As anyone following the car industry knows, crossovers are all the rage these days. It’s even reached the point where mainstream manufacturers are pulling the plug on sedans while expanding their lineups with SUVs of all shapes and sizes.
We recently had a chance to drive two new models in the increasingly popular luxury compact crossover segment, the BMW X4 and Cadillac XT4. Both are stylish entrants into a category that has become more small sporty wagon than rugged SUV, and both test cars also happened to ring in at $57k. Although not an entirely fair comparison, as the BMW is slightly larger and commands an almost $10k higher base price, it was interesting to see how different manufacturers are approaching this hot part of the market.
Launched in 2014 and based on the popular X3, the X4 was one of the first crossovers to adopt a coupe-like fastback design. For 2019 BMW softened the exterior a bit. Now, it features more rounded edges, although the kidney front grille is now in-your-face big. The all-new XT4 is a more conventional two-box shape, but Cadillac’s edgy design language makes it hard to miss. Both cars are stylish and visually unique, but the XT4 deserves credit for being the more cohesive design.
Granted, the XT4 is on the small side of the compact crossover spectrum and is positioned a bit lower in terms of price–starting at under $40,000. Start checking the boxes on the options sheet, however, and you can quickly end up spending much more. Our AWD Sport trim test car had a $41,000 base price and an astonishing $15,000 in options.
The X4, on the other hand, sits on the second rung of the BMW crossover ladder, with the X1/X2 serving as even smaller entry-level models. This tiered range makes the $50,000 base price somewhat understandable. But getting carried away, and you can spend over $70,000 on an X4, which is quite remarkable. At just over $57,000, our decently optioned xDrive30i test car likely represents the volume seller.
Driving dynamics, in a crossover?
The jury is still out on whether or not most crossover shoppers care about how they perform. The good news is that a few genuinely sporty models do exist, and the X4 is definitely one of them. Although BMW has been rightly accused of going a bit soft in recent years, the X4 is a return to form, especially in terms of chassis and suspension tuning.
BMW’s SAV remains surprisingly flat when cornering, yet is not at all harsh over bumps. Steering feel is a bit numb and doesn’t communicate much about what the front tires are doing, but that’s par for the course these days. Driven aggressively over a bumpy backroad, the X4 is quite excellent. So much so that you’ll wish for a more aggressive set of tires than the relatively modest 19-inch all-season Pirellis that come standard.
The BMW’s powertrain is also quite good if less than thrilling. As is all too common these days, you’ll find a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four engine under the hood. It isn’t much to listen to, but it feels stronger than the modest 248 horsepower rating would suggest. The 8-speed transmission is superb, especially in Sport mode. Shifts happen quickly and smoothly and help to maximize the available power. Back it off in Eco mode and the X4 is also quite efficient, with mpg in the mid-20s.
The 2019 XT4: Still a Cadillac
After driving the impressively sporty X4 for a few days, hopping into the Cadillac felt like moving into a whole different class of vehicle. From the seating position to the suspension to the powertrain, everything feels more delivery truck than sports car. The optional active sport suspension in our test car was too soft and floaty when set in tour mode, and too firm and bouncy in sport mode.
Under the hood of the XT4 is an equally underwhelming 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, this one making 237 horsepower. Acceleration is also quite good, but the 9-speed transmission doesn’t do the powertrain any favors, with somewhat lazy shifting and less than perfect gear selection. An optional set of large 20-inch wheels and reasonably grippy Continental tires provide plenty of stick, but the XT4 doesn’t encourage any spirited driving that awakens the soul. Nonetheless, mixed driving presented decent fuel efficiency in the 24-25 mpg range.
When it comes to the interior, the concept of a luxury compact crossover is inherently a compromise. In today’s automotive realm, expect a limited amount of luxury and practicality available in a smaller vehicle. The $40-60k price point also usually means cutting some corners, as that amount of coin isn’t enough for lovely materials and other fancy options.
