Question: What is the easiest way of ruining what is otherwise a spectacularly good motor car?
Answer: Make it ugly, says Declan Colley.
The whole question of the prettiness or otherwise of certain car designs might seem very much like a first world problem and, given the wide and varied nature of the problems besetting our earth and so many of its inhabitants right now, it very much is.
Now obviously, car companies are not very often politically motivated — they are there to make money, after all — and even if in some troubled places you seem to get a suspiciously large amount of Toyotas with ack-ack batteries on the back, one doubts the Japanese company is politically driven.
Even so, I wonder if such things are optional extras in certain markets. “The two litre comes with 25mm machine guns with a self-oiling capacity,” the salesman spins.
The truth is that Coupe SUVs do provoke debate about design and form and often spark more worldwide discussion than any of the above tragedies, which tells you something about the world we live in right now.
One such ‘gosh-can-you-believe-it’ design is the BMW X4, which is indeed a coupe SUV, in the same way as are the Range Rover Evoque, the Mercedes CLC and the Porsche Macan.
It is a car which in engineering and performance terms can hold its own with any of the above, but when it comes to design and looks, it is nothing short of a shocker.
Certainly, the coupe SUV concept is one which has gained some purchaser traction as the world has gone SUV mad; it is, after all, just one of the many differing niches that the car companies have tried to fill as demand has gone orbital. This phenomenon is nothing new, after all, as manufacturers copy the hell out of anything — and I mean anything at all — which looks a likely seller.
Thus, as the SUV has gone from zero customer appeal not 10 years ago, to stratospheric as the millennium matured, various new and ‘innovative’ themes and trends emerged.
Of course, these are not new or innovative at all, merely aping the traditionally accepted genres which have lived so long in the realm of automotive design.
The coupe SUV is one such derivation and while some such iterations are not in any way visually offensive or otherwise hard to stomach, the same cannot be said of BMW’s effort. It is vile — to look at, anyway. As a thing to drive and be driven in it is wonderful. But as a looker, no.
Making such a strident statement might stray away from the car critic’s usual defence of ‘subjective analysis’, but the fact of the matter is that I have yet to meet anyone who thought the BMW to be a good looking car. Anyone at all.
From the front, the X4 is actually quite nice and is a very identifiable BMW SUV. From the A-pillar backwards, however, it loses the plot.
The severely sloped roof, stunted rear end and gawpy three-quarter look, stand it out among its peers as a seriously disagreeable car.
If late Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho was once ‘The Special One’, this is ‘The Ugly One.’ Based as it is on the same running gear as the X3, which is a wholly meritorious design, from both an engineering and visual point of view, it is no surprise it is as good a drive as it is.
The second generation of the X4 (the first one was ugly too) has arrived on our roads rather sooner than you might have expected in its model development.
The new one is with us only four years after the first one and the reason for this is that BMW had to dove-tail its manufacture to the mechanically identical X3 on the common production lines the cars share.
And, much in the same way that the X3 has gestated into a fine drivers’ car, the X4 now too has been improved in many areas to make it every bit as good a car to drive as it should be.
And it is. Potent, grippy, comfortable, sumptuous, well kitted-out (albeit you do have to factor in the fantastic ability of the Munich crowd to extract more from your wallet than anticipated for any extras you might like) the X4 is a model with the sort of on-road good-mannered sorted-out-ness you expect.
It drives like a dream; has all sorts of trick stuff you can programme into your driving techniques to sharpen up the already well sorted chassis. And, via the xDrive system, it also has an off-road capability, although most will never get further off-road than a supermarket car park.
Think about it. These guys made the fatberg X5 something of a drivers’ car even if it was the size of a minor Alp. The new X5 is terribly impressive and so the fine wine matures down through the lesser vines to such a great driving car as the X4.
It has a rather good engine in the four cylinder 190 bhp two litre turbodiesel (top speed 213 km/h and 0-100 km/h in 8.0 seconds), which is allied to an excellent eight speed auto gearbox.
This combination gives the X4 a genuine appeal to those who like to drive rather than merely being seen driving.
But there is zero practicality on offer — try getting a set of golf clubs in the back, or a wheelbarrow — which rather blunts potential appeal, one could reasonably assume.
So why buy one, when you can get all that drivability, with the added appeal of an equally expensive but slightly more blue-collar and workmanlike demeanour you get from the X3?
I’m not sure what demographic BMW are after here — people who want to be different from the pack, perhaps — but whoever they are aiming the car at, one would have to presume that such punters are blessed with a complete absence of taste, or any sense of style and flair.
The X4 is simply so terrible looking, you’d have to conclude that people are blinded by the fact it is a BMW, a company that rarely makes anything other than great cars.
And this is a great car to drive and it has a wonderful interior from which to view the world, but the whole thing is spoiled by the sort of dodgy styling that gives designers a very bad name. This is indeed a great pity.
And a first world conundrum.
The Cost: From €70,630 — €78,575 as tested.
The Engine: Excellent two litre turbodiesel.
The Specification: Good but with the usual warning about the price of add-ons.
The Overall Verdict: Great car, but not a looker.