The past seven years have been kind to the BMW 4 Series.
Introduced with a good deal of fanfare back in 2013, it has now recorded over 800,000 sales worldwide. Its success is spread across three models, including Coupe, Cabriolet and five-door Gran Coupe, as well as a range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, which together have managed to provide it with wide appeal.
But as we come to the second-generation model, the talk revolving around the 4 Series is not of the inevitable task it has in living up to the impressive sales performance of its predecessor or its new range of engines, which includes the 275kW turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder petrol unit with mild hybrid properties of the $116,900 2021 M440i xDrive Coupe driven here.
The talk is of – what else? – that grille.
MORE: 4 Series price and specs
Arguably BMW’s most controversial design element since the introduction of the separate fender rear end on the fourth-generation 7 Series almost 20 years ago now, the vertical grille treatment adopted by the 4 Series has indeed widely divided opinions.
And, yes, it is a notable shift in design lineage, giving the new 2021 model a direct visual connection with the 2000C and 2000CS models launched in 1965. A much bolder frontal appearance that, on the Coupe model driven here, is combined with a rather sleek two-door body whose proportions and detailing are reminiscent of that adorning the larger 8 Series.
But, like it or loathe it, there is more to the second-generation model than its controversial styling alone.
BMW says it has conceived the new 4 Series, the G22 as it is known internally in Coupe guise, to act as a more distinctive standalone model in its own right and with greater exclusivity than before. And this is not only reflected in its controversial appearance and noticeably improved quality. In dimensions, too, the new model shifts further away from the model it replaces.
Length, width and height have increased by 128mm, 27mm and 6mm respectively at 4768mm, 1852mm and 1383mm, giving the new model greater presence in the metal, and a more sporting form than either the model it replaces or any one of the five generations of the 3 Series Coupe that preceded it.
As with its predecessor, the new line-up starts with the Coupe, which has traditionally accounted for 30 per cent of 4 Series sales globally. It will be followed next year by the new Cabriolet and Gran Coupe models, which BMW says took 25 per cent and 45 per cent of sales in the last generation.
The new 4 Series shares its CLAR platform and electric architecture with the latest seventh-generation 3 Series. Its wheelbase has grown by 41mm to 2851mm, giving it longer overhangs both front and rear. As part of efforts to provide it with a significantly more sporting feel, it also adopts tracks that have been increased by 28mm at the front and 18mm at the rear over its predecessor at 1575mm and 1611mm.
Crucially, given BMW’s assertion that it is now a more driver-oriented offering with more authentically dynamic properties than before, the new model’s centre of gravity has also been reduced by 21mm compared to the first-generation 4 Series on a model-for-model basis. This has been achieved partly through a new material mix, with aluminium now used for the bonnet, front wings, doors and front suspension.
Further changes are centred around a stiffening of the body structure compared to that of the 3 Series. To achieve this, BMW has fitted the 4 Series with a new shear panel within the front bulkhead, as well as a newly designed strut across the front suspension towers and an additional A-frame support at the front of the engine bay. Together, they are claimed to significantly increase its stiffness.
Inside, the new 4 Series receives a familiar-looking layout with the latest evolution of BMW’s layered dashboard from the 3 Series, complete with standard 12.3-inch digital instrument and 10.3-inch infotainment displays. The latter of which can be operated either via a standard rotary controller or touch commands, as well as optional speech and gesture controls.
Overall, the interior features much higher standards of material and overall finish than that of the old model. That's all in keeping with the German carmaker’s efforts to not only provide it with a more sporting feel, but a higher level of perceived luxury as well.
The driving position is quite different to that of the 3 Series by way of a more heavily angled windscreen and lower mounting of the front seats, which in combination with the multi-function steering wheel offers generous adjustment. There’s also a belt carrier, which motors out from the B-pillar as you enter the car to ease overall entry.
While you’re never going to buy the new 4 Series for its accommodation, it now offers greater space up front than the old model. There’s also claimed to be more room in the rear, too. Though while the individual rear seats are set quite low, the more exaggerated curvature of the roof means rear-seat head room is now quite limited. Boot space, meanwhile, has been reduced by 5L at 440L.
Overall, there are six different second-generation 4 Series Coupe models with a choice of four different engines. Included is a base turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit with 135kW and 300Nm of torque in the $70,900 420i, and 190kW and 400Nm in the $88,900 430i – both of which come as standard with rear-wheel drive.
Although not confirmed for Australian sale, the diesels, all featuring 48-volt mild hybrid functions and standard four-wheel-drive xDrive, start with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder delivering 140kW and 400Nm in the 420d xDrive. Later next year, a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder diesel with 210kW and 650Nm in the 430d xDrive, and 250kW and a generous 700Nm in the M440d xDrive, will also join the line-up.
It is the M440i xDrive that heads the new range – and it has 35kW more than the previous 440i at 275kW. Its turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder is certainly no stranger, having already appeared in various new BMW models in recent times, including the M340i xDrive, with which the headlining 4 Series also shares its eight-speed torque-converter-equipped automatic gearbox, multi-plate clutch four-wheel-drive system, and electronically controlled rear M-differential.
It is the inherent smoothness and outright willingness to rev that marks out the M440i xDrive engine. However, its low-speed pick-up in taller gears and strapping mid-range flexibility are equally as impressive, too.
