8

The facelifted BMW 4 Series has improved on an already solid proposition but can it hold off the likes of the latest generation Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé?

You can blame the Audi A5 for the BMW 4 Series. Once upon a time, a BMW 3 Series saloon would arrive and then, a short time after, so would the BMW 3 Series Touring, followed by a BMW 3 Series coupé and, eventually, a BMW 3 Series convertible.

But the Audi A5 coupé, which brought with it significant differentiation from the A4 saloon on which it was based, has changed the dynamic of the market, and has continued to with a second generation Audi A5 and the alluring Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé and Convertible all vying for the same buyers.

The 440i's coupé's engine delights in much the same way it did in the old 335i

You might argue that a 3 Series is classy enough for BMW to continue with a coupé that looks and feels just like it, except with two fewer doors. But things have inevitably changed with the inexorable rise of Audi.

This, then, is the BMW 4 Series, and it’s no longer simply a slightly less practical and more desirable variant of the saloon, at least according to its maker. Instead, the two-door 3 Series has been rebranded as a model in its own right, with its own dynamic and aesthetic appeal.

BMW has history in such exercises with body styles – witness the 6 Series’ long-standing relationship to the 5 Series – so it’s not an illogical step.

Is it an appealing one, though? We’ll find out later, but it’s worth remembering that this nameplate is imbued with all that made the 3 Series a stand-out model in its class.

Advertisement
Back to top

That means it shares the same basic underpinnings, but at 4638mm in length, 1825mm in width and 1362mm in height, the 4 Series coupé is 26mm longer, 43mm wider and 16mm lower than its 3 Series coupé predecessor. The wheelbase is up by 50mm to 2810mm, and the front and rear tracks are extended by 45mm and 81mm to 1545mm and 1593mm respectively. Although, a 2017 facelift saw BMW try to keep tabs on its younger rivals by further refining the 4 Series. It started by lowering the centre of gravity - by 40mm on the coupé, 30mm on the Gran Coupé and 20mm on the Convertible, before tweakin the 4 Series' handling through widening its tracks at the front and rear, stiffening the suspension and alterations to the traction control.

Other changes made during the facelift included LED headlight fitments, two new alluring body colours, redesigned alloys and a slight alterations to the front and rear, while inside was treated to a new steering wheel, trim and the latest version of the iDrive infotainment software - similar to the one seen in the new 5 Series.

The BMW 4 Series range features several engines. Petrol choices comprise the 181bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder 420i, the 248bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder 430i and the 321bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder 440i.

Diesel engines match the petrol range closely, with the 181bhp 420d four-cylinder turbodiesel, the 255bhp 3.0-litre six-cylinder 430d and a 309bhp version of the same engine in the 435d making up the range.

The 435d is sold exclusively with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, a configuration available optionally on 420i and 420d models, while those who want a no-holds-bar 4 Series are treated to four M4 choices - the regular 425bhp, the 443bhp Competition Pack, the new 454bhp M4 Clubsport and the limited edition hardcore M4 GTS.

DESIGN & STYLING

BMW 4 Series xenon lights

BMW is keen to point out the differences in size between the previous-generation 3 Series coupé and this 4 Series, but it makes less of a fuss about the variations between the current 3 Series and 4 Series.

Truth is, they’re not so different at all. The 4 Series is just 14mm longer, and the same amount wider, than the saloon on which it’s based, but it’s 62mm lower. Most significantly, the wheelbase is unchanged at 2810mm. It’s a set of numbers that puts the 4 Series squarely in Audi A5 territory; in fact, there’s just 2mm of length between the pair.

BMW's kidney grille is present and correct

The mechanical layout is straight from the saloon, too, so it’s a steel monocoque and body with a smattering of aluminium and plastic to keep the weight down. BMW says the 4 Series is up to 25kg lighter than its predecessor; a 440i we tested tipped the scales at 1640kg, which is reasonable for a car of this size with the biggest of available engines. Its weight was pleasingly central, too, at 51 percent front, 49 percent rear.

