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Folding-roof coupé, breathed on by M division, combines cruising comfort and rapid pace
Tom Morgan, deputy digital editor
16 June 2021

What is it?

The car for anyone who turned their nose up at the first-generation 4 Series Convertible for looking too much like the Coupé version and, as a result, the 3 Series Saloon on which they were both based.

In switching from a metal roof to a fabric one and carrying across the new-gen coupé’s controversial front end, the second coming of the folding-top 4 Series has far more road presence - especially in range-topping M440i guise. It's wider, longer and ever so slightly lower, and that new vertical grille (more lungs than kidneys now) ensures no one will mistake it for a G20-generation 3 Series any time soon. 

The most potent powertrain in the line-up, at least until the M4 Convertible arrives later in the year, it’s only here that the 2.0-litre four-pot of lesser models is exchanged for a meatier 3.0-litre six-cylinder, which sends 369bhp and 369lb ft to both axles via BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. Unlike other territories, the UK won’t be getting a rear-drive-only version.

We've already driven the M440i on the Continent, but this is our first experience of it on UK roads.

What's it like?

The extra structural strengthening that comes with a folding roof means the new convertible carries a 150kg weight penalty over the coupé, which translates to a little under half a second longer in the 0-62mph sprint.

It’ll still get you to the legal limit at a rapid pace, with an eagerness to rev and an engine note that goes from dulcet to cacophonous as you approach the redline. There's definitely some audio synthesis going on, but you hear less of it with the roof down, and the active exhaust will still put smiles on faces as the engine spins beyond 6000rpm. Like a lot of modern BMW powertrains, the B58 engine avoids feeling overly boosty, with an almost (but not quite) linear response to throttle inputs.

The eight-speed transmission is more than responsive enough when left in automatic, so you don’t feel the need to take manual control with the wheel-mounted paddle shifters whenever you attempt a manoeuvre, like you would in the equivalent Audi. It just picks a gear and goes, rather than juggling ratios indecisively. Its 48V mild-hybrid technology helps fill in some gaps at low revs, which makes for smooth getaways and navigating stop-start traffic.

More impressive are its refined motorway manners, where it becomes a relaxed cruiser that lets passengers speak to, rather than shout at, one another. Roof-up isolation is very good, if not class leading, and with the wind deflector fitted, long top-down journeys are no sweat.

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As with the 3 Series Saloon, the xDrive system has an uncanny ability to deliver grip when needed, without also stripping away fun through the twisty bits. It allows for a bit of friskiness when pushed, although it’s through the slightly diminished steering feel and reduced body control where you most feel the difference between it and the lighter coupé. 

While the M440i rides on 19in run-flat tyres and has lowered M Sport suspension, the adaptive dampers cope fairly well with the UK’s notoriously pockmarked carriageways when set to Comfort mode. Larger ruts and uneven surfaces are still felt clearly within the cabin, and the sportier suspension modes are best avoided on anything but the smoothest bitumen. We suspect the 330i, shod in 18in rubber and without the optional M Sport suspension, will be the model of choice for those concerned with comfort - although it also loses out on the M Sport Differential found here.

There’s a distinct whiff of 3 Series about the cabin, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It has lots of premium materials, a fairly relaxed driving position and one of the slickest infotainment systems around, with your choice of touchscreen or rotary dial inputs. Wireless CarPlay and Android Auto are slickly integrated, making the most of the widescreen display.

The 4 Series delivers for occasional four-up use, with decent leg room for those in the rear, although they’re sure to find top-down drives at motorway speeds somewhat bracing. With the wind deflector fitted and windows raised, there’s minimal buffeting for those in front.

The folding roof takes an 85-litre bite out of the 385-litre boot when closed, so you have to be smart with how you load your shopping bags if you want to go topless after a trip to the supermarket, but it’s about as practical as mainstream convertibles get.

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Should I buy one?

For those wanting a four-seat convertible right now, the 4 Series seems an obvious choice. Mercedes has yet to reveal the soft-top version of the new C-Class, and the Audi A5 Cabriolet likely has a few years left before it is replaced. We’d be surprised if the BMW wasn’t the most dynamic of the three once they do arrive. The Ford Mustang remains a more left-field choice that simply can't match the BMW for on-road precision or in-cabin refinement.

Only very keen drivers will spot the disparity between it and the coupé, and the M440i’s engine is very sweet indeed. We have a feeling the rear-driven 330i may be even sweeter still, despite a cylinder deficit, although confirmation will have to wait until after we’ve driven one.

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275not599 17 June 2021
Looks like Superstevie doesn't drink beer or wine!
superstevie 16 June 2021

If I can do a weeks shopping for two in a smart roadster (rear boot has 86l, and front has 56l) and still have the roof down afterwards and having nothing on the passenger seat, then I suspect most people will be able to do that with 385l of luggage space in this!