The experiment worked. BMW’s attempt to separate the 4 Series range from the 3 Series by, well, calling it the 4 Series, has been successful enough to warrant a second generation.
The 2021 BMW 4 Series is still largely 3 Series based, but since every BMW from the 3 Series up uses a modular architecture, you could argue that every car in the range is based on a 3 Series.
For the new generation, the G22 series in BMW-speak, the 4 is even further set apart from the 3 with more distinct styling. It isn’t my place to say whether the styling direction works or not, but before you make a definitive decision, I would strongly suggest looking at one in person. Real-world proportions make a difference.
For now, there are just the coupe models, but a convertible has been revealed overseas and is destined for Australia in early 2021. It switches from a folding hardtop back to a fabric roof, and runs the same powertrain line-up as the coupe.
The Australian range comprises three variants for now. There are four-cylinder turbo engines under the bonnets of the 420i and 430i matched to rear-wheel drive and eight-speed automatic transmissions.
The M440i xDrive steps up to the iconic BMW straight six, also turbocharged to the tune of 285kW and 500Nm, driven through an all-wheel-drive system linked via an eight-speed automatic.
Power ramps up from 135kW and 300Nm in the 420i to 190kW and 400Nm in the 430i. Acceleration to 100km/h ranges from 7.5 seconds to 5.8 seconds for the four-cylinder twins, respectively. The M440i lays down a 4.5-second sprint.
Pricing starts from $70,900 for the 420i, $88,900 for the 430i, and $116,900 for the M440i xDrive, all before on-road costs.
|2021 BMW 420i||2021 BMW 430i||2021 BMW M440i xDrive|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol||3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||135kW at 6500rpm, 300Nm at 1350–4000rpm||190kW at 6500rpm, 400Nm at 1550–4400rpm||285kW at 6500rpm, 500Nm at 1900–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed automatic||Eight-speed automatic||Eight-speed automatic|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.4L/100km||6.6L/100km||7.8L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year rated)||Unrated||Unrated||Unrated|
|Warranty (years / km)||3 years / unlimited km||3 years / unlimited km||3 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi A5 40 TFSI, Mercedes-Benz C200||Lexus RC300, Audi A5 45 TFSI||Mercedes-AMG C43, Lexus RC F|
|List price (excl. on-road costs)||$70,900||$88,900||$116,900|
The real surprise package, though, is that entry-level model. In fact, whereas the 430i was the most popular variant, BMW believes the 420i will overtake it in the new generation.
After some time behind the wheel, it’s not hard to see why.
For one thing, the 420i looks as good as the M440i, really. Every 4 Series in Australia comes equipped with M Sport styling, so the visual aggression and big-wheeled stance are baked in.
Driving dynamics are really enthusiastic, too. In Comfort mode, the steering tends to be a little light for my taste (it’s more of a super-assisted tight car park weight), but you can leave the engine and transmission in Comfort and toggle the steering to Sport for a Goldilocks balance.
The nose tucks in eagerly through bends, and the handling is stable and secure. It’s not an energetic or knife-edge chassis tune. It’s just a quality tourer ready to roll its sleeves up and pitch in on a winding road.
It’s not quick, though. There’s some pep in its step, and a little bit of grumble from the engine if you keep the revs high. You won’t set speed records, though, and you won’t find yourself hunting for tunnels and rock walls to bounce the exhaust note off.
It’s more civilised than any of that. But with sport-tuned suspension and passive dampers, plus substantial 19-inch wheels wrapped in 225/40R19 front and 255/35R19 tyres, it manages to ride well, handle well, and stick faithfully to the road.
Entry-level buyers also get a decent list of standard inclusions with electrically adjustable front sport seats including driver's memory, wireless phone charger, LED headlights with high-beam assist, DAB+ digital radio, Parking Assistant including BMW’s clever Reversing Assistant function, and Driving Assist functions including lane-departure warning, lane-change warning, front collision warning with brake intervention, rear cross-traffic warning, and rear collision prevention.
The entire 4 Series range includes BMW OS 7.0 driving the infotainment system. A colour head-up display, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch touch display provide the display real estate, while inputs are handled by a console-mounted iDrive controller.
Voice commands have been overhauled, and OS 7.0 can do more than before. Conjuring the ‘Hey, BMW’ Intelligent Personal Assistant allows additional functions to be controlled, so on top of changing radio stations or finding addresses, it can now be used to open the windows or change driving mode without the need to shift your eyes from the road – if that’s your thing.
The 430i adds M adaptive dampers to go with its more powerful engine, but it's hard to say for certain if they’re really beneficial. On rural roads, the adaptive suspension tended to wiggle and jiggle slightly over the ever-changing tarmac underneath.
Conversely, the passive dampers on the 420i were simply smooth, settled and fluid, which feels like a much better approach.
The extra engine performance isn’t immediately obvious. Rolling through town, the 430i lopes along about as eagerly as the 420i. It's not until you explore beyond the mid-range that you can feel a bit more top-end urge.
Handy for overtaking, and certainly useful during spirited runs, but not appreciably better dawdling around town. For commuter duty, a 430i won't paste a bigger smile on your face than a 420i could, if that’s what you’re after.
