The upgraded BMW 4 Series range will hit Australia shores in June, bringing some relatively modest running changes to one of the Bavarian company’s most important models from a branding perspective.
The small upgrades for the latest 4 Series LCI (Life Cycle Impulse, the company’s vaguely pompous phrase for update) include new LED lighting, iDrive 6 infotainment and revised suspension tuning.
The quiet discontinuation of the 420d diesel model late last year also carries over to the MY17.5 models, leaving us with a range comprising the 4 Series coupe, convertible and Gran Coupe hatchback body types, in 420i, 430i and 440i petrol iterations.
The LCI’s timing is good for BMW, with combined two-door sales down about 15 per cent this year to 344 units, way behind the much newer Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe/convertible range on 912). There’s also a brand new Audi A5 range rolling out.
Launched in 2013 as the successor to the long-running 3 Series two-door range – perfected in E46 guise, in this writer’s rarely humble opinion – the German-made 4 Series family has accounted for 400,000 sales, most in the US, UK and its home market.
Interestingly for sales buffs, the two-door models only cumulatively make-up around half of the 4 Series sales these days, with the other 50 per cent going to the Gran Coupe, a four-door hatch alternative to the 3 Series range.
A quick summary of the 4 Series LCI’s changes goes like this: new Bi-LED headlights and LED tail lights as standard, revised and rear front apron designs, four new wheel choices, two new colours (Sunset Orange and a lovely Snapper Rocks Blue, which BMW’s designer said was inspired by the Great Barrier Reef).
Inside the cabin are new electroplated and chrome bits, more double-stitched leather panels, three new upholstery colours, a new digital multi-function instrument array and the latest Professional Navigation software as part of the upgrade to iDrive 6 infotainment.
BMW also made a point of mentioning that the redesigned wiper and indicator stalks now ‘snap’ into positioning, unlike the old ones that sort of ‘thunked’. Apparently enough customers demanded this change to make it happen. We aren’t joking.
The coupe and Gran Coupe both pick up stiffened (lower) suspension tune to reduce roll against lateral inputs, which also has the added benefit of giving greater differentiation between Sport and Comfort modes in the adaptive suspension, fitted as standard.
BMW has left the 4 Series convertible’s suspension as it was, meaning it’s now a little softer in the springs and dampers than the hard-tops, which rather suits the target demographic.
The electrically-assisted power steering system has also been fine-tuned to suit the new springs, while the polarising Variable Sport Steering that alters its response speed contingent on steering input, is now optional on all variants.
The changes here aren’t exactly seismic then, but despite nudging four years of age, the 4 Series family remains one of the Bavarian brand’s best, and most traditionalist-friendly offerings. Low body, wide track, rear-wheel drive and made to carve corners.
The 135kW/290Nm 420i coupe and Gran Coupe are up $1000 to $69,900 before on-road costs, the 430i coupe and GC models remain $79,900, and the 440i coupe and GC remain $99,900. All convertibles with the folding hard-top command an eye-widening $18,000 premium.
Standard on all models are 19-inch alloy wheels, Adaptive M Suspension, LED headlights, Navigation System Professional with iDrive 6, a head-up display, Dakota leather upholstery, ConnectedDrive, real-time traffic information and DAB+. There’s also lane-change warning, a 360-degree camera and speed limit information in the HUD.
The $10k pricier 185kW/350Nm 430i adds a M Sport Package (Luxury Line a no-cost option), keyless entry, electric lumbar support for front occupant, and a nine-speaker and 205W HiFi system.
The $20k extra 440i family adds a more potent 240kW/450Nm 3.0-litre TwinPower turbo inline-six, BMW Individual leather instrument panel, High Beam Assist, radar cruise, park assist, adaptive LED headlight function and harman/kardon 16-speaker and 600W sound.
The main improvement in the cabin is the new iDrive, which has even easier to navigate menus laid out in horizontal tiles, operated by the familiar iDrive dial that’s benchmark. The cabin is less bling-y than the Benz and has less artful precision than the Audi A5, but its driver-focused orientation and timeless design means it remains appropriate. If austere.
While the new 4er won’t launch until June, we’ve had a quick steer in Germany, which we visited principally to sample the new plug-in hybrid 5 Series.
The only models available were the coupe and folding hardtop convertible, in 440i and 430i specification respectively. So we will leave the 420i range, as well as the 4 Series Gran Coupe update, for later.
Powering the 440i is a familiar straight-six with TwinScroll turbocharger making 240kW of power at 5500rpm and 450Nm of torque from only 1380rpm, through to 5000rpm. It’s matched to a RWD system and an eight-speed ZF torque-converter automatic gearbox, though you can special-order a six-speed manual. You’re a great person if you do.
The 0-100km/h sprint time is a sprightly 5.0 seconds (two-tenths slower as a manual). For context, the hot-selling AWD (270kW/520Nm) Mercedes-AMG C43 coupe that costs $106,500 does the same dash in 4.7 seconds.
The inline-six lacks the rasping aural appeal and revvy nature of older, less efficient atmo engines, but makes up for it with an immense mid-range, seemingly instantaneous torque delivery and preternatural smoothness as a daily, helped by the ZF 8AT with paddles.
The changes to the suspension in the coupe weren’t hugely noticeable on the mostly smooth roads we tackled, though adding firmness and lowering ride height will obviously improve body control. The standardisation of adaptive dampers on all variants means you can soften up those dampers around town.
The 4er coupe remains a precision tool in corners, though we’d eschew the variable steering based on past experience. The regular application offers decent communication from the front wheels, while the five-link rear suspension is typically well sorted.
The Bimmer is no MR Porsche Cayman (priced from $115,600), though unlike the Stuttgart offering, the 4 Series doubles as a useable four-seater. We lugged about all 180cm-odd of BMW Australia’s PR representative for two hours in the back and he didn’t get out with leg cramps. Even the truest professional couldn’t hide that…
To match the C43 and Audi S5, the BMW 440i is sold in left-hand drive markets in xDrive on-demand all-wheel-drive form. It’s not on offer in RHD, and frankly we don’t need it in Australia. Despite more grip, the 0-100km/h time is only one-tenth better at 4.9sc.
We’re not all that fazed that BMW axed the 420d diesel, because this is not a fuel economy-motivated market segment. But we’d love it to consider the 190kW/560Nm 430d, which we can only speculate would fly.
As mentioned, the other car we drove was the 430i convertible, one of the shrinking number of cars on the market with a folding hard-top, which adds security and stiffness when up, but also impinges on the otherwise good 370L boot space more noticeably when down, and adds 225kg of extra weight over the coupe.
The ubiquitous 2.0-litre TwinPower four in this variant still makes 185kW and 350Nm and the ZF 8AT remains. Max torque arrives at 1450rpm, giving familiar pulling power and gruff note – albeit dulled slightly by the convertible’s 1800kg unladen maximum weight.
The 6.3 second 0-100km/h isn’t sluggish, but it’s half a second off the 430i coupe’s pace, and never feels anything more than brisk. On the upside, the slightly softer suspension suits the car, and the body is largely devoid of scuttle shake. It’s also a useable four-seater
Our tester came fitted with the ‘air collar’ system – standard on the 440i – that pumps hot air onto the back of your neck from the top of the seat. Lovely.
Full disclosure, our time behind the wheel of the 4 Series LCI didn’t really tell us much new. There are some worthy changes to what remains an outstanding package, though whether the two-doors can still match the newer C-Class and A5/S5 ranges will need to be put to a comparison test.