ne thing the dry weather let me do these past weeks was to explore old routes, nooks and crannies I hadn’t been to in a car — or tractor — for years. It was both exalting and frightening. Where, dear God, have all the intervening years gone? Oh, the memories evoked by the sights, sounds and smells.
Last time I ventured to some of those places I was at the wheel of a Massey Ferguson 135 worried sick about getting stuck in cloying mud or bog.
Yet there I was — on my latest journey especially — in a flamenco red BMW X4 SAV (with black/red contrast stitching Vernasca leather inside) and not in the slightest bit concerned about getting back to the tarmac.
Of course the X4’s renowned all-wheel-drive system was a helpful reassurance, but fundamental to it were the tinder-dry underfoot conditions everywhere we went. Will we/I ever see the likes of them again?
In a way, the X4 was a bit like my revisit emotions: a mixed bag of the good, bad and indifferent.
But first let’s put the new arrival in context: it is the 4dr ‘Coupé’ version of the more conventional-looking X3 sports activity vehicle (SAV for BMW, SUV for others, okay?).
To look at, it is seriously different. It has these sloped looks as opposed to the more natural outlines of the car on which it so heavily based.
Now, I’ve never liked the shape of its forerunner — or its Mercedes GLC Coupé rival for that matter. It’s the sloped roof that gets me. In fairness, BMW have tried to even it out a bit more now so it is not so pronounced. And yes, I liked it a bit better as a result — but only a bit. It’s a matter of taste, I suppose. Cars like this are hugely popular in the US and China: they’re snapping them up.
Anyway, they have put a lot of effort into making this a much better proposition than
■ BMW X4 mid-size SUV Coupé, xDrive, 20d M Sport, 8spd automatic, 190bhp, 5.6l/100km, 146g/km, tax €390.
■ Range price starts from €67,100; car on test (with options): €78,575.
■ Entry-level spec includes array of safety comfort technologies, M Sport suspension, 18ins alloys, three-zone air con.
■ Car on test had M Sport package, heated front seats, satnav, DAB digital radio.
■ Options included: visibility package, adaptive LED headlights, high-beam assist, acoustic glazing, M Sport Plus package: 20ins alloys with run-flat tyre, Harman Kardon surround sound, front sport seats, park assist plus.
its forerunner. For starters, it is 50kg lighter and its shape, for all my criticism, gives it the sector’s most aerodynamic figure.
The subtler roof incline (the rear-spoiler effect works well) also takes away a good deal of that ‘cut off ’ line that pronounced the former version.
For all that, they have a fascination with one other rival, the Porsche Macan, and spent additional millions giving the platform new dynamism to compete.
Was it discernible? Yes, it now has a tauter feel to it and was impressive on those myriad memory lane sojourns, while conveying a sense of real energy on the open road. Widening the track for better on-road performance has paid off handsomely.
From a practical perspective there was, despite the sloped roofline, really decent rear headroom for two adults, I’m glad to report. And fair dues for the way they eked out more room at the back generally.
They did so without plundering the boot which, at 525 litres, is a just a tiny bit tighter than the X3.
Funny though, the great big lump of a steering wheel got in my way a bit. Mad complaint isn’t it? Well maybe not, when you consider it’s one of the vital points of being in touch with the car. This was too big for me and out of proportion even in a vehicle that is 81mm longer (4,752mm), 37mm wider (to 1,918mm = Macan), much the same height and with a 54mm increase in wheelbase (to 2,864mm).
Inside they have contrived something quite special. The aforementioned Vernasca leather swathed a plush, smart cabin; there were great seats and, despite the mega steering wheel, a good, commanding driving position.
To drive, I thought the car was at its best in Sport-mode setting; Comfort was a bit floppy.
Taken on an item-by-item basis, the X4 rang up decent points on most fronts. I enjoyed the sport/solidity of engine and chassis.
But it lost points heavily in one particular, and important, area. The ‘Coupé look’ restricted back-window visibility far too much for me. It yielded poor visibility which was only partly addressed by large wing mirrors.
And so the big question is: Would I buy it? I wouldn’t reject it out of hand like the old one but I’d think twice to be honest.
I know many people we met loved the unconventional look (minority status for me again) but would they pay around €8,500 more for it than an X3? That’s the question.
It is a sharp and sporty drive now, for sure; it was an easy, enjoyable drive on the road and it did everything asked of it off the tarmac, too.
But it’s a bit like the normally inaccessible nooks and crannies that the drought opened up for us: what is seldom is wonderful. What is more everyday we often overlook.
So I think I’d stick with the less daring and more practical X3 which has improved no end.