From £29,700
Sporty diesel coupé shows its face – yes, that face – for the first time on our fleet
26 April 2021

Why we’re running it: To see if a coupé still has a place on today’s SUV-filled roads 

Month 4 - Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a BMW 4 Series: Month 4

Shine a light - 21 April 2021

At £1500, the BMW Laserlights aren’t cheap. But boy do they light the road up well, casting a really white light across a huge swathe
of countryside up ahead. They certainly make night-time driving a whole lot easier. High Beam Assist is included in the cost. It works most of the time but occasionally can be slow to pick up oncoming traffic.

Mileage: 2975

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Life with a BMW 4 Series: Month 3

We’ve swapped our diesel 4 Series for the more potent straight-six petrol model - 7 April 2021

You do have to pinch yourself in this job sometimes. First I was lucky enough to be able to run a BMW 420d Coupé, and then the other day a chap with a lorry turned up to swap it for the top ‘non-M’ 4 Series, the M440i xDrive.

BMW coupés have historically always felt special, but this one is arguably even more so. Straight-six engines are a dying breed (just look at what Mercedes-Benz is up to with its new C-Class for proof), so it feels like we’re keeping a bit of the heritage going with this particular car.

Day-to-day and pottering around, you don’t notice the difference in pace too much between this and the four-cylinder diesel 420d. But just occasionally the road will open up and you can stretch the 440i a bit more, letting that six pull towards its redline, as smoothly as they have done since time began. The 420d wasn’t a slouch, but you could feel it running out of puff more quickly.

Having said that, I will miss the 420d’s sensible and effortless ability to eat miles: it was a remarkably composed and comfortable companion. But my heart is definitely keener on this black car.

That paint has its pros and cons. It helps to hide the front grille slightly (yes, we’re still going on about it), because on this M440i the nose has been optionally body-coloured, so it all blends in more. You almost don’t notice it. But it’s also a pain to keep clean at this time of year.

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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?

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It’s a no-cost option, but if it were my choice, I would keep the 420d’s metallic Arctic Race Blue (it’s a £670 option on the diesel but standard on this M Performance model) and then add the £750 Shadowline Plus Pack, which gives our M440i that dulled-down nose and adds other black trim elements, including the gloss 19in alloy wheels. Even the lights get a smoked look. It’s a bit gangster, but I think this car can pull that off.

Other options fitted to our new M440i run to the Visibility Pack (£1500 for laser headlights and highbeam assistance), the Technology Plus Pack (£3650), the Comfort Plus Pack (£1950) and Piano Black interior trim (£500).

The laser lights are superb: a crystal-clear and very white beam covers a vast swathe of the dark countryside. What I haven’t yet had time to find out is whether the high-beam assistance works well or if it dazzles other drivers; more on that in a later report.

Like the exterior, the Piano Black trim looks good when it is clean but is soon spoiled by dust. It would also be interesting to see if the gloss on the gearknob gets easily bashed and scratched; I’d have to get someone with more hand jewellery than me to drive it for a bit to see if it scuffs up.

Having had the Technology Plus Pack and the Comfort Plus Pack on the 420d, there are definitely elements of both that would appeal if I were buying a 4 Series. Things like the Harman Kardon stereo, heated steering wheel, electric seats and wireless phone charging are brilliant.

Driving Assistant Professional? Less so, but that’s where these manufacturers are clever: by offering just enough stuff bundled into a pack that it makes financial sense even if you don’t want some elements of it.

Love it:

Increasingly rare Now that the Mercedes C-Class has gone fours only, the straight six in the M440i feels even more special.

Loathe it:

Something of the night Black paint looks good if kept clean – which isn’t exactly easy in the UK.

Mileage: 2345

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Preparing for a change - 24 March 2021

Sadly, our time with the 420d Coupé is nearly up, so I gave it a final spruce and wash before it heads back to BMW. I’m genuinely going to miss its ability to comfortably eat up miles: something I was able to enjoy all too rarely while it was with us. Despite all the talk of electric cars, the smooth four-cylinder diesel still takes some beating for effortless schleps.

