Car reviews - BMW - 4 Series - range
Distinctive looks, cracking turbo-petrol four-pot with matching snarl, rich level of entry-level kit doesn’t make the 4 Series feel like a stripped-out shell
Room for improvement
Six-speed manual pushed to the options list, less-than-stellar rear seats, strange on-centre sensation to 435i’s variable steering system
17 Oct 2013
By BARRY PARK
BMW has always done the coupe well. If you want to argue the point, remember that the current-generation M3 was launched first in coupe form before rolling out to the sedan and convertible.
It’s already a bit of a trendsetter, then. And now it starts a new trend that is spreading across two-door models, ditching its association with the 3 Series range for a standalone model designation known as the 4 Series.
There’s no entry-level 420i until early next year, so BMW is launching the new 4 Series with a three-model line-up – the entry-level diesel 420d, mid-specification turbo-petrol 428i, and the turbocharged six-cylinder 435i.
GoAuto was able to sample all three launch versions on a spirited trip across the Great Alpine Road that cuts its way from Bright in northern Victoria to Paynesville on the Victorian south-eastern coastline – one of the best driving roads in Australia.
From the front, the 4 Series looks just like the 3 Series sedan on which it is based, However, as soon as you skew sideways a bit, that all changes.
Compared with the 3 Series-badged car it replaces, the 4 Series is 26mm longer, 43mm wider and sits 16mm lower to the ground. Features such as the wide kidney grilles, stretched headlights and low, sweeping lower air dam offset with air intakes and fog lights give an impression of a wide, low stance.
A new feature on this car is a tall, thin slash on either side of the lower air dam. This feeds air into the middle of the wheel well, directing airflow across the tyre and rim, and through a boomerang-shaped feature on the front guard.
Rather than just look pretty, this is an active aerodynamic system that reduces drag around the wheel well, reducing noise and improving fuel efficiency.
A strongly creased side adds definition to the 4 Series, as does the traditional Hoffmeister kink around the rear pillar that kicks back in around the skin.
By comparison, the fussy 4 Series doesn’t quite have the understated good looks of the Audi A5, shows the C-Class Coupe up as a bit dated, and is not as polarising as the controversial new IS four-door that is yet to spawn a coupe version.
Unlike the previous-generation 3 Series, the 4 Series features LED tail lights that wrap around a big-haunched rear end that give the coupe’s form a sense of purpose.
The sense of purpose is helped by engineering changes that add 50mm to the 4 Series’ wheelbase, and a track that is 45mm wider at the front and a hefty 80mm wider at the rear, giving a wedge-shaped look to the side profile.
The first car we sampled was a diesel-engined 420d fitted with an optional M Sport package – a curious mix given the engine’s lazy power delivery.
It only delivers 135kW at 4000rpm, although its 380Nm of torque arrives over a narrow spread of revs, starting at 1750rpm through to 2750rpm.
Opening the long door – an important thing to remember in shopping centre carparks – reveals a cabin that looks almost a clone of the 3 Series from the front seats forward.
There’s a low, wide transmission tunnel featuring the big, round controller for the trademark BMW iDrive system, rising to a dash that is tilted ever-so-slightly towards the driver, although without shutting off access to the front-seat passenger.
Slipping in behind the wheel that looks slightly off-round because of the shape of its hub reveals a deep, supportive driver’s seat with sides that crunch in at the push of a button, providing plenty of lateral support.
While a traditional handbrake is nicely tucked in under the driver’s elbow, the footwell on the driver’s side is a little cramped thanks to the intrusion of the transmission tunnel – the extra room in the passenger side footwell shows not all has made a perfect translation from left-hand drive.
The diesel engine fires up at the push of a dash-mounted button. It is smooth and quiet in around-town driving, but step up speeds and the eight-speed transmission reaches for fuel economy, snatching higher gears and producing vibration through the car – although the steering wheel is nicely insulated from it.
The eight-speed auto does well to keep the diesel four-pot in its sweet spot, producing brisk acceleration despite the low performance figure.
Ride is good, too. We’re behind the wheel of one of the launch cars to not have BMW’s adaptive suspension system fitted, and its performance is as you would expect of a luxury car – poised and compliant over a range of road surfaces on its Goodyear Eagle 18-inch wheels, although as with most European cars, noisy over coarser road surfaces.
While comfort up front is good, a quick duck into the rear seat during a driver changeover painted a more grim picture. Access to the rear is good, largely due to a front seat that pitches and electronically slides forward and a front-seat seatbelt that tucks well out of the way (like the previous-generation 3 Series coupe, an extending arm pushes it forward to give easy access).
However, once you’re there, the cabin’s roof closes in dramatically thanks to the coupe’s sweeping form. Headroom is tight, the low squab provides a very knees-up seating position, and there is next to no lateral support from the flat seatbacks.
The low centre console dividing the two rear seats is low enough that the driver’s side passenger can slide across it to get out of the passenger-side door, and a centre armrest contains a couple of drink holders.
A look in the boot reveals a shallow, but wide and deep space. A false floor raises to reveal extra storage space in what would have been the spare wheel well – all the 4 Series cars use run-flat tyres, so no spare is deemed necessary. All our test cars featured a luggage net, though, which made using the space more practical.
A swap of cars saw us jump behind the wheel of the 428i on one of the more challenging sections of road.
Kitted out in the Luxury specification, it featured the interior the diesel car needed – while the diesel featured the Sport kit the 428i needed.
The turbo four-pot is a scorcher. It sounds good with a nice rasp high up in the revs, punches well above its weight in performance and for mine is the pick of the litter – even compared with the 435i.
The twisty road and perky engine allowed us to test the car’s handling, which is helped by a perfect 50:50 weight distribution over the wheels and the 4 Series’ low centre of gravity.
The 4 Series drove like a sports car. On the variable suspension system’s comfort setting, the 428i tended to squat over a rear wheel as the vehicle accelerated out of corners. However, flicking the settings over to sport, the 428i handled flat and predictably, transferring weight evenly and hanging on with tenacious grip. If I sound like I’m gushing, it’s because I am.
The brakes, too, handled the constant punishment without complaint, although at the end of our run there was a smell of something running hot – it could have been the transmisson, but we’re not sure.
We swapped into the 435i for our lazy run down into Paynesville. Yes, on paper, the 3.0-litre turbo six is stonking, and the car is 0.7 secs faster to 100km/h in a straight line, but after the 428i it didn’t have the same wow factor.
Mash the accelerator and the 435i will quickly drop through the ratios and leap ahead, but the engine note lacks the rawness of the four-cylinder car, dulling it a bit.
While the ride was still good, even on the thin strips of Bridgestone Potenza rubber we were sitting on, we did notice a difference with the variable steering system fitted to our car.
It weights up nicely as you flick it into sports mode – and falls away to city-light under the fuel-saving EcoPRO setting – but has a vague feel on centre as the system tries to push the wheel back to the dead ahead position.
In short, the 4 Series is as selfishly driver-centric as every other model in the BMW-badged line-up is slowly becoming. It steers well, loves a twisty road, is cheaper than anticipated, and almost as individual as you are.
The good bit, though, early signs suggest you don’t have to shop all the way to the top of the range to get the best vehicle. We will definitely need to get a second opinion on that.
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