► First test of new BMW 4-series
► Driven in 420d and M440i spec
► What's the new coupe like to drive?
The web is currently crawling with armchair designers’ front-end fixes for the new BMW 4-series, and the first aftermarket beautifiers are just starting to release their efforts to ‘fix’ that front end.
Although the latest iteration of the signature kidney does indeed split the fan community, it has become the talk of the town and keeps the brand in the news for better or worse. We’ve driven the rolling controversy in hot petrol M440i xDrive and slightly more conventional 420d spec.
Isn’t this just a renosed 3-series?
No, this is not merely a two-door metamorphosis of the 3-series. Instead, the coupe addresses vehicle dynamics with an extensively reinforced architecture, a drop in weight by 55kg over the previous model, sharper adaptive sports suspension, electronically controlled M Sport differential and a perfectly balanced 50:50 weight distribution. Furthermore, the MkII 4-series coupe is 57mm lower, sits 10mm closer to the ground, is up to 23mm wider and aerodynamically more efficient.
But, yes – the interior is a carbon copy of that in the latest 3, complete with iDrive 7.0, digital instruments and clean, if unexciting cockpit design. The redesigned seats - now equipped with motorized safety belts - are supportive instead of generously sized and upholstered, but having two fewer doors impacts access to the cramped and claustrophobic rear seats, and the boot is 40 litres smaller than the 3 saloon (440 litres vs the 3-series’ 480).
Extrovert types may want to check out the M Performance Parts catalogue which offers bespoke 20in wheels, a choice of aero add-ons, carbon fibre trim bits and a lifetime supply of go-faster black accents.
Tell me about the M440i
Together with the M440d due next spring, the M440i is the last of its kind to fly the flag of the iconic six-cylinder engine, now paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system which unleashes up to 11bhp of additional on-demand e-boost power. The power output of the redesigned 3.0-litre unit went up by 47bhp to a notably more substantial 369bhp at 5500-6500rpm. The maximum torque is up to 369lb ft at 1900-5000rpm. While the top speed is again limited to 155mph (there is no driver’s pack available for this model), the acceleration time from 0-62mph improved by 0.4 to 4.5sec. In Sport and Sport plus, the two-tone exhaust celebrates the extra grunt by staging a barely legal bass-heavy soundfest.
The aftermath of pushing the starter button sounds like an instant upgrade from Stereo to Dolby Surround. While the 430i needs to be revved to deliver, the six can play monster mauler or giga purrer - your choice, as it’s a tremendously quick car that leaves our mouth watering for the full-fat M4. The 440i holds seventh gear all the way to 184mph before shifting up one last time, its halo glaring full blast on the near-empty Autobahn.
What about the 420d?
It’s interesting. The new engine, complete with 187bhp and 295lb ft here, also uses 48-volt mild hybrid technology for gentle e-boost and more prevalent coasting functions, but what you really notice is just how quiet it is on the move. While there is still a low rumble of diesel din, it’s so well damped inside the cockpit it feels like you’re driving one of the most refined four-cylinder diesels on the market.
It is, however a diesel, so torque still comes in a sizeable lump between 2500rpm and 4000rpm, then completely drops off thereafter. While it’s standard fare not to rev out a diesel, this engine is geared in such a way that doing so is completely pointless – there’s next to no sensation in acceleration between 4000rpm and the redline.
How does the 4-series handle?
Impressively, which, again makes us tremendously excited for the production version of the M4 – albeit with the odd caveat.
Like almost all M Performance versions, the M440i xDrive challenges the driver with a very sharp steering which is almost too direct and nervous around the straight ahead position. Especially at high speed, on uneven wet pavement, through changing radii and in combination with tyres sporting a small slip angle, the tiniest steering inputs can blow the effect out of proportion. The calibration is risquée to the extent that DSC feels occasionally compelled to intervene - primarily on slippery turf - to momentarily sedate the trajectory, just in case. It’s the same with the less powerful 420d – trample on the go pedal in the right (or wrong, depending on your viewpoint) situation and it’s enough to wake up the ESC.
We also rate the eight-speed transmission which is even faster shifting now and properly smooth, and further emphasizes the kick in the butt effect during full-throttle gear changes in Sport mode and introduces the go-faster Sprint feature in the M440i.
The adaptive dampers warrant acceptable compliance in Comfort, but Sport prioritizes rigidity and firmness and, on the M440i, Sport Plus is quantifiably tauter still. As a result, regardless of what spec you go for, the car feels firmly tied down at all times, body movements are kept on a short leash.
BMW 4-series: verdict
Ignore the front end (like we clearly can’t) and you’ve got a hugely involving old-school drivers’ car in the M440i, and a dramatic-looking poser-mobile in less-powerful specifications.
Specs below for M440i xDrive
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