BMW cottoned on to the coupé-SUV niche early on with its large X6. It had a body of a similar size to the X5, but with more curvaceous styling.

The firm then added the smaller, sportier X4, and it’s the new, second-generation X4 we’re testing here, updated with better infotainment and a higher- quality interior among other features.

Best family cars of 2018

There’s only one natural rival for this car: the Mercedes GLC Coupé. Tested here in 220 d 4MATIC AMG Line spec to match the X4 xDrive20d M Sport, the Mercedes is cheaper, but it’s also based on older technology.

We won’t see an updated GLC Coupé until 2019 at the earliest, so can the current car mix styling with substance to fend off the new X4’s challenge?

Head-to-head

Model: BMW X4 xDrive20d M Sport Mercedes GLC 220 d Coupé 4MATIC AMG Line
Price: £45,600 £43,860
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel 2.1-litre 4cyl turbodiesel
Power/torque: 187bhp/400Nm 168bhp/400Nm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive automatic, four-wheel drive

0-60mph/top speed: 8.0 seconds/132mph 8.2 seconds/130mph
Test economy: 43.9mpg 36.1mpg
CO2/tax: 146g/km/£450 163g/km/£450
Options: Metallic paint (£670), adaptive dampers (£460), visibility package (£495), comfort package (£1,040), Driving Assistant Plus (£500)

Options: Driving Assistance Package (£1,695), Premium Package (£1,495), Designo metallic paint (£895), Night Package (£595)

BMW X4

For: Agile for a large SUV, strong, refined engine, high-quality cabin and great infotainment
Against: Big body and reduced visibility mean manoeuvring can be tricky, higher list price

When BMW launched the X4 back in 2014 to follow the larger X6, it was marketed as a Sports Activity Coupé. Forget that, because while the car’s roofline might be more coupé-like, it still features the raised-up proportions of a conventional SUV.

BMW X4 M Sport 2018 review

There’s no doubt it’s sportier than the X3 in its styling, but it feels remarkably similar to drive. Still, there’s nothing wrong with that, because the X3 is one of the best-handling cars in its class.

The X4 steers sweetly, and despite growing in size and weighing in at 1,740kg, the latest version offers plenty of grip for a model that rides quite this high from the road. However, there are limitations to that.

In the £460 adaptive dampers’ Comfort setting the car is compliant, filtering out the worst road scars to deliver an easy, relaxed ride. Sport means there’s tauter body control, but it subtly impacts the suspension’s unhurried feel and makes things less comfortable. This isn’t by much, yet in an SUV that should deliver comfort before sportiness it seems counter-productive, although the dynamic trade-off by picking this setting isn’t actually all that great.

It is the more agile, alert car here, however, and is better than the Mercedes from behind the wheel. But while it’ll engage you up to a point, the BMW is still a relatively high-riding SUV, so don’t expect miracles.

The straight-line performance is good, though, thanks to the 187bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit. The 0-60mph dash took 8.0 seconds at our test track, and with 400Nm of torque it was quick in gear as well; faster than the heavier, less torquey Mercedes, in fact. The X4 was quicker than its rival in every gear apart from eighth.

It’s also more refined. The Mercedes’ grumbly 2.1-litre unit is louder than the X4’s engine on the move. You still get a diesel rattle from the BMW’s motor when you rev it harder and ask for more performance, but at a settled pace it’s unobtrusive. It certainly isn’t as noisy as the GLC’s engine under general driving.

That’s also thanks to the interior itself, which is a nicer place. It feels better built and its layout is superior as well, while inheriting the X3’s dashboard facia means the X4’s ergonomics are fairly equal, but that quality is better.

Both cars match up on kit. M Sport models get BMW’s Professional Nav infotainment, DAB, cruise control, all-round parking sensors with a reversing camera plus adaptive LED lights.

Testers’ notes:

  • • Technology: Infotainment in the BMW feels more cutting-edge than in the Mercedes, while iDrive system has benefited from years of development
  • • Transmission: Eight-speed auto box is exceptionally smooth; it’s lovely as an automatic and snappy when in manual mode
  • • Quality: X4’s cabin has edge over GLC Coupé’s, with better layout and higher-quality build and finish

Mercedes GLC Coupe

For: Individual looks, easy to drive, offers similar style to the X4 for less money
Against: Price premium over regular GLC, cramped in the rear, lumpy ride

AS with the X4, the GLC Coupé is a more expensive yet less practical version of an existing SUV. On the face of things, a £2,875 price premium for the GLC Coupé compared with the equivalent GLC doesn’t stack up. An even heftier £2,980 separates BMW X3 and X4.

However, this is literally the price you pay for style because these two SUVs are marketed on their looks. That’s subjective, so we’ll leave you to make up your own mind here, but the Mercedes is definitely a good match for the BMW when it comes to design.

Mercedes GLC Coupe facelift spied

It can’t match its German rival in terms of ride quality or dynamism, though. The older 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is droney compared with BMW’s smoother unit, and while it delivered a comparable 0-60mph performance time at our test track, taking 8.2 seconds, the GLC Coupé feels more strained and less refined than the X4.

That’s partly due to the 220 d unit’s lower output at 168bhp and 400Nm of torque, although it is aided by an extra ratio over the BMW in its nine-speed gearbox. It means you have to work the unit harder, but squeezing the accelerator to its stop initiates a cacophony from under the bonnet. It’s best to keep a lid on full-throttle driving and let the smooth-shifting box do what it’s good at, then.

The Mercedes’ higher kerbweight was noticeable during our in-gear assessments, but it’s even more palpable driving the GLC back-to-back with the X4. The steering is heavier, the damping not as well controlled and the chassis is less forgiving as a result.

It generally feels more lethargic to change direction and not quite as sporty; yet the damping isn’t as well judged as the BMW’s in its Comfort setting, so the GLC sometimes drops into depressions in road surfaces with a harsher edge. It manages to feel firm and lumpy without giving a confidence-inspiring tied-down feel.

While the C-Class has been facelifted, the GLC Coupé’s cabin is based on that of the older C-Class. It’s still a smart interior loaded with a comparable level of kit to the X4 at face value, but it feels older and on closer inspection it trails on quality.

You get sat-nav, Artico leather (a man-made substitute), LED lights, climate control, Bluetooth, parking sensors and a reversing camera, heated seats and 19-inch alloys. With the £1,740 saving over the BMW, the GLC looks better value, but both are pricier than their full SUV alternatives.

Testers’ notes:

  • • Transmission: GLC Coupé gets an extra ratio over the X4 with its nine-speed auto box, which helps compensate for the engine’s lower power output
  • • Infotainment: Standard seven-inch screen isn’t as good as the BMW’s infotainment. Upgrading to the 8.4-inch COMAND Online set-up will cost you £2,795
  • • Quality: We have no complaints about the quality of the materials used in the cabin, or its layout. But the newer and plusher X4 has moved the game on

Verdict

First place: BMW X4

While the X4 is pricey, its plusher cabin, extra practicality, stronger performance and more refined ride are worth the extra. Running costs are similar, yet the BMW delivers more and feels the more stylish, better product. We’d still go for the cheaper SUV sibling to each car.

Second place: Mercedes GLC Coupe

Compared with the plusher and more practical new X4, the GLC Coupé feels a little tired. It can’t compete on quality, while the kit isn’t as advanced. It drives okay, but the ride is sub-standard next to the BMW’s. While it’s cheaper, we’d go for the X4; you get what you pay for here.

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