BMW 4 Series driven: behind that controversial grille lies a brilliant package
CAPE TOWN - I tried to not start the first paragraph without mentioning the grille, but unfortunately I had to step into the trap.
And when you begin with that you know it has to be BMW's new 4 Series launched officially in South Africa and available at your nearest BMW dealership.
That grille has had people talking since it was first revealed last year at the Frankfurt Motor Show (remember when we could attend large gatherings without a care in the world?). I was fortunate to have been there and it certainly managed to attract the motor industry's attention and it seems there weren't many fence-sitters.
Personally I didn't like it. I'm of the opinion that first impressions inevitably stay with you whether it's a painting or a person and I don't subscribe to the notion that you will "grow to like it".
Either way, it's here to stay and apart from the opinion-splitting grille the new 4 Series coupé fills its niche market with aplomb.
Based on the popular 3 Series platform BMW have upgraded the 4 Series' rigidity on the front bulkhead and strut brace.
They have also made it 128mm longer and 27mm wider than the previous generation and to add to its street presence it has a longer wheelbase, lowered ride height and wider front and rear track widths.
We can expect the new Gran Coupé and convertible variants in the first quarter and the M4 Coupé in the second quarter so for now there are two turbo-charged petrol engines and a turbo-diesel available.
The 420i Coupé has a four-cylinder petrol unit under the bonnet producing 135kW and 300NM of torque driving the rear wheels via BMW's automatic eight-speed Steptronic transmission which also drives the 420d Coupé delivering 140kW and 400NM of torque available between 1 750 and 2 500 rpm.
The M440i xDrive delivers a healthy 275kW and 500Nm from its 3.0 litre in-line six cylinder turbo-charged mill powering all four wheels as driving conditions need. It's fitted with launch control and BMW claims it will get you to 100km/h in a decent time of 4.5 seconds.
The 420d Coupé provides a refined drive as we've come to expect from that engine derivative, the smooth Steptronic transmission adding to its allure. The one we drove in the Western Cape was fitted with the optional M Sport package and while it looks the part, keep in mind that it's still a two-litre diesel under the bonnet and with larger alloys and low profile tyres, ride comfort is compromised as is road noise.
That said, it still powers forward briskly and once you've settled down to highway speeds it proves to be a fantastically comfortable cruiser with excellent consumption to match.
The M440i xDrive obviously wears its M kit better thanks in part to the standard adaptive M Sport suspension, modified front suspension, M tuned transmission and electronically controlled differential.
The 4-series Coupé's centre of gravity has been lowered by 21mm making the driving position lower too and while it may take a while to get used to it once you get to play in the twisties it makes perfect sense.
BMW have fitted a Sprint Function to its armoury allowing you to flick one down on the steering transmission paddle that changes the cogs a couple of gears down allowing you to quickly accelerate and appreciate the engine noise even if some of it is piped into the cabin.
Handling is what you would expect of a car of this nature with almost no body roll with a sharp and crisp approach and exit even in tight hairpins and in Sport mode even the odd tyre squeal.
Passing slower traffic it gears down effortlessly and stomping on the accelerator the long gears quickly gets the speedometer and rev-counter moving up on the 12.3 inch digital instrument cluster before settling down again.
We did find however, that even in comfort mode the ride bordered on the stiff side and it will take some getting used to especially over bumpy sections of suburban roads.
While the design of the new 4-Series may be polarising its quality and sporty interior remains up there with the best, as does its handling and overall driving dynamics and if you prefer your style a little bit more individualistic this would be the Beemer for you.
BMW 4 SERIES PRICING
420i Standard Package: R755 400
420i M Sport Package: R800 800
420d Standard Package: R802 900
420d M Sport Package: R848 300
M440i M Sport Package: R1 117 450