Enjoyable driving experience
Where there was once just the 3 Series Coupe, there is now the 4 Series. BMW has taken steps to differentiate its bodystyles further than before by creating new model designations. The first of these is the 4 Series, which as its name suggests sits above the 3 Series in the model hierarchy.
There has always been a strong demand for the BMW 3 Series regardless of body style, and the Coupe model has always been a strong seller as well as providing the basis for the M3 performance version. However an increasing number of competitors have entered the premium coupe segment, so it is perhaps inevitable that BMW has sought greater distance between saloon and coupe.
Visually there are clear links with the 3 Series saloon. The 4 Series' basic silhouette is related, but actually the number of differences are numerous; only the bonnet is shared between the two models. The 4 Series has different headlights and bumpers, wider wheel arches and 'air breathers' – small vents in the front wings to aid aerodynamic performance.
Mechanically the 4 Series carries over much of its layout direct from the 3 Series saloon. The front engine and rear-wheel drive layout remains identical, although the suspension on the 4 Series is stiffer across the range as well as lower, helping it to have what BMW claims is the lowest centre of gravity of any of its models.
The 4 Series also comes with a reduced engine range compared to the 3 Series, with the pick of the diesel and petrol engines offered with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. On the inside the seats are mounted 9mm lower than in the saloon 3 Series which BMW claims increases the sporty feeling.
Where the 3 Series Coupe rarely felt more than just a saloon with fewer doors, the 4 Series offers that bit more by being a greater step away from its stablemate. As assured and capable as any BMW, it has a more focused sporty streak running through it without giving up its comfort or usability. For those who can live without the practicality loss it makes a lot of sense.
With a broad range of engine options from high performance petrols to very frugal diesels, there should be a version to suit a range of budgets. It's worth bearing in mind however that servicing costs do tend to fall in line with the premium price tag.
Front seat passengers have all the room they could wish for, as do those in the back although it is a little more complicated getting into the rear seats in the first place. Boot space is also still very good.
BMW's various instrument and displays have steadily evolved over the years, and the 4 Series presents occupants with a classy set of intuitive controls. The infamous i-Drive controller remains for the heavily lifting, but like the rest of the car it's much improved. If selected, the widescreen satnav option does make life much easier for navigation duties.
There are no real compromises in terms of comfort with the 4 Series. Even those sat in the back have their own individual seats and any reduction in headroom because of the lower roof is marginal. Noise levels are also well managed.
The remote locking function is a simple and discrete one, while the car's boot is separate from the passenger area, ensuring that your valuables can be locked out of sight for added peace of mind.
Like every BMW the 4 Series has a complex suite of safety aids including Dynamic Stability Control which has different modes to suit your preferred driving style, as well as a useful hill-hold function.
With a slightly sportier intent compared to the 3 Series the 4 has to deliver. In the most powerful 435i guise there is plenty of performance on offer and the slick eight-speed automatic gearbox works well in automatic or manual modes. Although the difference between it and the 3 Series are marginal it does deliver an exciting driving experience.
Although there's enough space for a family the lack of rear doors makes it more hassle to use for this purpose than the saloon or Touring 3 Series. However there is still enough space to perform family duties, and children who are old enough to manage will have no problem climbing into the rear.
There are no pitfalls to catch out the novice driver with the 4 Series; it is sufficiently easy to drive, even with the more powerful versions. It is only the cost of purchase that will put it out of reach for most.
BMW has worked hard on its image over the years, with the main focus on its cars' driving performance. This approach has softened of late as the firm seeks to broaden the appeal of its products. An increased focus on fuel economy and reduced emissions has earned it praise and helped boost sales at a time of rising car ownership costs.
The switch to a two-door body style inevitably means reduced access to the rear seats. The doors are long however, leaving a large aperture and the seats tilt and slide forward a long way. As long as you are reasonably able-bodied it is reasonably easy to get into the rear. Those in the front will have no problems however, and the boot has a tall and wide aperture for easy loading.
The standard 4 Series unit does a good job on all fronts – usability and sound quality. Move up to sat-nav and you can have a car with a wide screen display and a much improved i-Drive controller, and even Google connectivity. Bluetooth phone functions are straightforward, as is the ability to connect an Apple device.
Subtle metallics are the order of the day with the 4 Series, although the freshness of the design means it looks good in white too. Taking a restrained approach with the cabin is also the best option, although there are more outrageous options to choose from.
With reduced rear visibility and a long rear overhang it's crucial to take a bit more time getting the 4 Series parked. Parking sensors, where fitted, make life a good deal easier, while the optional reversing camera is a big help. Elsewhere, the car's steering delivers plenty of assistance at low speeds, while forward visibility is good.
Tyre inflation kit and run-flat tyres fitted as standard
Petrol engine options – 420i (184bhp); 428i (245bhp); 435i (306bhp). Diesel engine options – 420d (184bhp); 430d (258bhp); 435d (313bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual transmission plus eight-speed auto transmission depending on engine choice. Trim levels: SE, Sport, Modern, Luxury, M Sport.