You used to know where you were with a BMW and that it would prove a pretty nice place to be. But now its products are less easy to predict. On the minus side, I’m afraid I’ve never been less convinced by the range of real ‘M’ BMWs than I am with those available right now but, more positively, the i3 and i8 are the two most impressive production cars I’ve driven in the last year.
They are better than brilliant: both are touched by genius. Between these poles sit BMW’s more mundane product lines and here things are a little more predictable: the 3-series is still the world’s best small saloon, the 5-series fully competitive if not quite a class leader and the 7-series sufficiently off the pace to make you wonder why BMW bothered. Plus ça change…
Where, then, do the X4 and X6 fit into the frame? Both cars are all new, but while the X6 merely replaces its predecessor, the X4 breaks new ground for BMW. You don’t need me to tell you how weird both cars look, but while the completely restyled X6 looks odd enough to be almost interesting, the X4 looks like a scaled-down X6 styled by someone with no talent using out-of-focus shots of an already heavily disguised car.
I never much liked the old X6, but if the tri-turbo X6 50d I tried is a reliable guide, the car itself is much improved in every dynamic area and also now accommodates five people as standard. I’d still choose an X5 because it’s cheaper, less ugly and seats seven, but I can now at last see a case for the X6.
I can’t say the same about the X4. BMW tried to make the X6 as good to drive as you could reasonably expect such a heavy SUV to be, and therefore put clear air between it and the X5. But why anyone would buy an X4 rather than an X3 escapes me. It’s been a while since I’ve driven an X3, but my memories are broadly positive. The X4 seems like an excuse to charge more money for a car that’s less spacious and at least a candidate for being the least attractive on sale. It’s perfectly pleasant to drive, but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of a brand-new product. As a complete package – a car to drive, own and look at every day – its appeal has thus far eluded me.
BMW X4 xDrive 3.0d M Sport
Engine: 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power: [email protected]
Torque: 413lb [email protected]
Transmission: eight-speed auto, four-wheel drive
Top speed: 145mph