As with the diesel engines, the European-spec top-of-the-line petrol unit driven at launch receives 48-volt mild hybrid properties. This provides the scope for electric boosting via the starter generator, with an additional 8kW unleashed under acceleration, as well as functions such as engine-off coasting and brake energy recuperation in Eco-Pro mode.
With 500Nm of torque in a range of revs between 1900 and 5000rpm, it is both wonderfully rounded and engaging at the same time, delivering exceptionally strong in-gear qualities under acceleration together with truly relaxed part-throttle cruising qualities.
BMW official performance claims put the 0–100km/h time at a very tidy 4.5sec (and quotes the same sprint time for Aus-spec vehicles). This makes it just 0.3sec slower to the traditional acceleration benchmark than the new standard M4, whose more heavily tuned twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine kicks out 353kW and 550Nm. Top speed, meanwhile, is nominally limited to 250km/h.
It’s not only the engine’s sheer drivability and performance that impress, though. With combined-cycle consumption of between 6.8 and 7.1L/100km and average CO2 emissions of between 155 and 163g/km on the WLTP test cycle, it is also remarkably economical when driven with fuel-saving in mind.
The praise continues with the gearbox, which operates with great efficiency to extend the efforts of the engine. Whether casually swapping ratios at low revs or performing shifts close to the 6800rpm ignition cut-out in manual Steptronic mode via the steering wheel paddles, it is always smooth and fast, contributing in no uncertain terms to the driving experience.
There are three main driving modes: Eco-Pro, Comfort and Sport. A fourth Adaptive mode that combines all three depending on the driving conditions can also be called upon. New to the 4 Series is an additional Sprint function. It switches the car directly into Sport mode when you pull the left-hand shift paddle forward for longer than one second for more efficient overtaking.
The six-cylinder’s muscular growl and enthusiastic exhaust note, which are enhanced via synthetic means over the speakers within the cabin, are never quite as dominating nor as melodious as those of the petrol units used in BMW’s full-blown M-cars. However, its subtle purposefulness at part throttle and meaningful acoustic intent under full load nevertheless help to underline the M440i xDrive’s performance capabilities.
The suspension retains the same design as that used by the 3 Series, with an aluminium-intensive MacPherson strut layout up front and a five-link arrangement at the rear, though it has been given its own unique kinematic properties, and the 4 Series also gets greater camber on the front wheels.
Another key development is the adoption of BMW’s lift-related dampers, which feature both main and auxiliary springs, as well as hydraulic bump stops. These progressively increase pressure within the damper under compression, while progressively adjusting the rebound properties.
The M440i xDrive, however, receives its own uniquely tuned M-Sport suspension with electronically controlled adaptive dampers. The standard wheels and tyres start at 17-inch in diameter and increase to 19-inch in combination with an optional M-Sport Package Pro, which also brings the 225/40 and 255/35-profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres fitted to our test car. The latter sizing will be standard equipment for Australia.
The 4 Series is easy to place on the road. Fully befitting its sporting brief, it’s engagingly fleet-footed and quite incisive in its actions. The variable-rate sport steering used by the M440i xDrive is suitably direct off centre, giving the new BMW urgent turn-in qualities. It’s also more feelsome than that of the old model, and it imparts greater feedback, too.
The way the weighting and overall responsiveness of the variable-rate system increase with lock will be familiar to anyone who has spent a meaningful amount of time in more sporting variants of the latest 3 Series. Also, it is key to delivering a sense of all-round confidence in the well-balanced chassis as you thread the 4 Series down a challenging back road in Sport mode.
Body control, meanwhile, is outstanding. BMW’s efforts to lower the crucial centre of gravity can be felt in the way the 4 Series scythes through corners with greater enthusiasm and a greater level of calmness than its predecessor. There’s a heightened sense of overall dynamic prowess that’s not only rooted in its firm damping, but its inherent balance, which is quite outstanding.
Although the M440i xDrive uses BMW’s four-wheel-drive xDrive system as standard, its variable apportioning of drive is such that it feels distinctively rear-wheel-biased in dry conditions. With the electronically controlled M-Sport differential also working to vary the drive between each individual rear wheel, it delivers outstanding grip and traction. The additional security and confidence it instils in the driver on wet roads makes it well worth consideration, even if it lacks the overall fluidity and engagement of the traditional rear-wheel-drive set-up available on other models.
BMW’s efforts to provide the 4 Series with a more sporting character haven’t come at the expense of ride. With the adaptive dampers of the M-Sport suspension used by the M440i xDrive set to Comfort mode, there’s mild restlessness and the odd thump on less than smooth road surfaces around town. However, the action of the springs and adaptive dampers is exceptionally well controlled. Together, they quickly eliminate all but the most extreme of impact shocks before they have a chance to unsettle progress.
At higher speeds on the open road, the ride is even more resolved, providing the new 4 Series with a fittingly purposeful but highly comfortable character. In combination with low levels of wind noise and tyre roar, this makes it a formidable long-distance proposition.
The new 4 Series Coupe has clearly taken on a more sporting role in the BMW line-up. It is now further differentiated from the 3 Series upon which it is largely based in terms of its driving experience, being more incisive and generally more alert in its actions than its four-door stablemate.
The M440i xDrive sets a high standard of performance, though ultimately it will be the milder versions upon which its sales success will hinge. To these eyes, it’s not the prettiest car BMW has ever produced. But it’s one whose clear purpose and heightened dynamic properties make it a very convincing and entertaining proposition.