BMW 4 Series review: confident coupe faces down its critics
Behind that controversial grille lurks a supremely capable car
Okay, let's get this out of the way early. That grille. It’s the face that launched a thousand internet memes and probably caused a few people to launch their lunch too.
As soon as the new BMW 4 Series was revealed, the world - me included - piled on to point and laugh at its massive, gawpy, buck-toothed frontage that seemed to be some horrific parody of the famous kidney grille.
But here’s the thing, I’ve started to get used to it. I’m not saying it’s a design classic but after a week with the 420d it’s grown on me. In part that’s down to the clean, stark contrast between the gloss black grille surround and the Mineral White paintwork of our M Sport car, which works better than the chrome finish on other specs. It might also be that compared to the iX, it’s positively restrained.
Anyway, get beyond that controversial face and it’s much better news for this all-new version of BMW’s mid-sized coupe. From every other angle the 4 Series has the sleek slippery lines you want from a sporty two-door, with a long low roofline, wide track and purposeful but not overly aggressive stance on its 19-inch alloys.
The M Sport pack adds a carbon-effect lip spoiler on the boot, which I could live without, and larger air intakes on the front which help draw attention away from the grille.
This latest 4 Series is 13cm longer and 2.7cm wider than before but a mere 6mm taller, giving it a more planted, confident look. It’s all built on the latest version of the 3 Series saloon’s platform but the chassis has been tuned with unique suspension settings and structural stiffening to offer what BMW claims is a combination of precise handling and impressive long-distance comfort.
It’s actually hard to argue with that, especially in the comfort stakes. The optional M adaptive suspension does a seriously impressive job of soaking up bad road surfaces while maintaining good body control. Even in sport mode, when things are stiffened up, the ride never feels sharp or jarring.
The handling is precise too and the 4 Series is a decent drive, but there’s more of the composed, long-distance cruiser to it than out-and-out sports coupe. The steering (through an incredibly thick wheel) has a good weight to it and the rear-drive chassis feels controlled and direct on sweeping A roads but the car feels a touch heavy and not as lively as you might expect from the maker of the “ultimate driving machine”.
It probably doesn’t help that our test car was powered by a run-of-the-mill four-cylinder diesel. The company car tax-friendly 420d is a twin-turbo 2.0-litre, 187bhp unit that now features mild hybrid technology to offer claimed economy of around 60mpg and emissions of 122g/km.
It’s got enough grunt to hit 62mph in 7.1 seconds and never feels slow but, in tandem with the standard-fit eight-speed auto ’box, it feels better suited to a long easy cruise than a Sunday morning blast.
Covering long distances in the 4 Series certainly won’t be a hardship, for those in the front at least. The latest car’s wheelbase is longer than before but rear seat legroom is still akin to that in a supermini and the coupe roof means headroom is at a premium. For those up front, though, there’s acres of leg and shoulder room. The seats are supportive and adjust in almost every conceivable way and once you’ve got them set up correctly the driving position is excellent.
Compared with some other brands’ move towards pared-back interiors, the 4 Series feels fairly busy, with a haberdasher’s supply of buttons strewn around the gloss-black and brushed-chrome cabin. It means the coupe lacks the clarity of rivals but does offer a more user-friendly environment where all the key functions are available instantly rather than buried in a touchscreen menu.
That said, there’s still an unfathomable number of menus and options on the 12.3-inch Live Cockpit Professional touchscreen, which can also be controlled via a rotary dial. Android Auto finally makes an appearance and the 4 Series comes with voice controlled BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant, along with actually useful features such as forward collision alert, adaptive cruise control, lane control assistant and a massive head-up display.
Whatever anyone says about the 4 Series’ design, it’s a safe bet buyers will still flock to it. It’s not the ultimate word in driver involvement, certainly not in this spec, but it is still composed and confident, with a pleasing balance of poise and refinement allied to a high-quality, comfortable cabin. As a bonus, if you drive one, you won’t have to look at its ugly face while you’re at the wheel.
BMW 420d M Sport
Price: £42,440 (£55,140 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel; Power: 187bhp; Torque: 295lb ft; Transmission: Eight-speed automatic transmission; Top speed: 149mph; 0-62mph: 7.1 seconds; Economy: 56.5-60.1mpg; CO2 emissions: 122-130g/km