and is 3.0-inches longer, 1.4-inch wider, and has a 2.1-inch longer wheelbase than the outgoing one. My advice: Don’t bother. This is a BMW and people want to know how it drives, so skip the foreplay and get right to the main event.

This puts you face to face with your first challenge: How do you describe the X4’s dynamics without veering off into cliché? Most vehicles have one overarching characteristic, and that becomes the hook on which to hang your review. The X4 reminded me of my first drive of a first-gen X6—it feels like you’re driving a sport sedan, but your eye-point seems to be about a foot higher off the ground than it ought to be. Feel free to use my idea, but if you do, I suggest mentioning that that the X4 lacks the ponderous feel of that first X6 despite weighing only 200-400 lbs less. BMW worked hard to keep the X4’s weight down and it shows.

Having not attended the press preview, you’re at a bit of a disadvantage, but I’ll give you the Cliff’s notes: BMW set us loose on the test track near the Spartanburg, SC factory where the X4 will be built, but more telling was the wet skid pad, which they had us circle with stability control shut off. We were advised to build up speed and lift off the gas quickly to get the back end loose, and then to correct it with throttle rather than steering. Booting the accelerator causes the xDrive system to direct power to the front wheels, allowing the X4 to pull itself out of the skid. It was a lot of fun, all in the name of responsible journalism, of course. Go ahead and relate this experience as if it was your own, but be sure to include some sort of don’t-try-this-at-home disclaimer. (And if you could leave out the bit about the two or three times I spun the X4, I’d appreciate that.)

This being a BMW, you’ll probably want to complain about the steering, since that seems to be the thing to do these days. BMW, like most manufacturers, lost some of its trademark steering feel when they switched from hydraulic to electric, and no one in the press seems content to let them live it down. To be fair, all of our bitching seems to be driving improvement: The 2019 X4 has a new variable-ratio setup that improves on-center response while reducing wheel-twirling when parking. It’s a good idea—General Motors started using it in the late 1960s—and worth mentioning in your review. Personally, I liked the X4’s steering, though I agree that feedback isn’t a strong point and I found it a bit lacking. I prefer Audi’s lighter steering, as I find it easier to feel the road when I’m not muscling the wheel to change direction. But that’s my opinion. Feel free to pontificate on your own.

That said, don’t get too wrapped up in the details; this is a first drive and what you need to convey is the overall feel of the car. That’s why the 2019 BMW X4 is such a good fodder for your first review, because it feels quick, stable, comfortable and confident regardless of the road surface, and that’s what BMWs do best.

Engines and performance ought to be covered in detail. BMW offers two powerplants, and seeing as you’re writing for Automobile Magazine, you should spend most of your time with the more powerful M40i. Be sure to hit the engine specs—3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six, 360 hp, 396 lb-ft of torque—but as with handling, it’s important to describe the feel of the engine. You can cite the BMW’s claimed 4.3-second 0-60 mph run, but you need to talk about how that power is delivered, with a brief turbo-lag pause before the X4 picks up her skirts and dashes for the horizon. You’ll also want to mention the instant mid-range punch, which is the real magic of a turbo-six that does the work of an eight.

I’d suggest talking about the soundtrack, too. With the 2019 X4 M40i in Comfort mode, you get a lovely straight-six wail under power that settles down to silence as the standard-fit eight-speed automatic shifts up into the higher gears. (See what I did there? I forgot to mention the tranny specs above, so I snuck it into the text. Call it a trick of the trade.) In Sport mode, the transmission keeps the revs up and the exhaust makes a lovely “POOM” noise as the transmission upshifts. Sport mode also yields some crackling and popping on the overrun, though it’s so muted that I initially thought I was hearing rocks hitting the undercarriage. I liked the soundtrack so much that I drove in Sport mode just for the noise.

