The 4 Series has undergone a metamorphosis. Gone are the 3 Series-aping looks and in their place is a somewhat radical design that’s drawn a fair amount of criticism, mostly centred on that grille. Let me say here and now: wait until you see a 4 Series in the flesh before making up your mind. I don’t look it looks too ungainly, especially when the bodywork’s painted in a dark hue to visually diminish the size of that gaping maw.
The rest of the vehicle, as we found on an extended drive in the Western Cape, is far less opinion-splitting.
At launch, only the Coupé variant will be offered, with the Convertible and Gran Coupé (pricing already out) following later this year. Three engines make up the range – 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol and -diesels, plus a straight-six 3.0-litre in the M440i – and all are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The six-pot drives all four wheels and the lesser models are motivated by the rears.
BACK TO THE DESIGN
Grille aside, the 4 Series Coupé is a sleek, modern device, all flowing curves, low roofline and long bonnet/short rear deck. It hides its increase in dimensions over the previous Four well; the new model’s a whopping 128 mm longer. There’s a smidge too much metal surrounding the rear wheels (negated somewhat by the M440i’s standard 18-inchers; the 420i and 420d sport 17s as standard) but the narrow front and rear lights look great and, as I mentioned, the vehicle stands distinct from the 3 Series Sedan, which has not always been the case.
The similarities are far more acute inside, where the facia architecture is shared. That’s no bad thing, though – the 3 Series is class-leading in its integration of technology into a user-friendly setup – and quality is excellent throughout. Of course, rear head- and legroom suffer, but I could still fit onto the contoured seat behind a driving position adjusted to accommodate my six-foot-plus frame, with just enough head clearance too. Curiously, boot space has been reduced by five litres to a still-voluminous 440 litres.
ON THE ROAD
Somewhat surprisingly, I found the 420d a more impressive drive than the M440i. Not that the latter – which acts as the current flagship until the hotly anticipated M4’s arrival – is anything less than stellar. What boosts the diesel’s appeal is its unbeatable combination of refinement (does any manufacturer make a better 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel than BMW?) coupled with strong performance enhanced by a 48 V mild-hybrid system – the company claims a 0-100 km/h sprint in 7.1 seconds – and frugal fuel consumption; BMW says 4.2 L/100 km is possible and we averaged 5.3 L/100 km in spirited driving.
The M440i, meanwhile, is as punchy as you’d expect from 275 kW and 500 N.m of torque offered from 1 900 to 5 000 r/min. BMW claims it’ll hit 100 km/h from standstill in a mere 4.5 seconds, aided, of course, by all-paw traction. It certainly feels that fast, but I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of drama. Certainly, the inline-six sounds good, but it’s voice is stifled a touch too much by the cabin’s excellent NVH control. The less we say about BMW’s eagerness to artificially enhance the sound of its sportier models through the speakers, the better.
And how does the new 4 Series drive? Well, practically perfectly. The ride’s certainly busy – specify the adaptive dampers to round off the worst edges – but still acceptably cosseting, a fair compromise considering the CLAR chassis architecture’s wonderful inherent balance. Body control is exceptional for a midsize coupé and the steering feels accurate and perfectly weighted when left to comfort mode (the sportier modes add a dull heft). The brakes, too, are strong and the pedal easy to modulate. Both the 420d and M440i can be pushed at a fair pace without breaking a sweat. Again, I prefer the setup of the former, which feels a touch lighter in the nose and livelier; the M440i is all about ultimate pace and grip.
BMW must be frustrated that the 4 Series’ grille has grabbed all the headlines, for this is a vehicle with an impressive depth of engineering that transcends any subjective opinions about design. It’s a delight to drive – more so than its direct Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé rivals – expertly constructed and easy to use. A class-leader? I certainly think so.
All BMWs offer a two-year/unlimited km warranty and five-year/100 000 km maintenance plan as standard.
BMW 420i Coupé Steptronic: R796 438
BMW 420d Coupé Steptronic: R843 516
BMW M440i xDrive Coupé Steptronic: R1 238 854