The true stature of an outstanding car often takes time to emerge through the dust cloud of excitement and sugar coating of novelty that shroud big product launches.
The Porsche Macan’s launch had plenty of both – not to mention the controversy inspired by a concept as divisive as a new fast SUV.
But given time to digest this car’s remarkable dynamic qualities – and several occasions to drive it – we’ve been left with the unmistakable impression of the exceptional here.
The Macan is a 4x4 like absolutely no other. It easily dismissed the challenge of a Range Rover Evoque in an early comparison test. It subsequently earned a near-perfect 4.5-star road test rating.
It’s a better driver’s car than even its bigger brother, the Cayenne, and – assuming that’s what you want an SUV to be – is singularly appealing compared with just about every medium-sized, premium-branded 4x4 that came before.
But what about since? Enter the first car with the potential to upset the Macan apple cart. One with an equivalent mission to bring coupé-like styling and desirability, stirring performance and genuine sports saloon handling to a growing captive audience already convinced that it wants the status, luxury and convenience of a premium-brand 4x4. The BMW X4 has arrived.
Although it may not be blown to pieces, the case for signing on the dotted line for that Porsche suddenly doesn’t look so perfectly sewn up. The X4 has the makings of a car to land a punch or two on the Macan.
Going toe to toe here in identically powerful, 255bhp xDrive30d and Diesel S forms, these two are within 15kg of each other on quoted kerb weight, 10mm on overall length and 3mm on wheelbase and they have identical overall heights.
If it comes as a surprise that the BMW wins the preliminary brochure-borne battle on performance, fuel economy and CO2 emissions, you’ll be equally surprised to hear that the Porsche is cheaper to buy and slightly cheaper to insure than the BMW.
More predictably, the Porsche is expected to be considerably stronger on retained value. On paper, our match-up could hardly be better poised.
But in the real world, the BMW starts this test at a bigger disadvantage than any specification preview could reveal. If you’ve already seen one on the road, or even in pictures, you’ll know why that is.
That the X4 is a marginally less incongruous-looking car than the bigger X6 may be true, but it’s not much of a compliment. Nor is any such compliment deserved.
There are parts of this new BMW’s styling that, in isolation, we quite like: the sweeping roofline, the contoured bonnet, the split swage line on its flanks – all perfectly agreeable close up. But when you stand back, the car’s features and proportions look unbalanced and unresolved.
Somehow the X4 is less like a coherent, modern BMW than a Crimewatch photofit. It could almost have been sketched in dry-wipe marker on a focus group whiteboard.
During a week with the car, no one we asked described the X4’s styling in positive terms. Most people simply “didn’t get it”. And this is a car that’s supposed to be more desirable than the average German 4x4, remember.
Next to the Macan – a car that, although not a knockout, at least is every inch the new-wave, downsized, sporting Porsche SUV that it’s intended to be – the X4 is weird in the extreme.
Which is a sizeable barrier to success, it strikes me. Assuming that you can get past it, there’s better news to report on the BMW’s cabin. You sit higher in the X4 than in the Macan, and although it’s good, the BMW’s interior doesn’t rival the Porsche’s on material richness. Up front, the Macan feels more sporting, more spacious, more special – just better.