BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style

Published:11 November 2021

BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

► First test of new BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe
► Driven in M440i xDrive form
► Excellent handling, fine performance

The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe might essentially be a stylish outlier in a world being overrun by SUVs, but in its short life, it has attracted plenty of fans. This five-door coupe is the most popular of all the 4 Series models, and the arrival of the second-generation model aims to increase sales and appeal. 

It might well be a five-door version of the brilliant 3 Series saloon, but it’s designed for those those looking for a coupe, but who also value practicality and space enough to need five doors and a hatchback. Sounds a bit nichey? Consider that around 50% of all 4 Series models sold in the UK are the Gran Coupe, and 860,000 have rolled off the line since 2015.

Don’t let the banter about the 4 Series front-end styling lead your impressions of the design. Yes, it has a full-depth kidney grille, but in the flesh, it really doesn’t look that bad, especially in the satin-grey our M440i xDrive test car is finished on. So, can we move on now please?  

What else is there to add? It’s a handsome beast with low-slung styling and an agreeably cab back stance that shouts rear-wheel drive, and sets the Gran Coupe aside from its rivals. It’s very different from its two- and four-door cousins thanks to new bumpers front and rear. It also comes with LED headlights and BMW’s Laserlight technology is available as an option. You’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve seen it before – it shares its bodywork with the all-electric BMW i4.

BMW says that it has several advantages over the 3 Series it’s based upon. It’s more aerodynamic and the monocoque is torsionally more rigid.  All Gran Coupe models run a firmer suspension set-up than their 3 Series sister cars, and just to cement its sportier attitude, it’s wider tracked and has a longer wheelbase. Rivals? There aren’t many, but closest in concept are the Audi A5 Sportback, Peugeot 508 and Volkswagen Arteon.

What’s under the skin?

The 4 Series Gran Coupe is powered a familiar engine range, with the line-up kicking off with the 183bhp 420i petrol model. It’s a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo engine, and gives the model lively performance – 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds and maximum speed of 146mph. It’s quite economical too, with a claimed Combined test figure of 42.8mpg. 

The 430i petrol uses the same engine, but develops 242bhp for a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds and a maximum speed limited to 155mph. Top model from launch – and the one we’re driving – is the M440i xDrive, which receives the creamy twin-turbo 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine that produces 370bhp shared with the highly-acclaimed M140i, M240i and, er, M340i.  In the 440, a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds is claimed, while the maximum speed is 155mph and claimed fuel economy is 35.3mpg. 

You can still get a diesel, although the range is limited to just one engine and rear- or four-wheel drive. The 420d is good for 187bhp with the fuel consumption figure being an impressive 58.9mpg. Acceleration is strong too, with a 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds.

What’s it like to drive?

Spoiler alert – it’s very good and goes straight to the top of the class. But that’s as you’d expect, given that so much of the car’s hardware is shared with the 3 Series saloon, which we already rate very highly. It’s blessed with a low centre of gravity and near 50:50 weight distribution, which combine to give us a car that steers accurately and incisively and turns-in with precision and agility that’s surprising considering it weighs 1825kg. 

We’re starting with handling because it’s here that the 4 Series impresses so much. Get it on to your favourite back road, and it feels neutral, albeit slightly heavy footed, and very capable of generating impressive levels of lateral grip. If all this doesn’t sound fun, you’d be dead wrong, as despite its size and weight, the M440i is really satisfying to drive because of its sheer agility and keenness to change direction.  

Stick it in Sport mode, and the steering weighs up beautifully, and although it doesn’t telegraph the last nuance of the road’s surface, it reveals enough in real time to give you ample levels of confidence. Load the car up mid-bend and lean on the throttle, and you’ll be greeted with plenty of feedback and insight into where the grip levels are. In short, it’s faithful, can be fun, and is very capable.

The M440i’s engine backs all this up with a fine, deep-chested soundtrack and more than enough acceleration to make decent progress. If you’re stuck behind an ambling HGV on an A-road, pull the left paddle for a second or so, and the car drops a couple of gears and readies itself for action in Sprint mode. Then, it’s a case of point and go. Dial it back at bit and noise levels are low with impressive high-speed stability and refinement. 

It’s not quite perfect, though. UK drivers might find themselves in Comfort mode all the time as the M Sport’s suspension in its sportier settings are a bit too revealing for our liking. Firm, yes, but a little too stiffly damped, too. The optional adaptive damping ease this dynamic shortcoming, though. An impressive performance overall, and quite a step-up from its predecessor.

What’s it like inside?

The 4 Series Gran Coupe shares its dashboard with the BMW 3 Series and is none the worse for that. As you’d expect, the emphasis is on sporting looks, so you get aluminium and piano black trim and sports seats. The dashboard is dominated by a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, and ahead, there’s a 12.3-inch digital screen for the instruments. If that isn’t enough, a head-up display is also available as an option. 

It’s roomier up front than its sleek appearance suggests – but that’s because it has a long wheelbase – and is quite a large car all-round. Rear space isn’t quite so good, with tight headroom and not quite enough kneeroom. It’s much better than the Peugeot 508, but is left standing by the Volkswagen Arteon. Boot space is up on the old model, and very useful, with 470 litres with the rear seats up (compared with 421 before). Rear seats also fold three ways – with a 40:20:40 split.

It’s well-equipped and packed with safety and driver-assistance technology. Standard equipment includes front-collision warning, and cruise control with speed limiter – the firm’s brilliant adaptive cruise control system is an optional extra.

Tell us more about the model range

All 4 Series Gran Coupe models are available in M Sport trim. That means sporty high-gloss black instead of chrome for the exterior and a bodykit. All models get 18-inch alloy wheels,  and premium leather trim is fitted inside across the board, as well as anthracite headlining.

The cloud-based BMW Maps navigation system has excellent route mapping on its big, clear screen and can actively manage the route depending on how busy the roads are. It’s also available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The M Sport Pro Edition versions add 19-inch alloy wheels and an M Sport rear spoiler and with high-gloss black mirror caps. They also get M Sport adaptive suspension, an M Sport differential and more powerful M Sport brakes as standard. 

The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is on sale now, with prices starting from £40,465, rising to £54,670 for the range topping M440i xDrive Gran Coupe variant.

BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe: Verdict

If you’ve made it this far, you’ll already know we like this car a great deal – even the way it looks. It’s well-engineered and clearly aimed at drivers who like a B-road but who also need to shift people and luggage around on a long-distance basis.  

Although its star attraction is its dynamics, the 4 Series Gran Coupe scores for being such a good all-rounder and making you feel great about driving it, it quietly gets on with dealing with the day-to-day stuff impressively well. Do you really still want that X3?

Specs

Price when new: £54,670
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2998cc 6-cylinder petrol twin turbo, 275bhp @ 5500rpm, 367lb ft @ 1900-5000pm
Transmission:
Performance: 4.7sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 33.2-35.3mpg, 184-191g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1825kg / steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4783/1852/1442

Photo Gallery

  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style
  • BMW 4 Series review: Substance over style

By Keith Adams

Devout classic Citroen enthusiast, walking car encyclopedia, and long-time contributor to CAR

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