The ascendancy of crossovers has spawned a number of "half-way" vehicles for those buyers who don't want a full-on SUV but can't quite bring themselves to purchase a sedan, either - because it's literally too down to earth.
Squint when you look at the BMW X4 and you might see a shrink-wrapped BMW X3 SUV. Or look again and you might see a BMW 3-series sedan that's been pumped up like a balloon.
Either way, the X4s pleasing, fastback profile lets you define it as you will - beauty being in the eye of the beholder, and all.
* Model: 2019 BMW X4 xDrive30i* Exterior color: Dark Graphite Metallic* Interior color: Tacora Red* Engine: 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder, turbo* Horsepower: 248* Transmission: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters* Fuel economy: 29 mpg highway, 22 mpg city* Local Dealer: BMW of Chattanooga* Price (as tested): $61,545
To our eyes it's a sharp-looking vehicle with spot-on proportions, command seating height and hatchback convenience. Not so much a family vehicle as an empty-nesters delight, the X4 is assembled over in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It would look right at home parked in front of Whole Foods Market on Manufacturers Road on a Saturday morning.
A relatively low-volume model, we had to cast the net about 100 miles to find on-the-ground copies of the new X4. We found it in digital inventories in Knoxville, Huntsville, Alabama and Marietta, Georgia. First introduced as a 2015 model, the 2019 second-gen model has been tweaked and rewired with the latest high-tech features.
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WHAT IS IT? A five-passenger crossover with a choice of a 2.0-liter turbocharged-four cylinder engine or a 355-horsepower turbo six-cylinder. Our test has the smaller, four-cylinder engine and a commensurately smaller price-tag, although it still rings up at a $61,545. The xDrive all-wheel-drive system ensures four-season versatility.
WHAT WE LIKED: The X4's sensible size, distinctive exterior styling, comfortable seats (with extenders), quiet cabin, virtual dash instruments and run-flat tires. (As we get older, wielding a jack on a busy freeway is not our favorite pass-time.) We also loved the sharp graphics on the center screen, where navigation, sound system and telephone functions are easy to monitor. A significant perk: BMW offers free routine maintenance for three years.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: Because of the sloping rear roof-line, rearward visibility is pinched. We also think the six-cylinder upgrade would help the X4s performance match the promise of its aggressive stance and sporty design. The cargo area is limited with only a fraction of the volume of the X3.
DRIVING IMPRESSIONS: Steering is on the heavy side, but acceleration is brisk. Even with the four-cylinder engine, BMW estimates a 0-60 mph time in the six-second range.
Our tester had maybe the most insistent lane-keep assist feature we have ever experienced. Try to change lanes without signaling in the X4, and the car will nudge - well, push - you back onto your line.
The interior - which on our tester includes Tacora Red Leather seat coverings - is sporty and upscale.
BOTTOM LINE: Yes, the X4 is a niche vehicle, but it's designed for a group of very discerning customers who want a "classy and contemporary" auto. For those folks, there's nothing much on the road like it - and that originality is its biggest virtue.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.