First Drives

22 July 2013

First Drive: new BMW 4 series Coupe

The 3 series Coupe is dead, in its place stands the 4 series. TG’s Paul Horrell reports back...

Paul Horrell
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Err, 4 series?

Yes indeedy. From now on all BMWs of a coupe-ish stature will be given even-number badges. Hence 6 series, i8, X6. And next year the new two-door version of the 1-Series will get the 2 series plate. Also a slope-roofed X3 derivative will be the X4. And so, replacing the 3 series coupe, is **flashing lights...ladies and gentlemen...drum roll...please welcome......dry ice...** the FOUR series.

The 3 series Coupe replaced? Can it be that time already?

As often with BMW, it's being renewed before most people had even noticed it needed it. It was still about the best thing out there if you wanted a two-door four-seat coupe at sub-exotic money. So the 4 series cannot be rubbish.

Well, being based on the current-gen 3 series is good start, right?

No, it's a brilliant saloon. The thing is, will the 4 series be a smart-looking two door style statement that drives with the refined ease of the 3 saloon, or will it be much sharper and sportier?

I'll do the questions... It looks good in pictures - what about on the road?

The sometimes gawky angularity of the outgoing 3 Coupe has given way to swisher surfaces and sleeker lines. It's obviously related to the 3 saloon, but this time it's actually wider as well as lower. The rear half's squat and strong-shouldered emphasis catch the light with immense confidence. A winner.

Indoors there's a areat driving position and controls of course, thanks to the same dash and front seats as a 3-series, though you sit a little lower.

But aren't coupes impractical?

Not this one. Two grownups will be OK in the back unless their heads are a long way from their backsides. Note only two of them though: there's no third rear perch at all. The boot's big and it can be extended by folding the split seat back.

Enough of this dreary rationality. How's it set up for driving?

The suspension is lowered, and re-worked to take advantage of the lower centre of gravity and wider track than the saloon. But I'm hardly spoiling the plot if I tell you straight off that it feels pretty much like a lightly tensed-up 3 saloon, not a hard and spicy sports car.

What's the range?

It kicks off with the 420i, then the 428i with performance reasonably close to the top-notch 435i, though the sound's not as sweet. On the diesel side it's 420d, 430d and 435d. And all-wheel-drive is available on most, a system designed to feel like 2WD until you're beyond the edge of grip.

And how does it get along?

We were in the classic six-cylinder rear-drive BMW, a 435i. All 306bhp of turbo straight-six goodness. It'll do 0-100 in 5.1 seconds. In the low and mid rev-range this is a sweet-sounding, muscular and largely lag-free motor. It swings to the 7000 redline like a natural, but we'd say the high-end could do with a little more music and sonic edge. The eight-speed automatic transmission is superbly quick-acting and smooth but, honestly, if you over paddle the thing it's easy to get lost among all those ratios. There's a manual, and it's a nice idea, but barely anyone will go for it. As we said, it's not quite that sort of car.

So you're going to arrive at corners going smartly?

Yes, but that's fine. There's bags of grip, but it's also all about giving you an easy confidence. The steering is super-progressive and nicely weighted. The car turns by the exact amount you're expecting. They say the nose is more agile with the lighter four-pot 28i engine, but the 35i is still pretty happy to turn. It understeers a little to give you confidence, but there are plenty of rear-drivey options to change the attitude. The three-stage stability control is superbly calibrated in the middle half-off mode.

Any ride penalty?

They have given the three main chassis options - standard, adaptive and M-Sport - the same springs. The difference is damping. We drove the adaptive system. In comfort mode it rides really nicely until you go briskly on a heaving road, when it starts to float. Sport mode turns more sharply, but isn't adaptive enough - it's busy and jittery in a straight line even at slow speed. Other makers' adaptive systems can soften back for this circumstance, when you've absolutely no need of firm damping. So you soon get practiced at finding the comfort/sport switch without looking. That apart, a mighty impressive suspension setup.

It's a BMW. You're already talking about options. It must be naked as a skeleton without them.

Not too bad actually. Leather heated seats, xenon headlamps, LED rears, park radar, climate on all versions. Satnav on most models. But you might want to upgrade to the adaptive dampers, plus the bargain sport steering, and also sports seats, and better loudspeakers than standard. Beyond that you can add a range of connected services, and the head-up display, and driver aids, which are as good as anyone else's but expensive and inessential.

So, back to the question you impertinently asked earlier. Is it a real sports car or a smart-looking sporty car?

The latter. But a brilliant one, relaxing and well-built for the everyday grind, and immaculately resolved for recreational driving. Of course it could be sharper, louder, more stimulating and edgy. But BMW knows who'll be buying the 4 series, and is serving them on the button.

Tags: bmw, 3 series coupe, 4 series, 4 series coupe

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