The 3 Series Coupé is no more; instead there's the BMW 4 Series, though it's undeniably from the same gene pool as the rest of the 3 Series range. For the first time in the two-door model's history, however, the company has focused on comfort. Don't worry; it's still a BMW coupé.
In the Metal:
Clearly the 4 Series comes from the same school of design as the BMW 3 Series range, but it has been endowed with more muscularity around the haunches and a few new design flourishes to set it apart. The most obvious is the front bumper and headlight treatment. Under the standard Xenon lights is an exquisitely detailed bumper that features a wide separate cut-out. This is finished differently in each of the trim levels, but in all it emphasises the width of the car and in its most extreme iteration it looks downright aggressive.
At the extremities of this design feature are what BMW calls 'Air Curtains', vertical slots that channel air out in front of the wheels. It then finds its way to the rear of the wheel well and exits through the stylised 'Air Breathers' in the wings. Apparently this considerably reduces drag.
Inside, the 4 Series Coupé isn't very different to the 3 Series saloon. That car's dashboard and high quality fit and finish are carried over virtually unchanged. A few trim material tweaks here and there differentiate the Coupé, but there's such a high level of buyer customisation available that the details are irrelevant. Sit in and belt feeders usefully push the seat belt within reach. There are just two rear seats, but they're comfortable enough.
Our test cars were all fitted with the new (and optional) iDrive Touch controller, which can read your finger 'handwriting' as input for the satnav etc. It works as well as Audi's in terms of not needing to take your eyes off the road to input words.
We have mixed emotions about how the BMW 4 Series Coupé drives. On one hand, it has lost some of the distinctly rear-led feel of the 3 Series Coupé, even when you are attacking a particularly challenging road. The flip side is that it's far more stable and probably safer to drive for more people. Keen drivers will still enjoy its exceptional balance and body control, but they'll need to specify their options carefully to make it feel very sporting.
The good news for the majority of buyers is that the 4 Series Coupé is genuinely comfortable, and very refined. Our test cars were pretty loaded with options, including adaptive damping and variable sports steering. The former is well worth having, as it allows the driver to choose the level of damping via the Driving Experience Control switch (which has Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes). Interestingly, the Comfort mode is closest to that offered by the standard passive damping system according to a senior chassis engineer we talked to, and it is really is very comfortable, even on poorly surfaced roads and large alloy wheels.
Body roll is a little more pronounced in this setting, but it's far from yacht-like. Saying that, we chose to drive in Sport mode for the majority of the time while on the open road, as it means sharper throttle response, less power steering assistance and snappier gearchanges. The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is brilliant as ever, allowing various modes of operation and super-quick and smooth changes. The paddles behind the steering wheel are tactile, well-weighted and feel directly connected to the gearbox's brain - not something that can be said of all such systems.
On a fast track where there was a little more room to take liberties, we found that the 435i model, with its 306hp and 400Nm of torque, is as playful as ever at and over the limits of adhesion. Lurid slides are possible, but the initiation takes more provocation than ever and this often results in the inside rear wheel spinning away the power if it's done in a clumsy fashion. Tomfoolery aside, the 4 Series applies itself well to circuit work. The brakes are strong, body control kept in check and the car's reactions linear. We wouldn't expect many owners to take a nearly standard 435i to a track day, but it's nice to know it wouldn't be too out of its depth.
In this environment, and indeed lots of twisty road time, the variable sports steering makes a lot of sense. Near the straight-ahead it has the same response as the standard system (itself an electromechanical design with speed-sensitive assistance), but the ratio then quickens the more you turn the wheel. The result is a feeling of enhanced agility and it really suits the nature of the car, as it prevents the nose from feeling too 'darty' on the motorway without compromising turn-in and quick direction changes elsewhere.
For now, we'll conclude that the 4 Series Coupé has grown up considerably, possibly at the cost of a little of its dynamism. If that is the case then it'll probably suit more buyers, but we'll await a drive in a bigger selling example to make a final call on it.
What you get for your Money:
Although not all engines are available at launch later this year, the model range will be simply vast. In petrol terms, there are 420i, 428i and 435i cars to choose from. In the diesel range there's the 420d, 430d and 435d. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard throughout and an eight-speed automatic optional. Fans of four-wheel drive can have BMW's xDrive system on the 420i, 420d and 435d. Some of those will no doubt be 'special order' only and not strictly on the normal BMW Ireland price list.
Trim levels are a little bewildering at first, but any BMW salesperson worth his salt should be able to talk you through them, and we like the visual differentiation between them all. Depending on engine, there's SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury and M Sport specifications.
Prices for the entry-level 420i have yet to be announced, so for now the starting price is €47,130 for the 420d SE model.
While we're all waiting with bated breath for the first ever BMW M4 Coupé (don't go blue in the face, it'll be 2014) those that want something even sportier than the M Sport trim level are well catered for by BMW's M Performance accessories catalogue. These are technically aftermarket parts, but they allow the buyer to considerably overhaul their car. Along with a vast array of aesthetic tweaks inside and out (including a special steering wheel with 'Race Display') there's some proper hardware to choose from. Such as a mechanical limited slip differential, brake upgrade, exhaust change and the option to firm up the suspension even more than the M Sport specification. The M Performance suspension is actually the only one that lowers the 4 Series in comparison to the baseline settings. Gorgeous forged 20-inch alloys are on the list too, as are special 18-inch 'winter' alternatives. Last, but by no means least, are M Performance Power Kits for the 420d (+54hp, +40Nm), BMW 430d (+27hp, +40Nm) and BMW 435i (+34hp, +50Nm). This range of options makes its world debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show this September.
BMW's new 4 Series is desirable, beautifully made and appointed and has something in the range for everyone. The new found comfort is a revelation, and it's far more refined than the 3 Series Coupé of old too, but we can't help but wonder if some of that car's inherent dynamism has been lost in the process. Saying that, we're looking forward to testing that theory when we get behind the wheel of other variants in time. As a premium two-door coupé, the new BMW 4 Series will be hard to beat.