Good: well sorted dynamically, lovely cabin, quite practical, fantastic engine, frugal.
Not so good: divisive styling, image, price.
It's funny how little wrinkles and odd bits make things so much more interesting. If everything went smoothly and to plan, then history would be pretty unexciting and we'd have no need for hindsight - we'd know ahead of time how everything was going to pan out. Journalism would be an easier gig for a start; you could write all your copy ahead of time, knowing that things would happen just as you said they would. In the trade, it's called 'writing the lead on the way to the ball-park' and it's an easy trap to fall into - to assume that you really do know what's going to happen next.
Take my road test of the BMW X4 as a pretty good example. Had I allowed myself to, I could have written the road test without ever having set foot in the car. Great engine, awful styling, ride sacrificed to handling, save your money and buy an X3 instead. End of. You see, I've previously driven BMW's other coupé-SUV (which it insists on calling a *shudder* Sports Activity Vehicle or SAV) the X6 and I basically hate it. It's a big, heavy, profligate SUV masquerading as a low-slung, sleek sports saloon or even a coupé. Wrong, wrong, wrong on every level.
The X4, I assumed I had every right to assume, would be smaller, but essentially more of the same. Taking a car I quite like (the BMW X5 in the case of the X6, the X3 here...) and ruining it by trying to make it something it's not.
And then an odd little wrinkle occurred. For reasons I can't quite remember I had to double-up on test cars the week I had the X4 and my other car that week was... a BMW X3 - newly facelifted, with an improved interior and an updated 2.0-litre diesel engine. It was instantly, to my eyes, better looking than the X4, far more practical and vastly cheaper. How could it be anything other than brilliant?
Well, the how in question quickly became apparent as I scanned the options list. The M Sport spec X3 I was testing had been fitted with optional sports suspension. Clearly BMW believes that a sport can consist of taking suspension turrets and filling them with concrete (perhaps it's a new Olympic discipline?) because the X3 rode with the class and deportment of a coffee table chucked out of a ten-storey window. It was awful, crashing and bashing around the place and generally unpleasant to drive. Which is a shame, as the standard X3 is actually a lovely car, with a good ride quality and I really like it.
Aha though, surely this was just reinforcing my ahead-of-time review of the X4? If an X3 could be ruined by picking the wrong spring and damper settings, then surely it could be ruined ever more by making it an X4?
The X4 sits about a foot lower and about six inches longer than an X3. It claims to have seats in the back for three people, but unless the person in the middle seat is Jodie Kidd, it isn't happening. However, all is not lost, as, in spite of the sloping roofline, it has a 500-litre boot, so it's actually surprisingly practical. You can save yourself a 20mm vertical heave when getting into the driver's seat in an X4 compared to an X3 (28mm in the back), but otherwise it's pretty much identical inside - which is to say really nice, with a well-made and designed dashboard and fabulous seats. It's a little more claustrophobic than the X3, of course, but at a hair over six-foot, I was able to get sumptuously comfy.
Ah but here comes the rub, right? If the X3 (with sports suspension) clattered around the place like a toddler in Doc Martens, the X4 was going to... going to... ride as if carried on a cloud of levitating kittens. Hang on, what?
Well, perhaps it wasn't that soft, but the comparison between going from a sports-suspended X3 to a standard-sprung X4 was really something else. Here, suddenly, was a chassis that could spell supple and which married sharp steering and agile responses to genuine comfort and control. It is really, really good.
Oh dear. This wasn't in my script at all. I was supposed to hate the X4, to scoff at it as some sort of pointless bauble. Yet I was starting to like it. Perhaps I can find something in the mechanical package to despise.
Nope, it's basically perfect. The 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine makes double cream look (and sound) lumpy and uncouth, and any engine that can combine a 258hp, 560Nm bucket of urge with a CO2 figure that racks you up a modest €390 motor tax bill has to be close to brilliance. Bizarrely, it even returned more or less the same fuel consumption as the 2.0-litre X3, averaging around 35mpg in my hands.
So. Ummmm. Right. Now then. I was supposed to wrap this up by utterly hating the X4 and mocking its customer base as Geordie-Shore-alike Muppets. But I can't, because it's genuinely talented and, in this trim, has an engine to beat anything else the motoring world can devise.
Of course it's silly and very silly money too. Options inclusive, our test car cost north of €90k and for that kind of money you could be in an X5 so no thanks. Further down the price ladder I'd still rather have a well-specified 5 Series Touring, maybe with xDrive all-wheel drive to keep up with the X4 in multi-role capability.
Just goes to show though; never assume, never predict and never think you know what's going to happen next.