BMW invented the modern "crossover coupe" with the X6 in 2009. The idea is simple: take an SUV, slope down the roof to make it look more sporty and add a few grand to the base price.
A decade later, we're still not convinced that it's a good formula. To be sure, automakers are on board. Mercedes and Audi have developed their own crossover coupes, while BMW has expanded their "Sports Activity Coupe" offerings to include the X2 and X4. But after driving the X4, it's hard to see why buyers would want to spend more over a comparable traditional SUV like the BMW X3.
For a company that built its empire on sports sedans, BMW is making some seriously good SUVs these days. The X3, X5 and X7 have all impressed us with user-friendly technology and their driving dynamics.
The X4 is no different. Our well-optioned X3 xDrive30i tester had a sticker price of $65,440, which is quite a bit for a compact luxury SUV. Still, it came loaded with technology.
BMW's gimmicky but fun gesture control — which lets you wave your hands in the air to control infotainment functions — was on board, as was the company's best-in-the-business full-color head-up display. The iDrive infotainment system continues to be easily navigable with an intuitive scroll wheel, while graphics are slick and never stutter.
It also has BMW's suite of active safety features, including a driving assistant that'll help keep you centered in your lane and radar cruise control to handle acceleration and braking. BMW's excellent next-generation driving assistant, which allows you to take your hands off the wheel in stop-and-go traffic on the highway, is unfortunately not yet available on the X4.
X4 30i models like our tester come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine that generates 248 horsepower. To get that power down, all X4s come with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. Unsurprisingly, the powertrain is stellar.
BMW's ability to pair butter-smooth engines with industry-leading transmission tuning continues to impress us. At any speed, a quick stab of the throttle will instantly drop the X4 into the right gear and shove you forward. Turbo lag is almost imperceptible and shifts are incredibly smooth. No other automaker is as consistently competent at making smooth and luxurious four-cylinder powertrains.
Finally, the X4 rides and handles well. It's not as composed as, say, a 3-Series sedan, but it can still hustle. Handling is precise, though you won't feel a lot of excitement through the steering wheel. It's not a car that pushes you to drive fast, but for a semi-sporty crossover with the base engine option, it's darn good.
The fatal flaw of the X4 is that the X3 exists. The BMW nomenclature may throw some off, but essentially even-numbered models are "coupes." The X4, then, is simply and X3 with a more dramatic roofline and a starting price that's thousands more.
The downsides of that are obvious. You get less headroom for passengers in the rear, you lose out on a lot of cargo space, visibility out the rear window is limited and you're paying more. The X4 was never supposed to be a rational replacement for the X3, then. Instead, it's the fashion-forward model aimed at buyers willing to sacrifice some practicality for a more stylish design.
But, at least to our eye, you're not actually getting a more stylish design. Sure, the X4 is more unique than the X3, but the sloped roofline messes up the proportions. Instead of the handsome and simple styling of BMW's mainline SUVs, the X4 has an awkward hunchback profile and smushed taillights. Sure, a crossover coupe can be more attractive than a more traditional design, but the X4 doesn't strike us as one of those instances.
And even if you like the look, you have to like it enough to sacrifice practicality and pay more money. Because all of the things we love about the X4 — the great tech, the refined powertrain and the well-tuned chassis — are all things we already liked in our X3 review.
A lot of people are offended at the basic concept of a crossover coupe. We get it, but we're open to the idea. A BMW X2, for instance, is significantly more attractive than its traditional X1 sibling. But in the case of the X4, the design is too awkward and ugly to justify the price premium.
If you're infatuated with the design, you'd probably be quite happy with an X4. For most buyers, though, an X3 or another traditional crossover like the Mercedes GLC is likely a much better value.
Driving experience: 4
Price as tested: $65,440