Mileage: 1697

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Life with a BMW 4 Series: Month 2

Maybe some different specs would make that face less frightening - 10 March 2021

If you were ever in any doubt about what people think of BMW’s latest design language, take a peek at the online comments beneath our recent interview with Adrian van Hooydonk and Domagoj Dukec, Munich’s styling bosses. Let’s just say readers have yet to be convinced…

Interestingly, you don’t get as much reaction from people on the street. Whether that says more about the current atmosphere online or the fact that you rarely see anyone in these locked-down days, I’m not quite sure. Or maybe it’s because the 4 Series is largely an elegant shape that’s only questionable from certain angles; if it’s driving along or someone walks past it, they don’t have time to study it in detail.

But it all got me thinking: how would the man himself, Adrian van Hooydonk, spec his own 4 Series? He was kind enough to log onto BMW’s online configurator for us, and the result is the image you see below. I’ll be honest: I like it.

He went for the M440i xDrive Coupé with Dravit Grey metallic paint (£1100) and 19in bicolour jetblack wheels. Interestingly, because it’s the M440i, it gets as standard quite a dull grille surround compared with our car’s. As such, it tones down that controversial element. It’s almost a nod to the colour on the publicity shots for the new M5 Clubsport.

Inside, it’s a break from a black interior: instead, van Hooydonk went for Cognac with Mocca contrast-stitching Vernasco leather. Brown cowhide, in other words. I don’t think it would be my choice: I prefer the muted black of our 420d.

I find it fascinating to see how designers would specify their own cars. They spend months – years, even – worrying over every last detail of their creation, but every single car is spec-sensitive.

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It’s also interesting to see what colours they pick. These people are looking far ahead into the future, trying to spot what trends might be coming; their colour choices tell you where they feel the market might be heading. Muted, in this instance.

In other news, our 420d has moved very little recently. It’s disappointing for any car to sit idle, but especially one as relaxing and well sorted as this. I find myself volunteering for every essential shopping trip just to get into it. Fingers crossed, the gradual easing of lockdown measures will mean I can venture further afield.

For now, the fuel economy figure is hovering around the mid-40s, so hopefully those longer drives will boost it – and give me an opportunity to see if the wider public’s views of that grille have mellowed.

Love it:

Ride quality Having spent time in other cars with questionable ride quality recently, it’s a welcome relief to be back in the well-damped BMW.

Loathe it:

Lane keeping assistance We often criticise such electronic nannies, but this one is particularly active at trying to wrench the steering wheel out of your hands.

Mileage: 1636

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More than a dusting - 24 February 2020

For when the snow is so deep that an ordinary ice scraper won’t do: I had to resort to commandeering my child’s plastic spade to dig the 4 Series out of the recent blanketing. Despite having a diesel engine, the BMW doesn’t take too long to heat up, but it would surely be quicker still with a quick-clear windscreen. Long-handled ice scrapers it is for the moment, then.

Mileage: 1647

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Shines up nicely - 10 February 2020

The combination of lockdown and snow has meant that the 420d hasn’t moved much recently. But a rare recent trip out was at night and, looking at the state of my lights before I set off, I thought I had better get the bucket and rag out. Not many modern cars have headlight washers; given the filthy state of my cloth afterwards, that seems like a big miss.

Mileage: 1560

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Life with a BMW 4 Series: Month 1

Our car gets a root-and-branch review of its load-lugging ability - 3rd February 2020

Purely anecdotally, it feels like people are buying fewer coupé models these days.

The hard data from BMW backs this up: it shifted fewer 4 Series in 2019 compared with 2017 (although there are extenuating circumstances around Covid-19 and the fact that the previous version was coming to the end of its term).

It’s a phenomenon that I feel needs to stop. The world would be a poorer place without coupés’ elegance and simplicity of design (and yes, I’m ignoring the grille on the 420d), not to mention the way they generally tend to be pretty decent to drive.

Is it because people are worried that they’re impractical? Quite possibly. We’re all getting more stuff and people want their car to fit their lifestyle. So in recent weeks, I’ve spent the time trying to prove that our 420d Coupé really can cut it as a family car.

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And what better way to test it than collect 200 trees? A friend was starting to plant a wood on his farm, promised me that they were really very small trees and so naturally I volunteered the 4 Series to help. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to test the car even further, I even crammed in my two children as well.

