Micro-niches in the automotive industry come and go, but every now and again manufacturers will hop on one so far out in left field it’ll make your head spin. Case and point: compact luxury crossovers.
The compact crossover segment is a bit of an odd animal in its own rite, but once you start bolting in premium hardware, and high-performance powertrains it’s easy to start wondering when things switched from a “why” to a “why not” design philosophy.
Over the past few months I have tested the Range Rover Evoque, the Porsche Macan Turbo, and the BMW X4, which all fall into this peculiar category of crossover.
Living in a household of two (plus a pair of miniature schnauzers) in Vancouver means all three of these vehicles sort of speak my language. The question is which one would win out if I were forced to choose?
The Style File
In any offshoot of the luxury market, both exterior and interior design have to be on point. All three of these hit the nail on the head.
The Range Rover Evoque, which is responsible for the birth of the segment, is easily the boldest and most visually appealing of the bunch. The flared fenders and contrasting roof give it a particular presence impossible to mistake for anything else on the road. It is also the only unit in this strange trio that looks like it would be equally at home on city streets as it would be in the wilderness if equipped with the appropriate tires.
The Porsche Macan Turbo is the most conservatively styled of the pack, though calling it conservative doesn’t quite fit. The monstrous grille and air intakes scream forced induction, while headlights and overall silhouette scream Porsche Design. That said, this ain’t no 911 in the visuals department. The Macan lands in the realm of a scaled-down Cayenne, with proportions that work just a bit better than the larger SUV.
The BMW X4 on the other hand stands out like the Evoque, but is more of an acquired taste. The scaled-down X6 design translates well to the X4’s shorter wheelbase and lower roof, while the current BMW design language with headlights connecting through to the kidney grille brings the front-end together nicely.
The wheel/tire combination in relation to the wheel arches looks a bit off in just about every configuration though. There is an excess of clearance that just doesn’t look right. Another gripe with the X4 is a terrible lack of colour choices. The X4 only comes in Red, Black, White, Grey, and Silver. More bold colour choices to accompany the bold exterior style would be welcome.
The Creature Comforts
When it comes to the passenger cabins, The Macan and the Evoque speak a very similar language. From the driver’s seat, both have a very cockpit-inspired configuration and a button-heavy sloping centre console that melds into the dashboard. This setup, neat in its own right, gives both vehicles a compact feeling from behind the wheel.
The X4 on the other hand has a more open, yet still driver-centric, layout that makes the X4 seem a bit larger than it really is.
Rearward passengers have a surprisingly reasonable amount of room in all three vehicles. The sloping roofline does cut in to the X4’s rear passenger space a tiny bit, but at 6’1” I still didn’t find the rear seat too cramped.
In terms of spatial perception though, the Evoque takes an easy win for rear cabin comfort. Thanks to the massive glass roof there is a sense of openness in the rearward cabin that is downright pleasant. Some might prefer a glass roof with the ability to open, mind you, but the fixed panel works for me just fine.
At the wheel
In a sense, these three contenders present something of a Goldilocks conundrum based on the tested trim configurations. On one hand, the Macan Turbo tears down the road with a level of sheer lunacy once reserved for high-performance coupes. The 3.6L turbocharged V6 engine delivers 400 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, propelling it from 0—100km/h in just 4.8 seconds. To put that in context, that’s the same sprint time as the Jaguar F-Type S. (The Macan S comes with a 3.0L twin turbo V6 making 340 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque)
Porsche has also tuned the Macan’s chassis to handle all that power brilliantly – for fleeting seconds you can almost convince yourself you’re not driving a crossover. (Passing a sports car and seeing its roof from your upright seating position will quickly snap you out of it)
The BMW X4’s powertrain presents something a little more familiar. Much like the X3 and X5, in Xdrive 35i, the X4 runs BMW’s tried-and true inline-6 turbo 3-litre engine mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. This setup delivers a solid 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque quite low in the RPM range, making it quick when hustling through traffic with less risk of losing your license for achieving warp speed within city limits. The base 28i comes instead with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that makes 241 horsepower and 258 lbs.-ft. of torque.
The inline-6 turbo is perfectly set up to power things like the 235i and 435i, but even when pulling all around 1,873kg of the X4, it still has plenty off get-up-and-go. Even in M-sport trim the X4 felt a touch softer than I would expect for a sport-equipped Bimmer though. It handles itself fairly well for a crossover, but feels no more sporting than say a Volkswagen Tiguan in R-Line trim.
Coming into this I didn’t expect to have the Evoque take the lead here but in many ways it deserves to. Powered by a much smaller turbocharged 2.0L engine, the Evoque has the lowest power output of the three contenders, coming in at a meager 240 horsepower. It is also another 2.1 seconds behind the X4 in a 0—100 sprint with a rating of 7.6 seconds.
However, setting the published specs aside yields a completely different result. The Evoque actually feels more nimble and more planted on the road than the X4, though not as race-ready as the Macan Turbo. Its short wheelbase and fairly close ratio steering rack allow the Evoque to handle very sharply. Overall, it seems to strike the best balance of sporting performance and daily driveability.
One serious critique on the Evoque’s powertrain though is the need to refine the programming of its 9-speed gearbox. Even in dynamic mode, the box is often forced to gear down two if not three gears to gain passing power, and the shifting delay is just a bit too long. Maintain use of the shift paddles, mind you, and the Evoques rattles through the gears just as quick as the BMW, though still not at PDK levels of fast.
This is another one of those fun scenarios where three similarly marketed vehicles wind up being better suited for three remarkably different individuals.
For the all-out, I have all the money but don’t want a Range Rover Sport or a G-Wagon-sized ride, Porsche will happily take your $82-$100k (depending on options) and hand you a high performance compact crossover which truly has no rivals at the moment.
For the German engineering enthusiast with an eye for funky oddball design, the BMW X4 is an easy choice.
Finally for the enthusiastic driver who wants a balance of performance, comfort, and wants to look damn good doing it the, I hate to say it, “practical” choice comes down to the Evoque.
If it were me: I’d be torn between the three-door Evoque fully-equipped in triple black, and the mid-range Porsche Macan S with 340 horsepower at a fraction of the cost of the mighty Turbo model.