Don’t ignore the four-cylinder model, though, as that’ll be the volume seller. A single short paragraph that hits the key points will suffice: Mention the numbers (252 hp, 258 lb-ft of torque, 0-60 mph in 6.0 seconds), that power delivery is smooth and strong, and that the engine note, while refined for a four-cylinder, doesn’t sound as nice as the six. That said, don’t get so wrapped up in facts that you leave out your opinions. If, like me, you think that the sound of the six is worth an extra ten grand, go ahead and say so. Remember, your readers can get facts from the brochure. They want analysis from you.

Naturally, you’re going to want to talk about the styling. Forget about the debate on whether an SUV-coupe combo is a good idea; it’s been done to death. But you might want to note that BMW has done some neat trickery with the roofline, maintaining the X4’s aggressive profile while providing a reasonable amount of back-seat headroom, though you should also consider your own dimensions. I’m 5’6” and my definition of “reasonable headroom” doesn’t necessarily match that of my six-foot colleagues. Some on our staff might debate whether a buff book like Automobile should mention the big trunk and its massive hatchback opening, but I figure it’s worth a sentence or two.

Be prepared for the occasional lemons-and-lemonade moment. In the case of the 2019 X4, BMW only had black and dark gray cars at the press preview, which is the media launch equivalent of putting a bag of poo on our doorstep and lighting it on fire. Lemons: Black is the absolute worst color for photography. Lemonade: By masking the smoked upper section of the taillights, dark colors emphasize the X4’s uncomfortable resemblance to its chief rival, the Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe. Go ahead and mention that—some might see it as a low blow, but it serves BMW right for not giving us a broader color palette.

I always like to talk about the interior, because that’s the part of the car where the owner spends the most time. The X4 makes this easy because all BMW interiors are basically carbon copies of each other. I drove our Four Seasons BMW M550i to the airport for the press preview and darned if interior of the X4 wasn’t nearly identical to our 5 Series. The 2019 X4 has a nice bit of metal trim over the center vents, and the red-and-black color combo in the M40i Sport was very snazzy, but other than that it seems as if BMW designed the cabin with a Xerox machine. I never know quite what to say about this—do I praise BMW for consistency and ease of operation or do I castigate it for a lack of originality? Hopefully you’ll have a better take on it.

Now, no review is entirely believable if it’s all sunshine and daisies. I’m not saying you should look for things to pick on, but if you see downsides, it’s your job to report them. Me, I found the X4’s width a bit off-putting. I appreciated the extra elbow room, but considering its otherwise-tidy size, the X4 felt way too wide on some of the narrow roads we drove. If I were looking for a road hog, I’d get an X6. Aside from that, though, I didn’t find much to complain about. Don’t worry if you don’t either; a good car is a good car.

So here you are, 1500 words in, and it’s time for your wrap-up. Mention the price ($51.5K for starters, which is expensive), and perhaps a quick blurb about the competition (in this case, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, which has a bit more of an old-school-luxury interior but isn’t as entertaining to drive). End with a nice summation, perhaps saying that the 2019 BMW X4 (be sure to repeat the year/make/model in for good search engine performance) is a stylish if rather expensive alternative to mommymobile SUVs, and one that is surprisingly practical given its appearance. And that’s it—you’re done! That wasn’t so hard, was it?

2019 BMW X4 Specifications

ON SALE Summer 2018
PRICE $51,455
ENGINES 2.0 liter 16-valve DOHC I-4/252 hp@ 5,200-6,500 rpm, 258 lb-ft @ 1,450-4,800 rpm;
3.0 liter 24-valve DOHC I-6/360 hp @ 5,500-6,500 rpm, 396 lb-ft @ 1,520-4,800 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 20/27 (city/hwy)
L x W x H 187.5 x 75.5 x 63.8 in
WHEELBASE 112.7 in
WEIGHT 4,147-4,323 lb
0-60 MPH 6.0 sec (xDrive30i), 4.6 sec (M40i)
TOP SPEED 130 MPH (xDrive30i), 155 MPH (M40i)

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