Car reviews - BMW - 4 Series - 420i
Styling, comfort, dynamics, performance, economy, ease, technology, flexibility, practicality, cabin quality, media connectivity
Room for improvement
Some cheap plastic surprises inside, expensive options
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14 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
THE END of the 3 Series Coupe is an end of an era as well, since the first E21 of 1975 only had two doors.
Through successive generations, the Bavarian sports sedan split into (too?) many different streams, culminating in the decision to badge sedans and wagons ‘3 Series’ and coupes, hatchbacks and convertibles ‘4 Series’.
For that we have Audi’s successful A4/A5 strategy to thank. Ingolstadt’s marketing boffins must be very flattered indeed.
Anyway, despite the higher number on the bootlid, this F32 series is the sixth generation medium-sized BMW coupe. The evolutionary styling over its acclaimed E92 3 Series predecessor is obvious, but with a strikingly sharper, shark-like nose-cone and a swoopier roofline than ever. As before, there are four seats.
Kicking off from $70,000 plus on-road costs, the 420i Coupe – tested here in no-cost eight-speed auto with paddle shifters – features a full suite of active and passive safety devices including six airbags, dual-zone climate-control, Bluetooth connectivity, leather trim, powered front ‘sports’ seats with memory, satellite navigation, a reversing camera, parking sensors all round, bi-Xenon headlights, 18-inch alloys and BMW’s Active Protection system that, when sensing an impact, will tension up the front seatbelts and close all open glass including the sunroof, where fitted.
It also has sensors that detect signs of driver fatigue via the way and distance the car is operated.
First introduced in the F30 3 Series Sedan on which the F32 is spun off from, a set of themed wheel, grille and cabin trim packages are available at no further cost – Sport (typically BMW racy), Modern (Scandinavian chic) and Luxury (traditional/conservative).
Among other things, our car is also fitted with 225/40 R19 (front) and 255/35 R19 (rear) tyres on ‘Light’ alloy wheels, costing $1650, and a $2920 sunroof.
Finally, the $2200 M Adaptive suspension is a must to get the most out of the 420i Coupe, since it brings M with changeable damper settings and a 10mm ride-height drop “without any loss of comfort” according to BMW’s blurb.
Ours didn’t have it, but the car still impressed us enormously anyway.
There is nothing compact or cheap about the 420i Coupe’s interior.
Compared to the old E92, the F32 is 26mm longer and 43mm wider, though height has decreased by 16mm. And while the current 3 Series Sedan underpinnings lurk underneath, the wheelbase has been stretched by 50mm and the front and rear tracks are 45mm and 80mm wider.
As a result the footprint is now appreciably larger overall.
Access is easy via wide-opening doors, and you sit low in snug, but comfortable seats offering myriad adjustment options, ahead of a smart BMW dashboard that looks and feels like every single other one across the entire Bavarian car-maker’s model line-up (barring the radical new i3 and i8 of course).
Finished in contemporary ‘Sport Line’ trim, the finish alternates between stitched leather and metallic accents, imbuing a premium ambience typical of the marque.
The layout is virtually faultless.
Simple analogue instrument dials convey info at a glance (for a digital readout you must specify the excellent $1700 Head-Up display) the ventilation system is multi-configurable for optimum comfort, there are plenty of storage areas available and the driving position is second-to-none.
Working in unison with a modish long tablet-style screen perched on the fascia (it does look less like an afterthought than in the 2 Series cars), the once-controversial iDrive system operates with natural intuitiveness after a brief period of familiarisation.
Among the many sub-menu items is an electronic vehicle handbook, additional dials for real-time torque and power outputs, comprehensive trip computer data and – of course – the satellite navigation displays.
The roundel itself features hand-script recognition capability that we found particularly fiddly (though it would be less so for left-handed folk in this right-hand drive set-up).
Rear vision is pretty good, though the screen’s reverse camera display is a boon.
Over a month in our care nothing rattled loose or broke off.
However, while rear-seat entry and egress is helped by a shoulder-height release for the front backrest, the electrically controlled sliding mechanism is painfully slow. Here a manual override might hasten things up somewhat.
Once there the 420i Coupe feels like a proper adult-orientated four-seater grand tourer, with adequate space for two people in every dimension as long as they’re not much taller than 190cm. After that the scalp and roof lining become increasingly intimate.
The rear seats themselves are angled for comfort and padded for support, backed up by vent outlets, reading lamps and a nifty coat-hook holder that rotates into the roof.
But, standing out like a big boil on otherwise unblemished skin, the armrest’s cupholder and lid arrangement is horrifyingly cheap and nasty.
Finally a sizeable 445-litre boot is enhanced by a remote spring-loaded release and split/fold backrests for longer items. Another $500 will change the configuration from a 0:50 to 40:20:40 for improved people/cargo transportation versatility.
Running on run-flat tyres, there is no spare wheel.
Engine and transmission
Like every BMW model from One through to Six, the 4 Series Coupe is available with the company’s versatile and vivacious 2.0-litre TwinPower four-cylinder direct-injection turbo petrol unit.