Given this reality, the X4 acquits itself rather well. The fastback roofline does take away from cargo space and rear seat headroom, otherwise, the X4 is reasonably spacious. The optional red leather upholstery in our test car added a nice splash of color, and the seats are supportive yet also comfortable. The quality of materials is perfectly decent, but still a bit behind what you’ll find in a comparable Mercedes or Volvo.
The dash has been entirely redesigned and now features a wide 10-inch screen perched up high. The infotainment system is easy to work with, although sadly our test car didn’t feature any premium sound system. Blaring our favorite eighties tunes with the sunroof open proved a bit disappointing.
Lower price point, lower luxury content
Move over to the Cadillac, and sadly things aren’t quite as refined. The XT4 isn’t exactly spacious, and overall interior quality is not class competitive. Although built to a lower price point, this doesn’t excuse using the kind of plastics you’d find in a cheap hatchback. Unfortunately, plenty of those adorns the cabin.
The one positive note is the revised CUE infotainment system, which is far superior to the much-derided previous version. Accessing things like music and navigation are now uncomplicated and intuitive. Moreover, the touchscreen is quick to respond to inputs.
Our XT4 test car featured pretty much every available option, including massaging front seats, adaptive cruise control, Bose premium sound, etc. But none of this help covers for the fact that GM is still trying to get away with sub-par interiors in a market where a $30,000 Mazda is pretty swanky on the inside.
To some, the idea of spending over $50-large on a relatively small car will seem absurd, and perhaps it is. For less than the price of either of these two little SUVs, you could get a nicely appointed full-size pickup truck. Or a fully optioned minivan. Or a premium full-size sedan, if anyone still makes those.
But that’s not where the market is, and to some extent it makes sense. People want something practical, yet also not too big. Make it luxurious and reasonably sporty, yet also somewhat efficient, and with all the latest tech features. In fact, make it a lot like the BMW X4.
While not perfect, and a bit spendy, this BMW is the kind of compromise that kind of makes sense. And to top it off, the X4 even looks pretty good. Plus, for those that crave a more conventional design, there is always the X3.
Unfortunately for Cadillac, about the only thing the XT4 has going for it is a compelling exterior design. Given how popular small SUVs are, Cadillac’s compact crossover will likely sell reasonably well, but there are quite a few better options available. Although by no means a terrible product, the upscale hatchback needs more work to be a competitive entry in this fiercely competitive segment.
Photo credit: Derek Mau
|2019 BMW X4 xDrive30i||2019 Cadillac XT4 AWD Sport|
|Price as tested||$57,895||$57,135|
|Engine||2.0L turbocharged I-4||2.0L turbocharged I-4|
|Power (hp)||248 hp @ 5200 rpm||237 hp @ 5000 rpm|
|Torque (lb-ft)||258 lb-ft @ 1,450-4,800 rpm||258 @ 1500-4000 rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|EPA Combined w/4WD||25 mpg||24 mpg|
|Drivetrain Layout||Longitudinally-mounted front engine, all-wheel drive||Longitudinally-mounted front engine, twin-clutch, decoupling all-wheel drive system|
|Front: Double-joint spring strut axle with lightweight aluminum anti-roll bar
Rear: Five link rear axle with lightweight aluminum anti-roll bar
|Front: MacPherson strut with coil-over spring; direct-acting stabilizer bar. Active Sport Suspension with Continuous Damping Control
Rear: Five-link independent with coil springs and fully isolated cradle
|Power assisted four-wheeled discs||Four-wheel disc with ABS; electro-hydraulic assist|
|Dimensions (length x width x height)||187.5 / 75.5 / 63.8 inches||181.1 / 83.5 / 64.1 inches|
|Wheelbase||112.7 inches||109.4 inches|
|Ground Clearance||8.0 inches||6.7 inches|
|2nd Row Legroom||35.5 inches||39.5 inches|
|Cargo Capacity behind 2nd row||18.5 cu. ft.||22.5 cu. ft.|
|Max Cargo Capacity (rear seat folded)||50.5 cu. ft.||48.9 cu. ft.|
|Curb Weight||4,196 lbs.||3,896 lbs|