New X4 shares much of its front end with the newly facelifted X3

New X4 shares much of its front end with the newly facelifted X3

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The sales target might be modest but there's no denying the ability of BMW's newest model, the Macan and Evoque-challenging X4.

As one of BMW's most important markets, Britain is logically one of the first to receive the right-hand drive X4, an additional model which entered production in March. All build is at Spartanburg in the US, the plant where a US$1bn spend programme will see annual capacity rise to 450,000 units a year. 

If you're wondering where the X4 fits, it's like a smaller X6. It won't appeal to everyone, but for those who think there's a few too many X3s (and Range Rover Evoques) on the road, this could be the right car. The 500 cubic litre boot loses 50 litres of capacity compared to an X3 and there's slightly less rear headroom, suggesting family buyers are not the primary target demographic. 

The UK line-up consists of just three variants, each of which is diesel powered. The best seller is expected to be the xDrive20d (60% of sales), which has a four-cylinder engine. The other two are the xDrive30d (35%) and xDrive35d. With BMW having just launched a mid-life facelift for the X3, the cars share much, and not just in styling terms, though the X4 is 16mm longer and 30mm lower. The price premium over the equivalent X3 is GBP 3,600 for each version. You'll also notice that in Britain, you can't have a rear-wheel drive sDrive version, at least at launch.

In the US, there are no diesels and two different variants, the xDrive28i and xDrive35i. The first one's 1,997cc four-cylinder turbo has an output of 240bhp, and the 35i's 2,979cc straight-six turbo produces 300bhp. ZF's 8HP45 eight-speed auto comes as standard, as you'd expect. Buyers in Germany and certain other European markets are also able to order one or both of these petrol engines.

BMW wants the market to see its new model as more agile than the X3, thanks to the styling and lower centre of gravity. The X4 has 18" wheels, up an inch over its brother, as well as Variable Sport Steering which means more input is needed at higher speeds but less at lower ones. As for trims, these are SE, xLine (+GBP 1,500) or M Sport (+GBP 3,000). The last of these should prove the most popular.

X models make up 18% of the UK importer's sales but the new addition won't be adding to the tally in a big way: BMW sees 2015 as the car's peak year, with around 2,000 units as its forecast and just 5,500 over the lifecycle. Due to its introduction being timed with the mid-life update for the closely related X3, the X4 will have a short production life. This replacement is due in 2018, according to the UK operations manager for Medium Cars, Natasha Newman. 

The 190hp four-cylinder engine in the xDrive20d is the only one to be available with a six-speed manual gearbox. The optional eight-speed automatic is standard for the 258hp xDrive30d and 313hp xDrive35d. Combined fuel economy averages are 52.3mpg (54.3 for the 2.0-litre auto), 47.9mpg and 47.1mpg. Acceleration differences of the four- and six-cylinder variants are marked, with both manual and automatic versions of the 20d needing 8.0 seconds to reach 62mph, while the 30d and 35d get there in 5.8 and 5.2 seconds respectively. CO2 numbers range from 143-157g/km.

The only cars available for test driving at the media drive event were in M Sport trim, each one an xDrive30d. As is the case for the more powerful 35d, the engine is BMW's latest 2,993cc straight six which is obviously compliant with Euro 6 norms.

Given the power, and 560Nm of torque, acceleration from any speed is superb. There's very little lean in the corners and even better, is the steering - absolutely no kick-back, and there's so much feel you can't quite believe you're driving a modestly sized SUV, not a sports coupe. You sit 20mm lower in the front compared to in an X3, while for rear passengers the difference is 28mm. 

Like the Macan, the X4 is hard to find serious fault with. Rear seat headroom is better than you might expect and even with a sunroof there was more than enough space for average-sized me. Legroom too is good. About the only slight annoyance was wind noise from the admittedly large mirrors at motorway speeds but it wasn't that intrusive, more that the rest of the car was so quiet.

The new X4 is on sale now priced from GBP 36,595 for the xDrive 20d. The as-tested xDrive 30d is listed at GBP 45,453 before options.