If you want a BMW 4-series and live in the UK, this, the 420d, is the one you’re most likely to get – especially if your company car manager has any say on the matter. ‘No’, you cry, ‘I want the straight-six, twin-turbo 435i, or better yet, the 424bhp M4’.
Wouldn’t we all, but the second-cheapest 4-series is also the most economical, and suffers the least tax. Does it skimp on fun where it also out-thrifts its rivals? We’ve driven the £31,575 420d SE to find out.
So just how economical is the BMW 420d?
BMW claims that the four-cylinder, turbodiesel engine will deliver 60.1mpg and fleet-friendly 124g/km – the former of those figures is almost twice as frugal as the 306bhp 435i. Powering this ‘ultimate driving machine’ is 182bhp and 280lb ft – identical figures to Volkswagen’s diesel-burning hot hatch, the Golf GTD. So, it’s a swift mover, the 420d – 0-62mph in a Subaru BRZ-busting 7.5sec feels perfectly plausible, and it’ll woosh down the autobahn (or, er, M6 toll) at up to 149mph.
>> Click here for CAR’s review of the 306bhp BMW 435i
How’s the refinement from that grumbly four-banger up front?
Better than the last 320d we drove. That 3-series, impressive as it is, was louder inside the less cosy cabin, and transmitted so much wobble through the gearlever, its stick feels like an iPhone on vibrate every time we shifted gears in the (admittedly slick) six-speed ’box. The 420d makes better use of the same hardware – vibrations are better dampened inside the cockpit, and the shift action is as satisfying mechanical as ever.
Sure, it chunters like a Massey Ferguson in a tin shed when started from cold, but it’s an acceptable price to pay for the fuel-sipping characteristics. Our test car averaged mid-forties mpg overall, with up to 57mpg seen after a fast motorway run.
>> Click here to check out the first official pictures of the BMW 4-series Convertible
Talking of the price you pay…
Ah, that. The bad news is that our press car wears enough optional extras to tickle the basic £31,575 price up to £39,620. Of that, we could lose the dumpy looking 18in six-spoke alloys and opt for standard 17s instead (improving the already composed ride further), and ditch the adaptive M Sport suspension – its effect is subtle enough you’ll never notice it, plus why take a UK-bound car out of Comfort mode anyway? The Sport setting also adds unwelcome weight to the steering, and can knacker your mpg average. No amount of dynamic extras is ever going to make a 420d as incisive as an M car anyway, so we’ll lose the trick dampers, along with £250-worth of variable-ratio sports steering. The excellent head-up display can stay.
Most of our car’s prodigious goodie list was accounted for by infotainment extras, including ‘professional’ navigation with emergency assistance, in-car internet, and super-duper enhanced Bluetooth preparation. And almost £1300 for a comfort pack to bag electric seats, tinted glass and a posh armrest? No thanks. Spec the cool aluminium trim to lift the slightly dour, demur cabin and you’ll have a perfectly presentable 420d for less than £33k.
Is there a decent chassis underneath all of that garnish?
Yes. The 4-series sits a mere 10mm closer to Earth than a common-or-garden 3-series, but that wider track and more planted stance can be felt the first time you tip the car through a roundabout, yet alone your favourite set of switchback B-road bends. There’s an inherent balance here, which is a source of immense confidence for the driver.
Like almost all modern BMWs, well-judged weight replaces any ‘feel’ in the over-stuffed steering wheel, but even here in the humble 420d, there’s enough poise to set the 4-series above its ageing rivals, and even the deeply impressive F30-gen 3-series. We wouldn’t call it a heart-racer – the drive rather mirrors the cabin ambience, in fact. It’s crisp and assured, rather than eye-poppingly exciting. We’ll soon have the M4 for those sorts of antics…
>> Click here to read Ben Barry’s engine and tech lowdown on the new 2014 BMW M4
This ‘head-over-heart’ 420d is a fine companion fit for British roads, and just as importantly, British fuel prices – getting your hands on this much handling alacrity and still scoring more than 50mpg can’t fail to bring a grin to your face as you stick it to the Exchequer with another fuel station bypass. Just keep a steady hand as you’re browsing the options list…