The core of BMW's rear-wheel-drive 4 Series comes with the choice of six engines. The petrol options options comprise the 420i and 430i, which are both turbocharged 2.0-litre fours making 181 and 248bhp respectively, and the 440i with its 321bhp turbocharged 3.0-litre six. The latter is a particularly potent piece of kit. It offered 7bhp less power than the previous Audi S5 - although that deficit has now stretched to 28bhp - but it only has to push that oomph through its rear wheels.

Diesel choices are, unsurprisingly, likely to be more popular, but there are slightly fewer options than in the 3 Series range. It kicks off with the best seller, the 420d. With outputs of 181bhp and 124g/km of CO2 it's the model destined to be the one most frequently found on the motorways, and the one that'll find favour with company car drivers. 

The remaining diesel models both share the same turbocharged six-cylinder block, but while the 430d makes 255bhp and 413lb ft, the 435d develops 309bhp and 467lb ft, making it the most accelerative model in the range.

Six-speed manual gearboxes are standard across the range; an eight-speed automatic is optional. Four-wheel drive 'xDrive' is standard on the 435d, and optional on other models.

INTERIOR

BMW 4 Series interior

No one really buys a BMW for the cabin ambience. Munich itself would probably concede that, on outright material substance in most executive classes, Mercedes continues to set the standard. Meanwhile, on business-smart style, Audi leads the way.

But while it’s a comfortable, solid and wholly pleasant place in which to spend time, the BMW 4 Series’ cockpit is entirely predictable and perhaps a missed opportunity to narrow either of those notional gaps.

The seatbelt presenter hangs around for quite a long time

What you’ll find here is 95 percent stock 3 Series componentry. In a 3 Series coupé you might forgive that, but in a 4 Series – just as we reported of the 6 Series – you can’t help feeling short-changed by the lack of differentiation.

M Sport-spec cars get a rather lovely, pleasingly compact M Sport steering wheel, for example, but that was easily the most special ingredient in the entire cabin. Which, for a £32k-plus luxury coupé, isn’t saying much. One car we tested had black leather with black trim accents; there are more colourful treatments, but we’re not sure any of them would be bright enough to excuse BMW totally, whether it has transgressed via laziness, pragmatism or simple lack of ambition.

BMW is nothing if not thorough, though. The control ergonomics are excellent, the instruments are clear and the iDrive menu is foolproof. The latter is made easier to use by a touchpad found on the top of the rotary selector, which you can use to trace alphanumerical inputs for the telephone and navigation systems.

The front seats are comfortable and supportive, only lacking for good lumbar support on our test car. The rear ones are accessible enough and offer decent levels of accommodation; you wouldn’t choose to put a large passenger in one for long, but if you had to, he’d be more comfortable than in the back of an A5 and little less so than in a Mercedes E-Class coupé.

There are two trim levels to choose from - Sport and M Sport, while those wanting an M4 get a bespoke spec. The entry-level Sport trim equips the 4 Series with 18in alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trim, dual chrome exhausts, LED head, rear and fog lights and parking sensors as standard on the outside. Inside the 4 Series gets dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a Dakota leather upholstery, interior ambient LED lighting and BMW's brilliant iDrive infotainment system complete with sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, BMW's online services and a 6.5in screen.

Upgrading to M Sport adds an aggressive bodykit, sports suspension and interior touches such as, door sills and an M Sport steering wheel, alongside BMW's Professional Media pack. Opt for the monstrous M4 then you have two core trims to choose from currently - standard and Competition Pack. The regular M4 gets 19in alloy wheels, active differential, adaptive suspension, quad-exhaust, an 8.8in iDrive display, cruise control, wireless charging dock and automatic lights and wipers as standard.