Off we set, with the radio volume on a constant up/down loop, due to my eldest being fascinated by the gesture control, and me with a slightly nervous sense of whether I had bitten off more than the car could chew. Imagine the relief as we got to the nursery to discover that the trees were really very small. A lot were only a foot high and all were wrapped in neat plastic bags, so we wouldn’t make a mess of the BMW’s carpeted boot.

As such, it was surprisingly easy to cram all the trees into said area. Lean in, pull a couple of levers and the rear seats fold down – not quite flat but not far off. Crucially, the aperture they reveal is quite large, so the taller trees we were transporting (and some were five-feet-plus) easily poked through into the cabin. The seats are also split 60/40, so one child could comfortably remain in his booster for the journey to my pal’s farm. Even if he did squeak a bit when one of the branches scratched him.

In terms of raw numbers, the 420d Coupé’s boot measures 440 litres. That isn’t a million miles off that of the 3 Series saloon (480 litres) or even what the 3 Series Touring estate will fit beneath its parcel shelf (500 litres).

Other practical touches include the nifty hooks in the boot, so you can secure loose bags and not have them flying around all over the place. And with a set of seatbelt butlers, you’re not wrenching your arm to grab the belt. Neither of these is a new invention, but it’s amazing how these little touches make the difference when you’re living with the car.

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We have experienced a few downsides, though. You sit quite low in the rear, so small children struggle to see out, while it’s also quite dark (blame the rising shoulder line towards the boot). In a locked-down winter with grey skies, it’s easy to see people get SAD back there. The good news is that I don’t sit there, so it’s a minor blip as far as I’m concerned… Otherwise, the 420d is proving to be a remarkably easy car to live with.

Love it:

Family friendly… The 420d is fitting into a family lifestyle surprisingly well, even if it’s not getting used much, due to the current lockdown restrictions.

Loathe it:

…with slow seats This is an odd criticism, but the electric seats are quite slow to fold out of the way for access into the rear. Manuals would be faster.

Mileage: 1515

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Festive sat-nav - 20 January 2020

A nice ‘Happy New Year from BMW’ message greeted me when I fired up the 420d for the first time in 2021. Obviously, it’s impersonal and entirely generated by a computer code somewhere, but it did bring a little bit of feel-good cheer to an otherwise slightly flat start to the year. Let’s face it: it’s better that than a news update.

Mileage: 1350

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Welcoming the 4 Series to the fleet - 6 January 2020

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It’s probably best to get the grille discussion out of the way now. Yes, this BMW 420d is blessed with the controversial nose… Hmm, maybe ‘blessed’ isn’t quite the right word. Cursed? Damned? Either way, it features the grille and there’s very little getting away from it.

But we’ll get into that a bit more in a subsequent update. The road test verdict that you’ll have already read was less than enthusiastic – personally, I’m genuinely intrigued to see whether it grows on me.

What is less controversial than the grille is the styling around the rest of the car: classic coupé lines and all the better for it. A large crease on the lower edge of the doors helps to hunker the car to the ground visually, while the uptick lines towards the rear finish it all off nicely. The M rear spoiler is standard and seems a bit unnecessary on a four-cylinder diesel, so let’s call it a Gurney flap and feel better about ourselves.

The road testers were more enthusiastic about how it drives, so we won’t go into that again here. Instead, let’s focus on options and spec on this lower-powered car.

In this M Sport trim level, there are plenty of aggressive scoops and ducts (some fake, mind), but with our 420d’s Arctic Race Blue metallic paint (a £670 option), these don’t appear to be as aggressive as on paler cars because they blend into each other a bit more. On that paint for a moment – it’s superb. It doesn’t feel like we’ve followed the crowd and opted for a grey car, but it’s not so shouty that you’re attracting unwanted attention. A coupé should be classy and understated, and this one feels just that.

The paint also helps to distract your eye from the sun protection glass a bit. It’s an option at £320. In these darker, colder months, I’m not sure I’d bother with it, but then maybe my children will appreciate it on a sunny day.

