We went to the rolling countryside of Southern England to test the chunky machine at its launch base. Since the introduction of the X5 in 1999, the X range has grown over the years to now include: X1, X3, X4, X5, X6. With prices starting at €57,720 on the road, X4 is definitely a luxury, niche machine, but BMW says it is coming to the market at the right time with the economic upturn. 

Identical at the front with the recently revised X3, the coupé-like X4 features headlight clusters that join in to the famous BMW grille - just like the 3 Series. Four distinctive air intakes dominate what is a fairly aggressive and smart-looking front end. When viewed side-on, the profile is quite BMW GT-like. At the rear the design team has made X4 look as wide and planted to the road as possible. 

X4 is less imposing than the first BMW SAV - the X5-based X6 that divided opinion with its controversial high-rise GT look. X4 is more compact and less divisive. The larger X6 somehow managed to shrink around the driver and in SD form (sport diesel) was always fun to drive (a new X6 will be here later this year). Behind the chunky steering wheel X4 instantly makes you feel part of the driving experience, and this is a very good thing.

Under the bonnet, X4s (and X3s) in this part of the world will feature just diesel engines. The X3 range gets one engine that X4 doesn't - the rear-wheel drive-only S-Drive 18d. Both cars get a 20d, 30d and 35d - all are X-Drive (all-wheel drive). 

The two-litre, 190hp four-cylinder engine is particularly interesting as it is one of a new breed of BMW modular engines made up of a combination of 500cc cylinders. The new cylinder design can be combined very efficiently to build four, six or eight cylinder engines or even bigger! Our test cars were X4 X Drive 30d M Sport models.

Next to X3, X4 is very slightly lower and longer. X4 has a 500-litre boot (550 litres X3). X4 gets five seatbelts, which is good news for families. You'd be forgiven for thinking the X4 has no rear headroom but it is surprisingly good. Three trim levels are available: SE, X-Line, which is a new BMW grade and the sporty-looking M Sport tops the range.

On the road our X4 delivered a precise and spirited driving experience - it would be hard not to with 258hp! A sports automatic gearbox with paddle shifts is standard on the 30d and the 313hp 35d. In normal conditions the all-wheel drive set-up has a 60% rear-wheel drive bias but close to 100% of the power can be sent to either the front or rear wheels when needed. 

Variable sports steering is standard and this means the gearing is nice and short at lower speeds, i.e. little movement of the steering gets an instant turning response while at higher speeds you need more steering input to change direction. So you needn't fear sneezing on the motorway!

X4, much like X6, is a car that no one seemed to be asking for - but having driven it we're glad it's here. X4 is entertaining to drive, quite versatile and involving, too.

Michael Sheridan