Opt for the competition pack to your M4 and you get 20in alloys, a loudspeaker system, a tweaked adaptive suspension set-up with specific springs, dampers and anti-roll bars and reconfigured active differential, driving modes and traction control. The limited edition hardcore M4 GTS gets adaptive LED headlights, ceramic braking, a GTS coilover suspension, a leather and Alcantara upholstery, a M-division tuned dual-clutch gearbox and three point seat belts.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

BMW 4 Series coupé rear quarter

The rear-wheel-drive BMW 4 Series comes with a choice of three engines. They include BMW’s familiar turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder common rail diesel with 181bhp in the price-leading 420d coupé, and a smooth six-pot diesel unit in service in the 430d and 435d.

Petrol choices closely mirror the capacities and outputs of the diesels, with a turbocharged four powering both the 181bhp 420i and 248bhp 430i coupé. But it is the 440i which provides the standout powertrain, ideally suited to brisk, refined touring – exactly the sort of use 4 Series buyers might picture as they sign on the dotted line. In a hot hatch like the M135i, it’s almost too suave; in a bigger saloon, it’d be hard to justify over a multi-cylinder diesel. But in the 440i, the fullness of its talent shines.

There's little to dislike about any of the engines on offer

At low revs, the motor is quieter and smoother than any ‘perfect balance’ straight six we can remember, turbo or not. Even under full load at low revs, it’s beautifully mannered. There’s consistent pull available from under 20mph in fourth gear and under 30mph in sixth – both of which require the engine to haul from little more than 1000rpm without hesitating or grumbling. Official figures offer a 5.4sec 0-62mph time.

There’s no sudden rush of boost as the tacho needle passes 2500rpm, and power swells in delectable and linear proportion. The meat of the rev range feels muscular and lush, and while the fireworks over the final 2000rpm aren’t as spectacular as they might be, there’s also very little high-rev breathlessness, either. There aren’t many forced-induction petrols that rev all the way to 7300rpm, and fewer still that do it so effortlessly.

But truth be told, buyers are best served by the 4 Series range at the very top and bottom. BMW will shift more 420d models than any other, and with a massive urge in the low and midrange it is an exceptional performer, particularly given the real-world possibility of 50mpg-plus. It is hugely refined – more so than virtually any other comparable model in its class – and a wide power band makes it an entertaining car to peddle quickly. It'll reach 62mph from rest in 7.5sec, but that mid-range punch means it feels far quicker on twisting give-and-take roads.

The 430d, the mid-spec diesel, offers a dose of isolated luxury, such is the seemingly endless supply of torque, and records a 0-62mph time of 5.5sec. The 435d provides the straight-line champion of the range. Aided by standard-fit xDrive four-wheel drive, it'll reach 62mph in 4.7sec – faster than an E92-generation M3.

The petrol range kicks off with the 420i, which matches the 420d's 181bhp output, but its 199lb ft gives a full 81lb ft to the oil-burner. Despite that, it records an official 7.3sec 0-62mph time, 0.2sec less than the diesel. The 2.0-litre unit in the 430i is, in some ways the squeezed middle, but it offers a crisp throttle response and a power delivery that belies its capacity in such a big car. And a 5.9sec 0-62mph time.

We’d expect few examples to come with the standard six-speed manual gearbox; the eight-speed auto makes the BMW 4 Series quicker, more economical and more relaxing to drive. But those who do prefer three pedals will find the 4 Series’ transmission easy enough to use. The clutch and gearlever are fairly heavy – the former long of throw, the latter springy and perhaps a touch fussy of action – but both speak of mechanical substance and demand only a bit of precision from the driver, which you’ll ultimately take pleasure in supplying.

RIDE & HANDLING

BMW 4 Series cornering

Order a standard 4 Series and you get BMW's standard suspension. But if you order an M Sport-spec car, you get M Sport suspension, which includes firmer dampers, springs and anti-roll bars.

You can also order M Sport suspension on non-M Sport-spec models. Or on all models you can specify adaptive suspension, which brings electronically controlled dampers with two modes of stiffness

The chassis could do with a touch more suppleness

They’re complemented by an additional Eco Pro mode on the softer setting, which maximises fuel economy, and Sport+ mode on the firmer setting, which reduces the level of intervention by the electronic driver aids.

