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

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

Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a BMW 4 Series: Month 2

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.


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Read our review

Car review

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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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.

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.

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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.

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

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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Join the debate

Add a comment…
Bimfan 28 January 2021

As a G20 3-series owner I don't really know why you would buy the 4 over the 3. The old argument that it is better looking doesn't really hold true any more, apart from the sloping roof, the 3 series is better looking at the front and less overstyled everywhere else.

The interiors are pretty much identical, so you gain easier rear access and better boot space/access at a lower price with the saloon.

I would also counter your comments on some of the options. The tech pack is stupid expensive for what you get (Harman Kardon is available separately for £750 or an aftermarket kit can give even better sound for £500). Head up display is hardly a must have with the clear instrument displays, and your diesel isn't fast enough to need to keep your eyes on the road.

I also don't find the eight shortcut buttons much use, because you forget what you have programmed on all but the first two, that were probably the most important things you wanted anyway. iDrive 7 is so easy to work with I don't even use the shortcuts now.

Finally, if you are forking out for the coupe why would you hobble it with the diesel? Yes it has a strong mid-range, but as you have found, it is not much more economical (maybe 10-20% max) than the 430i petrol motor, which is sweeter, quicker, smoother and has a wider rev band to enjoy.

ApophisUK 10 February 2021

Might help or amybe you know but the shortcut buttons I found are all 2-stage touch sensitive? So you can programme them to what you want then lightly touch (but don't press) them and at the top of the idrive screen it says what you programmed them to be before you press! I had this on my old car too but didn't know! I like this feature personally. I'm on OS7 in my latest BM and I use all of them regularly (destinations really useful) as I used to in my older BMW without the fancy new idrive though which is a lot better espeically if you unlock hidden features...

scrap 28 January 2021

If only it was just the grille that was the problem aesthetically. The whole design is an absolute mess, from the missing Hoffmeister kink (abandoned in favour of an amorphous broken curve - why?) to all those fake vents, to the endless slashes and feature lines along the flanks... it's an absolute mess. BMW had a great design legacy and they've squandered it. 

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