Munich - Ever since BMW took the leap to rename the coupe versions of its sedan cars with even numbers, it was as if the company felt the weight of sedan-related conservatism had been tossed off like a suffocating blanket on a warm summer’s night.
The 4 Series didn’t take long at all to carve its own space. Interestingly, the Gran Coupe four-door hatchback version was the bestseller of the 400 000 units BMW has sold globally, showing that there was a good number of people who wanted all the practicality of a 3 Series with a sportier looks and a less compromisingly sporting demeanour to go with it.
I spent a year at the wheel of a first-generation 435i Gran Coupe and found it to be an irresistibly useful mix of practical family car and corner-schnarfing excellence. One roadtrip, from Cape Town to East London and back over a weekend for a wedding (flights were absurdly expensive) has turned into one of those epic motoring memories – 2000km enormously entertaining kilometres in a weekend and no sore back to show for it.
And so, in Germany last week, BMW released the facelifted version of the 4. It’s a good illustration of the sense in their nomenclature decision-making that the 4 Series has so quickly and easily carved its own space. It’s now better-looking than ever, that lower centre of gravity and stockier stance telling a story of a sporting focus. Tweaked and strengthened front and rear aprons and standard LED headlights tell the world that this is the new car.
The 440i (the 435i’s successor) is a fine expression of the sporting coupe. This is a real-drive sports coupe powered by a sonorous inline six, which is to say a pure distillation of what made BMW famous. If they can’t get this right, what’s BMW actually for?
Well, no need to worry. In a context of devastatingly competent competition the new 4 Series owns a space of its own with real stand-out talent. BMW have been fiddling with the suspension of the 4 Series to tighten up its dynamics while leaving ride quality unaffected.
Regrettably, our test-drive took place in snowy conditions and required the fitment of winter tyres, an insurance and legal necessity in Europe when conditions are poor, so it was impossible to fully evaluate this improvement. However let’s not lose sight of the wood for the trees here; the 4 Series is a deliciously balanced car, malleable for the enthusiastic driver who knows how to use a rear-wheel-drive.
It rides reasonably firm but never crashes, and steering – in one of the sports modes – weights up well and offers good communication on grip levels up front. That front grip is good, especially on the brakes, and transfer the weight smoothly and you can whip out of the apex with some real pace or, should the mood take you, as wild as you like. It’s massively good fun to drive.
BMW have worked hard on the interior, introducing double stitching where there is leather, and uprating the i-Drive to a tile-style system. The dashboard itself is now a dynamic digital affair, which adjusts what information is given to you depending which driving mode you’re in. It’s a solid, comfortable place to sit. In terms of perceived quality the interior doesn’t match that of the recently released all-new Audi A5 (nothing does, to be fair), and it doesn’t quite have the sense of occasion you enjoy in a Mercedes C-Class either.
You sit low and there’s a chunky, redesigned steering wheel that is uniquely BMW in its feel. The 440i puts out a yowling 240kW at the top end and a burbling 450Nm at just 1380rpm, meaning the world really is your oyster. In comfort mode on the cruise the big six will lean heavily on those torque numbers and keep a higher gear for comfortable and quiet mile-munching, whereas in manual sports mode on a twisting road there are kilowatts aplenty to cover ground at a genuinely impressive rate. It’s a properly good mill, this, with deliciously smooth and linear power delivery willing to match your mood in pretty much every environment. If you’ve got the bucks, this is the one to have.
The new 430i comes with a 185kW, 350Nm four-cylinder, two-litre motor that will also propel the car along at a healthy lick. It lacks the aural joy of a six-cylinder motor but such things are increasingly a luxury these days.
The uprated 4 Series improves on a theme that wasn’t broken to start with. The interior improvements are to be welcomed, as are the sensible and pleasant changes to the exterior. It remains the midsize sporting coupe of choice for the enthusiastic driver, for whom a slightly lesser interior will matter far less than the sense of engineering and fun you get from driving a proper BMW, doing what BMW does best.
2017 BMW 4 Series: Prices
BMW 420i Coupé: R595 896
BMW 420d Coupé: R629 800
BMW 430i Coupé: R682 722
BMW 440i Coupé (auto): R852 176
BMW M4 Coupé (auto): R1 257 436
BMW M4 Coupé Competition (auto): R1 393 336
BMW 420i Gran Coupé: R595 896
BMW 420d Gran Coupé: R629 800
BMW 430i Gran Coupé: R682 722
BMW 440i Gran Coupé (auto): R852 176
BMW 420i Convertible: R707 750
BMW 430i Convertible: R819 276
BMW 440i Convertible (auto): R974 946
BMW M4 Convertible (auto): R1 419 062
BMW M4 Convertible Competition (auto): R1 554 962