Other options run to a Technology Plus Pack and Comfort Plus Pack. The former isn’t cheap at £3650, but it does come with plenty of goodies. Deep breath: Driving Assistant Professional, Parking Assistant Plus, head-up display, Harman Kardon surround sound, BMW Drive Recorder, enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging, gesture control and wi-fi hotspot preparation.

At £1950, Comfort Plus, includes a heated steering wheel, powered bootlid (who knew those wouldn’t be standard fit these days?), keyless entry, electric front seats, lumbar support and extended storage.

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From my initial impressions (I’ve done only about 100 miles in it so far), I’d say the Comfort Plus Pack is well worth it, especially that heated steering wheel at this time of year. The Technology Plus Pack is a bit trickier to justify. Things like the head-up display and Harman Kardon surround sound are brilliant, and definitely worth ticking, and the gesture control keeps my son entertained for hours. But elements such as the Driving Assistant Professional leave me slightly cold. It contains features including active cruise control and lane control, neither of which I’m a huge fan of.

BMW Drive Recorder is something I hope I’ll never have to use. It comes in conjunction with park assist and uses the cameras from the parking system to record and store video footage from different points around the car. It will store 40 seconds of video and keeps 20 seconds of footage either side of a shunt. It’s a handy thing but, like I say, hopefully not something that will be needed.

The rest of the interior feels much as you’d expect – a pleasant place to spend time. There is a touchscreen but I’ve hardly had to poke it so far because BMW has sensibly stuck with buttons for all of the regular things you need access to. It will be a sad day if BMW ever decides to do away with those shortcut buttons on the dashboard. Ranging from one to eight, they can be programmed by the driver for quick access to all manner of things and they’re incredibly useful.

The 420d already feels like it will be an excellent cruiser. That could be a very handy thing when Autocar HQ opens back up again. I live north of Peterborough and the office is in Twickenham, so something to absorb that sort of journey is going to be a godsend. The four-cylinder diesel engine is refined, both from the inside and the outside, and with 187bhp and 295lb ft, it’ll do 0-62mph in 7.1sec. A fair to middling figure.

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As you’d expect with a diesel, though, mid-range urge is more impressive and it’s easy to make decent progress in this car. The steering is sharp and the ride largely complements the slightly more GT nature of the 420d. The sensibly sized 18in wheels help.

What’s more disappointing is the fuel economy. To be fair, the car has done just 800-odd miles in total so far and it’s only been on short-squirt journeys, but the 35.7mpg that it’s reading at the moment is a long way short of the WLTP figure of 67.3mpg.

Hopefully, a few longer journeys will get the real and theoretical closer – something that’s not exactly a terrible prospect in this car.

Second Opinion

Having recently spent a day with a modestly equipped 420i, I don’t think it will take Piers long before any apprehension about that divisive front end disappears. It was the BMW’s relaxed long-distance demeanour and rear-driven dynamic prowess, which doesn’t come at the expense of ride comfort, that stuck in the mind – not its nose.

Tom Morgan

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BMW 4 Series 420d M Sport Coupe specification

Specs: Price New £42,440 Price as tested £49,030 Options Arctic Race Blue metallic paint £670, Technology Plus Pack £3650, Comfort Plus Pack £1950, sun protection glass £320

Test Data: Engine 4 cyls in line, 1995cc, turbocharged, diesel Power 188bhp Torque 295lb ft Kerb weight 1605kg Top speed 7.1mph 0-62mph 149sec Fuel economy 67.3mpg CO2 112g/km Faults None Expenses None

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TStag 26 April 2021

If you are after a BMW by the way spec the fineline wood option if they still do it, it's much better and doesn't look too woody. Hopefully they don't still do the fake silver dash that's dreadful as it's too plasticky

TStag 26 April 2021
Omg they’ve gone for the Hexagon metal finish again. I just replaced all the panels on my 3 series because they scratched so badly. Don’t spec it, it’s the worst plasticky trim ever made, even my old Pug 308 had an interior that was more resistant to scratches than that rubbish. They should pay you to spec it. Honest to god why?
TStag 26 April 2021
Now imagine it was called a Jaguar. We’d all be moaning about that interior! It’s utterly cr*p. Worst in its class by a mile

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