If you are driving with intent, the ability to firm up the dampers does make sense, keeping tighter control of body movements through twitchy switchbacks. There’s also a Sport Plus mode, on top of the regular Sport mode, which is the easiest way to uncork the extra grunt.
There are also augmented engine sounds, which purr away like a playing card in a bike spoke, rather than sounding like an authentic performance noise.
There’s also a decent amount of additional kit on the 430i, though it's hard not to think that some of it probably shouldn’t be excluded from the 420i. Things like proximity entry and adaptive cruise control are added for the 430i, but probably shouldn’t be excluded from the base model at almost $71K.
The 430i also adds (and debuts) BMW Digital Key for iPhone users. The system allows a verified owner to use their phone in place of a regular key to unlock the car and start the ignition, as an extension of the Wallet app. The system can even remain active with a flat phone battery, and allows owners to share vehicle access.
It’s clever, but as demonstrated to us at the launch, it’s finicky, and requires fairly precise positioning of the phone against the doorhandle, taking an uncomfortably long moment to register.
Other 430i upgrades include M Sport brakes, Parking Assistant Plus with surround-view cameras, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane-control assistant, lane-keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and evasion aid.
If the 430i isn’t quite the high point in the range it ought to be, then the M440i more than makes up for it.
The flagship is the clear sports car here. The beefy straight-six engine has plenty of muscle to flex, the ride and handling really suit the performance on offer, and the soundtrack is more purposeful.
As for the all-wheel-drive system, while it might be relatively new to Australian audiences, BMW has plenty of experience with all-paw traction, and it shows. The M440i still feels rear-wheel driven, but in tricky situations the front wheels can chime in without dulling the experience, while steering feel and handling survive unscathed.
Interestingly, the M440i could be a touch more controllable at the limit than the 430i, but that could only be down to the shared load between axles.
Acceleration is satisfactorily immediate, no matter where the tacho needle sits on the dial. There’s a bit less noise and aggression overall than some earlier turbo six-cylinder BMWs. Blame stricter emissions standards – even if they don’t apply here.
It is brisk off the line, and feels pointy at any speed. White-knuckle enthusiasts might baulk at the tamer rear end right on the limit, but for most drivers the in-check feel is sure to be far more appealing.
Unfortunately, some of the same minor gripes from the 3 Series rear their heads in the 4 Series range.
Interior ambience is pegged back by the command centre in the console. While the matte-black plastic blob might get a passing grade in the 420i, just, by the time you’ve spent well north of $100K on the M440i, the upmarket feel is diminished.
BMW uses crystal and gloss-black finishes on the X5 and 8 Series models with the same modular design, and even a Kia Cerato gets by with less bargain-basement finishes. It could be time to step the 4 Series up to suit.
By that same measure, cabin quality, while largely impressive, still fell short in some areas. The 420i I drove had a persistent rattle from the seatbelt handover arm, while the 430i and M440i both had creaky, flexy steering wheel plastics. Neither is a deal-breaker, but for factory-fresh cars, the standards should be higher.
With that, BMW sticks to a three-year warranty while the industry at large prefers five years as a minimum. There’s no distance cap, but it's time that matters the most, either for owners holding a car past a three-year lease, or for stronger resale and peace of mind for second owners.
Fuel watchers may also note that the 430i’s extra urge has a minimal impact on official fuel claims, rated at 6.6L/100km compared to 6.4L/100km for the 420i, while the M440i clocks in at 7.8L/100km.
The launch drive didn’t offer a typical set of back-to-back conditions, but in moderate conditions the 420i returned 8.3L/100km. The M440i, pushed much harder, settled at 12.3L/100km. We’ll clock more accurate figures as the range passes through the garage.
BMW has certainly proved that separating the 4 Series from the 3 Series works.
Interestingly, it feels like the 420i might be the early pick of the range. It’s an awful shame, then, that some of the tech you take for granted in cheaper mainstream cars is optional equipment on the base 4 Series.
Still, $2900 for a Driver Assistant pack to get adaptive cruise and surround-view cameras, and $846 for keyless entry (or even $2200 for the Comfort pack), feels like money better spent in righting the spec wrongs of the basic car. Otherwise, you’ll have to stump up $18,000 for the 430i and spoil the ride on adaptive suspension it doesn’t need.
That's not to say BMW hasn’t been crafty with its model walk. The 430i outright is far better value than adding everything to a 420i, and the bigger power figures are always enticing, but you can’t un-option the equipment you don’t want. Frustratingly sensible to the benefit of BMW’s ordering logistics, not customer demands.
There’s just so little benefit to the 430i for crawling through traffic or rounding up the weekly shop that the 420i really shines. Conversely, the M440i is still the standout performance star. Nothing changes that.
With the regular 4 Series in better shape than it's ever been over its two-generation lifespan, there’s no doubt that BMW’s engineers can still deliver unbridled driver enjoyment when they set their minds to it.
My tip, though, is to not hedge your bets on the mid-grade model. Entry-level or top-spec delivers the biggest rewards and the purest driving thrills.