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Can the car behind the controversial new grille meet a warmer reception?

Enough time should have passed since the arrival of the latest BMW 4 Series in UK showrooms in October for those who objected to its styling in pictures to have seen the car in three dimensions on UK roads.

So now, as the hostile social media reception is softened slightly by familiarity for some and no doubt set in aspic for others, comes our time to get beyond the styling and interrogate the engineering substance of this car as only the Autocar road test can.

The pre-war BMW 328 sports car’s grille was taller, but that doesn’t mean an updated modern tribute necessarily fits on a compact coupé

The second-generation 4 Series is, for now, on sale in two-door coupé (codename G22) and two-door convertible (G23) bodystyles, with the four-door Gran Coupé (G26) set to arrive later this year.

There’s the option of four-cylinder turbocharged petrol and diesel engines and just one six-cylinder motor for the time being. By March, 430d- and M440d-badged straight-six diesels will be available, too, and a full-fat M division M4 won’t be much further behind.

The car is, of course, the lower, wider-striding, meaner-looking alter ego of the G20 3 Series that arrived last year. Like the 3 Series, it offers a choice of ‘mild-hybridised’ engines, but here they complement a car with stiffened, extra-tantalising handling poise and an air of exclusivity about its two-door cabin, the combination of which has been the BMW coupé calling card since the early 1970s.

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And rather than any recent forerunner coupé, it’s a 1970s antecedent of the 4 Series that BMW’s designers were referring to with the new car’s oh-so-contentious, upright and in-your-face radiator grille: the Wilhelm Hofmeister-penned E9-generation 3.0 CSi. Read on to find out if the new range-topping M440i xDrive can do justice, on the road and against the timing gear, to such a celebrated ancestor.

The 4 Series line-up at a glance

BMW’s 4 Series range consists of two bodystyles and three trim levels, for now at least. Munich’s third bodystyle, meanwhile – the four-door Gran Coupé – is expected to join the range later this year.

With most engine options, you can choose between M Sport and M Sport Pro Edition trims. The latter costs a hefty £5000 premium but comes with an exterior styling upgrade and plenty of equipment. Convertible versions are around £5500 more than coupés.

Price £53,865 Power 369bhp Torque 369lb ft 0-60mph 4.1sec 30-70mph in fourth 5.4sec Fuel economy 27.2mpg CO2 emissions 176g/km 70-0mph 49.6m

What Car? New car marketplace - BMW 4 Series Coupe

First drives