Double Apex was invited to test the stylish new two-door from Munich. We sent Kyle Kock to drive the 420d and M440i version of the BMW 4 Series range on some of his favourite roads around the Western Cape.
Okay! I was somewhat disappointed when all that was left over after a quick coffee at the Lanzerac Wine Estate’s breakfast room were a duo of 420ds. After all, what petrolheaded motoring journalist with 102 octane in their veins would not want to opt for the full-cream raucousness that is the M440i. My patience would later be rewarded when things worked out in my favour on the South African launch of the new BMW 4 Series, though.
My driving partner was running a little late, so while sipping on my morning brew I had a good look at the BMW 4 Series in the metal for the first time. And to be quite frank, the controversial front end really isn’t that offensive up close. I have not yet seen any marketing material but maybe BMW SA should consider a parade of these vehicles through cities and major towns. Because the pictures, no matter how professionally taken, do not do this coupe justice. It’s gorgeous in person, with hard angles and edges that lend to interesting details right around. Show me another coupe as well-proportioned when viewed from the side.
Up and down, inside, and out
With a 420d to my left and the M440i on my right (the 420i was spared from launch duty) I could make out precious few visual differences. The lower section of the rear bumper was finished in a contrasting grey and black respectively. Besides that, the tailpipes differ considerably, with the former sporting a perfectly round duo and the latter two meaty hexagonal pieces.
I think the real differences here would be easier to make out between a base level 420i next to a M440i with all the bells and whistles. Up front, the distinctive driving light aesthetic along with the chrome around the enlarged kidney grilles endows the BMW 4 Series with a menacing stare. This visual effect is less apparent while parked than say, when one is approaching quite quickly in your rear-view mirror.
The cabin is typical BMW with the facia angled toward the driver. In the new 4 Series, it’s less obvious than something like the M2, which is more of a track day tool than an everyday cruiser, but it’s still a hallmark of BMW interior design. At this price level, you’d expect an appropriate level of luxurious appointments and we weren’t disappointed. My favourite details are the 10,3-inch central infotainment display and optional 12,3-inch instrument panel, as well as the revised heads-up display which now projects more information on a larger surface area.
The sport seats up front have also been redesigned, and while they’re suitably grippy for aggressive cornering, they’re cosy enough for cross country trips with electric adjustment to get you positioned just right. I was also pleasantly surprised at the amount of room in the rear, which should be suitable enough for two adults 1,8 m tall to be seated comfortably.
On dusty country backroads in the 420d
I’m behind the wheel for the first leg, which took us north in the direction of Durbanville Hills before cutting back towards Franschhoek. There’s still a fair bit of traffic just before 09:00 so I’m less miffed about not driving the M440i first. This gives us a chance to drive at realistic urban speeds with the eight-speed transmission left to its own devices.
On a rather windy summer’s day in the Cape, with the famous South Easter howling, the levels of NVH transmitted by the 4 Series was quite impressive. Slight prods of the throttle were sufficient enough to dispatch the slow-moving tractors and trucks out in the farmlands, while the diesel motor ticked along happily without much fuss and noise – for the record most of the driving here was done between 1 300 and 2 500 r/min.
After I handed the wheel over to my colleague, I got a chance to focus on the actual ride comfort, which is simply without fault. Sure, certain road imperfection do thump through the cabin, but it sounded harsher than it felt. The Michelin Pilot Sport tyres fitted to the test units are also quite noisy – but that’s through no fault of BMW.
Up and down Franschhoek pass with the gear selector in Sport mode, I could feel the change in the drivetrain’s urgency, holding on to a lower ratio and allowing the driver to get closer to peak power. To the Michelins’ credit, while they tend to be a bit loud, they gripped the tarmac around the tighter corners with no undue squealing.
After a car swap, and my co-driver chasing along the kind of roads I was first exposed to in the 420d, it was my turn to drive a pass in the turbopetrol six-cylinder beast and I was happier for it. After all, Clarence Drive is my favourite coastal ribbon of tar. The 275 kW/500 N.m are well beyond what you need to quickly cover this 22 km stretch between Rooi Els and Gordon’s Bay, but it’s nice to have a little more grunt to move 1,6 tons.
Overall for an all-wheel drive car that’s reasonably hefty, the range-topping 4 handles changes in direction well above the abilities of the average motorist and maintains its balance very well even when the surface is slightly off camber. These sort of outputs with handling as neutral as this are going to make you a driving hero. And the exhaust note is suitably raspy too, with the snap crackle and pop expected of turbocharged engines these days.
I like the limited variety of the range, especially because most people probably wouldn’t opt for the halo M440i, and because if you spec a 420i or 420d with the M kit, you are going to look the part anyway. Who cares what it sounds like if you rubbernecked the neighbourhood anyway? Still, at full tilt the M440i sufficiently lives up to BMW’s storied six-cylinder legacy.