Review

BMW 4-Series review: a keen driver's dream – and more practical than it looks

4/5

You'll either love or hate the styling of this consummate and well-rounded luxury coupé which is the cousin of the ubiquitous 3-Series

2020 BMW 4 Series
Not just a BMW 3-Series with fewer doors, the 4 promises striking coupé styling despite a roomy cabin

Time was when BMW charged less for the two-door version of its big-selling 3-Series range. Then it charged more, then it changed the name and charged even more.

From 2013 it became (along with a cabriolet and eventually a series of larger cars called Gran Coupe) a model in its own right, known as the 4-Series, which replaced the coupé and cabriolet versions of the fifth-generation of 3-Series.

Confused? Think of the 4-Series as a 3-Series with fewer doors, or a coupé if you will; a land where less truly is more. 

In the case of this second-generation 4-Series, it’s about £3,000 more model-for-model against the equivalent 3-Series saloon. Or, if you are on a personal contract purchase (PCP) finance deal, about £50 a month.

Is it worth it? That depends. The term coupé derived from the French for ‘cut’, and was originally a cut-down Berline horse-drawn carriage, with racier looks but less passenger space. Not much has changed, then. Though, actually, there are compensations in a motorised full-sized two-door coupé like this.

The latest 4-Series has the longest doors of any current BMW

Long doors

For a start, the doors are the longest in the BMW canon; massive enough to do night duty on the front of an aircraft hangar. And yes, access to those rear seats is convoluted and not helped by the slug-like speed of the electric front seats moving out of the way, but once you’re in there, there’s quite a lot of room, even for a couple of six-foot adults.

It's a bit of a struggle to get in the back but once you're there it's lovely

The rear seats split 40/20/40 per cent, with the smaller middle section acting as a ski hatch. The 440-litre boot is big enough anyway, but with the back seats folded there would be room enough to sleep in there, albeit not comfortably since the rear seats don’t fold entirely flat.

The joy of switches

Up front there’s lots of lovely adjustment in the driving seat and the steering column. Very few would use the extremes of seat travel, but they foster an impression of commodious accommodation. The steering wheel is thankfully round, of small diameter and thick-rimmed. The dash looks like an explosion in the hexagon factory and everything, door handles, vents, switch panels, is slanted over as if the designer’s computer got stuck on italic.

The BMW's infotainment system is one of the best on the market.

Yet for all its affectation and some slightly dodgy graphics in the instrument binnacle, on the whole the fascia is still an object lesson on clarity and lack of distraction. And while radio volume controls disappear from cars, like Dartford Warblers from heathland, BMW has kept theirs. Ah, the joy of switches. The iDrive capstan controller for the touch screen is an exemplar of its type. It takes a couple of key strokes to set up just how much steering intervention you want out of the safety systems, or whether you want it at all, and the system remembers it. 

There are five major views for the main instrument binnacle including one without a rev-counter function – a BMW with just a part-time rev counter; what have we come to?

On the road

The 184bhp/221lb ft 2.0-litre, four-cylinder has a fair bit of warble and woofle. The twin-scroll turbocharger boosts harder from lower revs, so there’s a fair bit of go from the off, although you have to rev it hard to access the full performance.

There’s a mild hybrid system, which tops up the battery on over-run, plus electronic control of the adjustable camshaft timing and a ‘coast’ function, which works with the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission to allow the vehicle to do exactly that on light throttle loads at speed.

This is likely to be the most popular retail model and you’d not feel short-changed, though it falls slightly short of that mythical ‘all the car you’ll ever need’ title. The top speed of 149mph and 7.5-second 0-62mph acceleration flatter slightly and, on occasions, I found myself wishing for a bigger reaction to a floored throttle – i.e. more torque. The automatic ‘box makes up for some of that deficit, however, and while a manual gearbox might keep you more in touch with the drivetrain, there’s not much more you’d want than this automatic in terms of accessing it.

