The guy who sleeps on a bed of hundred dollar notes must be the guy who came up with the moniker ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ – the big, bruising, road machines that we all love to buy. These are vehicles that are neither really sporting nor utilitarian, but ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ makes them sound cool and practical, and even though you end up buying something the size of a US Navy Supercarrier, you feel good about yourself. An SUV is, in my humble opinion, a gigantic phallic symbol in the world of cars.
However, when you have cars that have been around long enough, engineers can start to do some really cool things. Look at compact sedans in India – earlier, they looked like a designer took a meat cleaver to the rear end, and now, the least that can be said is they don’t all look positively ugly. The same goes for SUVs if you go back in time and see some of the earlier ones – vehicles like the first-generation BMW X5, for example, which have not really aged that well. Back in the day, they didn’t exactly drive very well either.
You see, we live in a world governed by physics, and she is a cruel mistress because there are a couple of basic physical principles that SUVs seemed to ignore – the centre of gravity and centre of mass. Put in simple language, you would have to have been very brave to drive an SUV in a sporty manner. Sure, they made a few that could go incredibly fast in a straight line, but you would still not see a nice, sharp corner on an empty stretch of road and go straight for the apex while carrying a bit of speed. These cars did not pussyfoot around corners, but you would have dabbed the breaks pretty hard, even if you had a very wide run-off area.
This brings me to the BMW X4, and BMW’s massive North American plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina – a plant where BMW makes all but its smallest ‘X’ SUVs, and a plant that (perversely) will be impacted by Donald Trump’s planned tariff war with Europe. But that is another story. Outside the plant, BMW has built a small driver training course, and a couple of the turns on that track are ‘off-camber’, which basically means that the road is sliding in the opposite direction of the turn. Most turns at a racetrack and even on some public roads are ‘cambered’ – the road is banked in the direction of the turn, so that gravity can help vehicles turn.
Thus, off-camber turns are challenging, because gravity is pulling the car away from the turn, and even though the X4 may not be a giant SUV, it is still rather heavy, so it rides much higher than, say, a BMW 5 Series. It took that turn without a whimper, though – no tyre noise, nothing. Maybe I was not going fast enough? Maybe I kept all the electronic aids on? I switched the traction control off and told the computers to take a break, and I went harder into the turn, a sharp, almost 90-degree left-hander, not something you would normally attack at close to 80 kilometres per hour in a two-tonne car. There was now some tyre noise, but not much more – it was clear that the X4 could take plenty more.
This is what SUVs are becoming – they are not just machines that ride high on the road. The X4 is proof that they can go fast, and can perform around corners as well, and on the empty backcountry roads of the Blue Mountains that form the borders between the Carolinas, the X4 was a sensational car to drive. While at the back of your head you might think that you might have had more fun in a sedan, you realise that this car is not that far off. There is never a moment when you feel that you are driving a big, bulky SUV.
Of course, the coupe-styling helps with the X4 – it looks great, and despite the slanting roof, because you are sitting a bit lower down, you do not feel constricted for head or leg-room. The boot may not be as practical as an X3 or X5, but there is no sense that the car is off. While driving the 355 horsepower X4 M40i, I came upon a small airstrip, where I found a lovely old southerner (whose hangar was complete with the Confederate flag) running a small airport with classic planes. While my colleague was doing his piece-to-camera there, the gentleman offered me a ride in a 76-year old Piper Cub, which I jumped at. As much fun as the BMW X4 was, sitting in an old plane, thousand-odd feet above South Carolina? Now that was a proper experience.
3-litre inline 6 petrol
ON THE INSIDE
14-way front power sports seats
12-speaker sound system
Active Protection System
digital instrument panel
Rs 60.6 lakh onwards
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