Yes, yes, we know the grille is controversial, but there's a lot more to the 2021 BMW 4 Series Coupe than that. It's bigger, more high-tech, more focused on driving and of higher quality than ever. Our first taste of the two-door model is in the 420d version, including the new M Sport Pro package.
In the metal
Let's get the obvious out of the way first: the new upright kidney grille design has not been met with universal approval. It matters not that it references the design of some of the earliest BMWs when it just doesn't always look attractive. Thankfully, on a black car, with the black trim denoting the new M Sport Pro package, it is less dominant and, if you can get past that, you can't deny that the new 4 Series Coupe has presence. The darkened headlights and big wheels of the M Sport Pro package add menace to the appearance, as well, though the rear end is softer, in contrast to the sharp-featured face. We like the slender new LED lights at the back, but the rear haunches can appear bulbous from some angles.
Then again, as the bodywork hides quite a practical cabin and a decent boot, we shouldn't complain too loudly. Sure, coupe buyers are unlikely to prioritise rear seating or luggage space, but if they choose the 4 Series Coupe for other reasons, they'll be pleasantly surprised by its practicality. The rear seats (just two of them) are quite comfortable once you're under six-foot tall and those in front aren't any bigger. Somewhat surprisingly, it's more spacious in the back than the supposedly larger BMW 8 Series Coupe.
Naturally, the front seats will be of more importance to the buyer. There's plenty of adjustment of the driving position through the steering wheel and seat, and it's even possible to electrically adjust the width of the seat according to your own dimensions. The rest of the dashboard and cabin architecture is pretty much straight out of the existing BMW 3 Series, which is no bad thing at all. Owners of the old 4 Series will be blown away by the step up in terms of technology and perceived quality. We've said it before and we'll say it again: we like the design of the current BMW digital instrumentation, but not its lack of customisation or clarity, while the central touchscreen and its iDrive rotary controller are generally excellent and intuitive to use.
What do buyers expect from a BMW 4 Series Coupe? No doubt they're looking for a sporty feel, but also a high-quality experience. And when you buy a 420d, odds are you plan on spending a lot of time on the road in it, so long-distance comfort is probably also important. So really, the 420d Coupe needs to be a quasi-GT rather than an out-and-out sports coupe. And BMW has, for the most part, nailed that brief.
Under the bonnet is BMW's latest take on its venerable 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine. This one, as debuted on the 320d, gets two turbochargers, but not for more outright performance. Indeed, the peak power of 190hp and torque output of up to 400Nm are no higher than before. Nonetheless, it's a much quieter and smoother engine, and more performance is on tap more of the time. It's also claimed to be more efficient than ever. To that end, the 420d gets a 48-volt mild-hybrid system as standard, allowing engine-off coasting at speed, more effective stop-start and even a little 11hp boost at times. It's almost undetectable, save for the occasional time that it's clearly harvesting kinetic energy as the car slows to a stop.
All versions of the 4 Series get BMW's excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox with its various settings to allow it smooth, unruffled changes one minute and rapid-fire gear shifts the next. You can take over with the tactile paddles behind the steering wheel if you wish, but there's almost no need in the 420d, as its engine has loads of torque across the rev range, and the transmission is brilliantly calibrated, too. Use the Sport mode if you're in a hurry.
And when you do hurry, you'll discover how deeply talented the chassis of the new 4 Series is. At lower speeds, it feels firm, especially on 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tyres, but while some won't like the underlying stiffness, it's also quite polished and refined. So yes, you'll feel the potholes, but they won't jar as much as you might have expected. The 4 Series gets the same dampers as the 3 Series that alter the damping force depending on vertical movement of the wheels, incidentally, which gives the whole chassis a notable feel of control.
Up the pace and the 4 Series shines. Even this rear-drive model is leagues above its predecessor in terms of traction and stability. Thanks in part to the wider track, you can really lean on the tyres and make swift, tidy and safe progress, even on crumbling Irish back roads. It's never as skittish as the car it replaces could be and yet it's just as engaging and rewarding to drive. BMW's engineers have raised its ability level so that its limits will be rarely broached on the public road, but have somehow done that without sanitising the driving experience.
What you get for your money
When BMW Ireland revealed the new 4 Series Coupe back in June, it indicated a starting price of €53,930, but that was before Budget 2021 and we expect the prices to change. Whatever they end up at, the 4 Series is obviously a high-end model, and you will pay for that. It is well-equipped, however, and BMW makes efficient engines, so fuel consumption should be palatable. On top of all that, high residual values help to bring down the ownership costs. We will update this section once a clearer view of the pricing structure is available in the New Year.
Choose your 4 Series Coupe specification carefully and the controversial grille design is less obvious. That aside, the new M Sport Pro package is highly appealing, reinforcing the fact that BMW wants to be seen to be making the sportiest car in the segment. And while the 4 Series lives up to that on the road, it manages, in efficient 420d guise, to play the role of long-distance GT car just as well. Make no mistake: the 4 Series Coupe is an accomplished car on many fronts.