And when it comes to enjoyment, there’s always that 48.7mpg and 132g/km CO2 emissions for your wallet to enjoy, though I have to admit on a mixed but mainly A-and-B road route, I struggled to get an indicated 30mpg on a calibrated odometer.

The ride feels slightly harsh at low speeds, particularly from the back end, which heaves and pummels your kidneys as if you’re being assaulted by a giant Q Tip. Speed up and it smooths out, the 255/35 R19 rear Bridgestones (they’re 225/40 R19 at the front) feel up for it, grippy and precise. You can place this car exactly where you want it on the road, but also just enjoy an A-road without it feeling nervous. While the brakes are strong and the pedal feels progressive, there’s a slight inconsistency about stopping at slower speeds.

Talking of economy, I also managed to get a drive in the 420d, fitted with BMW’s excellent 187bhp/295lb ft, 2.0-litre turbodiesel. If anything, this tried-and-tested engine made a more rounded combination, suiting the transmission and a similar road route well, thanks to the lovely surge of low rev torque that diesels (and battery electric) provide. The 18-inch Pirelli Cinturato tyres seems to swallow more of the road imperfections than the 19-inch option Bridgestones and provide almost as much steering precision.

So, more power, more torque, 72mpg on the WLTP cycle and £42,440. Whatever you think of diesel’s long-term future, this is a compelling case for high-mileage drivers.

And how does it look?

I left this bit until last since BMW’s obsession with huge grilles reaches its acme here. There’s an image of the car in the centre screen when you set up the individual drivetrain settings, and it looks so awful that I got out to take another look at the thing, yet somehow the effect is lessened when you see it in the metal. A number plate splits the huge grille so reducing its affront and the bonnet line curves pleasingly across and along its width.

“It’s baby 8 Series,” said one BMW executive, which is true, although from some angles, the 4-Series looks like the current Ford Mustang. Either way, I thought it a pretty good-looking thing.

Conclusion

Clearly, you’ll need to make up your own mind about the appearance, and any car that starts at a whisker under £40,000 isn’t a cheap solution, but there’s so much that’s right about the way the 4-Series drives and feels, as well as its combination of old and new dashboard control systems, that it’s hard not to feel it makes the best combination in the class.

And while I’ll not be encouraging you to dump your practical estate for a four-seat coupé, you shouldn’t discount it as practical transport, with a good-sized boot and room enough for a couple of adults in the back.

What was it they used to say about Ford’s Capri? The Car You Always Promised Yourself. I’d vouchsafe the 4-Series also slots neatly into that category.

THE FACTS

TESTED 1,998cc, four-cylinder petrol turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, rear-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE from £39,870/now

POWER/TORQUE 184bhp @ 5,000rpm/221lb ft @ 1,350rpm

TOP SPEED 149mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 7.5sec 

FUEL ECONOMY (WLTP high) 48.7mpg

CO2 EMISSIONS (WLTP) 132g/km

VED £215 first year, then £150

VERDICT Derivative in parts, this restyle is nevertheless pretty handsome and the way the 4-Series drives and feels is top of the form. Ultra keen drivers might want to consider a bigger engine (or even the 420d turbodiesel), but you won’t want for much with this 2.0-litre petrol.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

THE RIVALS

Audi A5, from £38,575

We’re not convinced the latest version of this car is the best looking, but it’s still a handsome car, with a gorgeous cabin and a fine range of engine options. Thing is, though, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard in the handling stakes compared with the BMW and Mercedes rivals.

Mercedes-Benz C-class coupé, from £38,370

Handsome if a bit thuggish to look at, the C coupé comes with a wide variety of engines with the monster AMG version at the top. Spacious and attractive cabin and tip top ride and handling, though the BMW edges it in the former.

Jaguar XE, from £32,815

Yes, there’s the question of that extra set of doors, but the XE saloon’s styling is all coupé and your money goes a bit further with this fine saloon, although wags might say it’s no bigger in the back than a German coupé.

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