The BMW 420d's frugal diesel engine gives the handsome 4-series range extra appeal to cost-conscious owners

What is it?

The entry-spec model we're testing here is likely to be the biggest seller in the BMW 4-series range. There are three very good reasons for this: it emits 124g/km of CO2, it can cover a claimed 60mpg on the combined cycle and it's the second cheapest model in the range.

Like all 4-series models, the 420d shares its same basic architecture with the F30-generation 3-series. It is slightly longer and wider than the Three, but substantially lower, which means it has the lowest centre of gravity in BMW’s model range.

The 420d is powered by the same 181bhp, 2.0-litre turbodiesel as the 320d. It makes peak power at 4000rpm and hits 280lb ft between 1750-2750rpm. BMW claims a 7.5sec 0-62mph time and a top speed of 149mph.

An eight-speed automatic gearbox and BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system are available as options, but the model we're testing has the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox powering the rear wheels.

Our test car is also in SE specification, the first of five trims. It includes leather upholstery, 17in alloy wheels, two-zone air-conditioning and USB connectivity as standard.

What's it like?

The BMW 420d is particularly sweet. Its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel offers huge flexibility, and is far more potent than its 7.5sec 0-62mph time suggests. It is strong in the mid-range, but lacks the last few degrees of sparkle and responsiveness afforded by the larger six-pot diesels.

Refinement on the move is very good, but at tickover – particularly at start-up – there’s some typical four-cylinder clatter.

The six-speed manual gearbox is far from the slickest we've encountered. Initial springy resistance to the lever being slotted through the gate, coupled with quite long clutch pedal travel, means the 420d has a shift that rewards preciseness and patience, but feels less at home when you're trying to push hard up the gears.

Elsewhere the 420d is much the same as the rest of the 4-series range. It's a neatly balanced chassis that offers a grown-up brand of sportiness, wrapped up in a handsome and hugely desirable body.

The entry-level SE model tested here features a decent level of  kit, which helps to justify its £3000-plus premium. With smaller wheels and a more pliant suspension configuration, ride comfort and refinement is really rather good. It’s just a shame that there’s rather too much lateral movement when cornering hard. The £750 adaptive M Sport suspension would seem like a worthwhile option.

Should I buy one?

It's maybe unsurprising that the 4-series' maturity suits the 420d’s relaxed sensibilities, but it would perhaps be better suited to an automatic transmission. However, given that it's so closely related to one of our favourite new cars, the 3-series, it's still an outstanding model.

Little of that will matter too much to 420d buyers, though – the promise of an easy 50mpg, coupled with appealingly low benefit in kind bills for such a desirable model, will be the main draws.

BMW 420d SE

Price £31,575; 0-62mph 7.5sec; Top speed 149mph; Economy 60.1mpg; CO2 124g/km; Kerb weight 1525kg; Engine 4-cyl in line 1998cc, turbodiesel; Power 181bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 280lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual

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Will86 25 October 2013

How many miles did the test car have on the clock?

I remember driving Dad's E92 320d when it was new and being really disappointed with the gearbox. 20k later and it felt much better - how a BMW should feel, though the clutch remained odd for the whole 70k he had it. I'd be willing to bet that if you gave this 4 series 20k, the gearbox would improve hugely. Nice to see a test on a standard car without adaptive suspension too.

Euclid 25 October 2013

Surprisingly Quick


Kamelo 25 October 2013


Well, there was a time 25 years ago, at the start of my career, when I would be very excited by the introduction of a new BMW. How times have changed.

Of course, at that time there were only three main models 3, 5 and 7 series but each car was its own car, with its own character and style from the chassis to the buttons on the fascia. They were sporty, sophisticated, and oozed class. But BMW wasn't a mass producer at the time - and BMW realised that the affluent people that once bought their products wanted it that way. If your budget was £50K, you would get a £50K car specced at £50K.

That may sound obvious to most of you, but here is where the difference lies with todays range - each car is in some way a clone of another. BMW's mass production strategy becomes ever more evident with each new model. So if you spend £18K on a base 1 series or £25K on a base 3 series, or £50K on a top spec 4 series, you get pretty much the same cheap plastic buttons that grace the centre instrument panel. So nowadays, if you spend £50K on a 4 series, you get a £25K car specced at £50K - which is a big difference to 25 years ago.

BMW try to accomodate too many markets with too many products and variants, and you see where the cost cutting has been made- inside particularly.

So, if you want 'semi premium', then the 4 series may be for you. My advice - if you have £40K or £50K to spend, go buy a Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover Sport. Either way, you get a premium product. And BMW, sadly, dont make premium products any more.

It will sell very well. Mass produced cars do. Thats the whole idea.

SteveB 29 October 2013


You've raised a very valid point Kamelo, and it's a great shame, as I was once a keen BMW fan.

People drive these vehicles, deluding themselves that somehow they are more special than other cars, but at the same time, doing their best not to notice how ordinary they actually are - one pull on a 3 series cheap & nasty plastic handbrake lever is all that is needed - no better than the cheapest Korean car. Listen to the horrendous rattle at idle of the diesels, and yet the drivers have convinced themselves that they are smooth and quiet. The evidence is apparent for all to see. Premium? No. Executive? Certainly not - a real executive would not be seen dead in such a car.

BMW (along with Merc & Audi) is no longer special - they are simply far too common - run of the mill. It seems every second car you see these days is either a BMW/Audi/Merc (usually a 320 diesel in BMW's case - or a 2.0 diesel Audi/Merc. They are thrown out like litter by companies to their employees, often reps, or bought by private buyers on cheap finance deals. Once they are 2 or 3 years old many are worth less than £10k, and yet millions of these drivers, wearing sunglasses any weather, with their arms glued to the windows, act as if they are Royalty. It's all very sad. To me they are the Ford Cortina's of years ago. It seems everyone "must be seen driving one of these badges" and so everyone either has one/ has had one or no longer wants one. BMWs these days are desperately over priced and over hyped, and a very good reference point, which puts BMW's products, quality and pricing into perspective is VW - "the People's Car", of which many cars are better made and higher quality than BMW. This is why anyone who pushes can often get 15% off a 3 series, bringing the base level car down to below £20k, and they'll still throw in some options. Unfortunately BMW sales are living off the reputation of years gone by, and a very unfortunate, but deluded, "must have that badge" attitude that infects Britain today. The great badges of BMW, and Mercedes and Audi have been ruined, and I fear the image can never be recovered.