An EU6 emissions-rated engine, it offers 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque, with the latter kicking in from 1250rpm to 4500rpm.
Ours was paired to ZF’s supernaturally intuitive eight-speed auto, though a six-speed manual is a no-cost alternative.
For once, why wouldn’t you go for the auto?Together with a clever fuel-saving tech like a gear-disengagement function when coasting above 50km/h, the latter drivetrain combo features idle stop and BMW’s Eco PRO driving mode that blunts the throttle and holds higher gears to eke out fuel savings of up to 25 per cent.
But that’s only half the story.
In Eco PRO or Comfort mode, this is a tractable little engine, with more than ample power for spirited point-to-point dispatches, and all coated in a creamy smoothness. For ambling about the 420i Coupe is benign enough to intimidate nobody.
Reasonable fuel economy – around 8.5L/100km – further underlined the BMW’s user friendliness.
Press Sport or Sport +, however, and the TwinPower’s hungry side rears its sweet little head, upping the virility amp for sound as well as speed.
Eager to hit the 7000rpm red line, everything becomes more urgent, from the quicker off-the-line acceleration through to the swifter higher-speed responses. For a base engine, 7.3 seconds to 100km/h is fast enough.
Except for a propensity to hold on to the gear longer than usual (which can become tiresome in built up areas) it is tempting to simply leave the gear lever in S, to make the most of the Drive Mode’s more aggressive settings.
Best to save that for your favourite set of bends, because it is there that the 420i Coupe shines as one of the world’s great grand touring bargains.
Ride and handling
BMW is back at what it does best – creating refined sports sedans and coupes that hit the right balance between comfort and athleticism.
On the former front, great strides have been made with run-flat tyre tech, to the point where our 19-inch clad Coupe’s suspension could soak up ragged surfaces and bigger bumps alike without pummelling the poor people inside.
It is a great achievement for a car this low and sporty.
But that’s not why you buy a BMW, is it?Find your favourite set of corners and the beautifully measured steering combines with the finely balanced chassis to carve you through each turn with total poise and control.
The 420i Coupe is such an agile and adept handler, it makes even regular folk not interested in cutting-edge dynamic capabilities take on a racier persona.
Thankfully the superbly tuned traction and stability controls, backed up by toweringly effective braking, help keep the car within the limits, even when the driver exceeds his or hers.
Keener ones can of course turn down (in Sport) or off (in Sport +) the nanny switches for some lairy oversteer fun – especially on wet or gravel roads – so the cheekier side of the rear-drive BMW coupe lives on.
Indeed, the 420i is such a dynamically accomplished performer, it is a shame the electric rack and pinion steering system feels a little muted in terms of feedback that would make it nigh-on perfect.
But our only real criticism is the occasional highway road-noise intrusion from the low-profile tyres fitted to our test car. This however varies greatly from surface to surface and is a common German-car quibble.
Still… what a drive! BMW sure is back!Safety and servicing
BMW offers a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty on all its vehicles in Australia.
Additionally, the 4 Series Coupe scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating.
Lastly, according to BMW’s helpful real-time online helper, while there is no published fixed-price service offer on the 4 Series Coupe, the owner or prospective buyer can come to some sort of arrangement:“You can arrange servicing packages with your local dealer.”Verdict
Like its super little F22 220i sibling we recently tested, big-brother F32 420i really does do everything you want from a BMW coupe.
The difference is that the latter brings larger packaging for roomier and more relaxed four-seater commuting, with just a small trade-off in the dynamic alacrity that the 2 Series is becoming increasingly renown for.
Of course, having driven the more expensive 428i Gran Coupe cousin during our time with the 420i Coupe, we would step up to the more powerful 2.0-litre TwinPower engine variant if funds allowed in this very heartbeat.
However, even as it stands, we heart the base version of the beautiful 4 Series two-door.
Like we said for the 220i version, it is all the BMW Coupe you could possibly ever need… just with extra practicality.
1. Infiniti Q60 S Premium – from $70,400 plus on-roads
That’s more like it! A rebadged G37 Coupe but at nearly $12K less, the strong, silent and seductively refined Japanese four-seater grand tourer is now one of the market’s secret bargains, offering effortless power and involving handling to boot.
2. Audi A5 Coupe 2.0 TFSI quattro – from $75,700 plus on-roads
Though nearing its eighth birthday, the A4-based A5 Coupe remains a paragon of elegance, quality and packaging, backed up by flexible turbo performance and superb AWD handling. But a bit more steering feel and a softer ride wouldn’t go astray.
3. Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe Avantgarde – from $70,900 plus on-roads
Far better than its rather dumpy sedan-like styling suggests, the C-Class Coupe brings real comfort, space and practicality to the table, while keen drivers will also appreciate the supple yet responsive chassis and engines combo.
MAKE/MODEL: BMW F32 420i COUPE 8AT
ENGINE: 1997cc 4-cyl petrol
LAYOUT: RWD, longitudinal
POWER: 135kW @ 5000-6250rpm
TORQUE: 270Nm @ 1250-4500rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-spd auto
TOP SPEED: 236km/h
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Multi-link
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $70,000 plus on-roads
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