Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

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.

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