Compared with an equivalent 3 Series saloon, the 4 Series wears its added athleticism quite casually. Those equipped with BMW’s adaptive dampers and M Sport alloys and suspension settings are at their most pleasing in Comfort mode. In it, there’s enough compliance in the suspension to deal with back roads tackled with plenty of gusto.

You can tell, now and again, that some of the bump-accommodating wheel travel of the 3 Series has been sacrificed, but only over really bad roads, where the dampers seem to need an extra stroke of movement to do their work. Most of the time, the 4 Series flows over flatter surfaces with sporting readiness but also an unwearing sense of calm that makes it feel dynamically versatile.

Sport mode dials some of the vertical movement out of the ride, but at the cost of permitting a touch of harshness into the cabin over the same bad surfaces, which isn’t worth the compromise. Nevertheless, the adaptive M Sport suspension is definitely an option to have.

In either setting, the 4 Series steers precisely, with plenty of grip and a low rate of roll. It’s a meaty, precise machine to thread along an A-road at speed, just as it is a relaxed one on the motorway.

It could be more lively, more ‘sporting’, granted. On the margins, handling is a bit more stability-biased than we expected, but experience suggests that’s as much to do with the wide M Sport wheels and tyres as anything. We'd expect the more typical Sport-spec car to have slightly better limit cornering balance and, in the UK, to probably make a marginally more rewarding drive – as paradoxical as that may sound.

One option to avoid is the Variable Sport Steering, which dials the BMW 4 Series’ rack down to just 2.2 turns between locks, but relies on greater power assistance to keep the effort levels sensible. You get a less feelsome, less predictable steering rack on your 4 Series if you go for it – albeit one that masks understeer quite effectively at normal speeds.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

BMW 4-series

There was a time when a BMW 3 Series coupé (like most premium German cars of the era) would have arrived pretty sparsely populated by gadgets and luxuries, but those days have gone.

There’s little need to dip deep into the BMW 4 Series’ options list, and if you do so it’ll largely be for desirable extras, at a few quid more on the monthly plan, rather than residual-enhancing essentials.

Strong predicted residuals, but not quite as sharp as its Audi rival

Emissions and economy are good throughout the range, especially in the case of the 420d – which also makes a compelling case for itself as a company car. That model records CO2 emissions of 124g/km and 60.1mpg on the combined cycle, although 50mpg-plus is easily possible with judicious use of the throttle.

The new BMW 4 Series should prove reliable, too, while its dealers are generally regarded as being prompt and helpful. It is too early to predict used values with any real certainty, but the car should be glamourous – and talented – enough to compensate for the lack of the gilt-edged sheen of the 3 Series badge.

Just remember to endeavour to maintain whatever warranty you have on your 4 Series, as repairs could be costly.

VERDICT

4 star BMW 4 Series

The BMW 4 Series isn’t a car with one outstanding selling point; instead, it has many highly convincing ones.

This isn’t a sports car, remember, not in the truest sense. It’s actually a slightly more athletic version of the car that has to score nine out of 10 on everything: the 3 Series saloon. So it’s a moustachioed Daley Thompson to a Porsche Cayman S’s Usain Bolt: fast but flexible, with the stamina for distance and the adaptability for any number of roles.

There's still too much potential to get the specification wrong; get it right and your 4 Series will be brilliant

BMW has not sold us short in promising something special with the new 4 Series coupé. It has created a great-looking car with an ability to carry four in comfort and deliver the sort of engaging dynamism and soothing mechanical refinement we have come to expect from a car wearing the blue and white roundel.

And yet what surprised us – and disappointed us a little – was that the car feels more the junior 6 Series than the added-amusement 3 Series. Its ability to cover ground in rich, quick and comfortable fashion is more convincing than its capacity to slice delicately through a corner.

On performance, desirability, usability, comfort and more, this is a seriously accomplished product that merits its top billing.

But the BMW 4 Series may be just the merest hint too mature for its own good. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing as the latest generation Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé will testify.

BMW 4 Series 2013-2020 First drives