It's got a lot of front
We’re going to start at the beginning. Literally. The front. And oh my what a lot of front it has.
The new 4 Series’ flared nostrils have inflamed all conversation about the car – indeed about BMW design in general – ever since it was shown on a concept in September last year.
Actually, I’m less offended by the main grille design than most people are. My beef is the wider facial ensemble and its secondary apertures and fins and gills. The kidney pair is largely blanked off.
If it weren’t, surely those other holes (which are mostly falsies too) wouldn’t be necessary at all. BMW is, or was, a company driven by the technical rather than the melodramatic. Do we need all this?
Oh, and another thing. At what point in the design process did someone do a double-take and venture, “Hey guys, haven’t we forgotten the number plate?”
The concept had a Perspex plate that showed the grilles in all their… glory. The production car’s plate of course has to be opaque, breaking up the effect.
It’s like getting a forehead tattoo, then growing a fringe that partially veils it.
There's a lower profile compared to the 3
From the side, we also see this 4 Series diverges significantly from today’s 3 Series. Under the skin too, unlike the first 4 Series which was largely just a renamed, slightly wider and lower pillarless 3er. (Which had actually been the case ever since it was called the 3 Series Coupe back in the E36 era beginning in 1990.)
The 3 sedan's main feature line, by the way, is above the door handles and it doesn’t have that bulge over the rear wheels, so its character as well as its outline are more formally upright.
The proportions do the same job: the Coupe is nearly 60mm lower overall than the saloon, and the rear wheels are a finger’s width further out at each side. So it’s got more stance, and likely better grip, a fact further amplified by the 21mm lower centre of gravity.
You could actually say this 4 Series Coupe is inhabited by essence of 8 Series, although the lines are simplified, less baroque. The straight line at mid-height along the side ties the font and rear together nicely, and the roof silhouette has a more elegant curve.
It's lighter and stronger
The body doesn’t only look different to the 3 sedan's, it’s made of different stuff. The front wings, bonnet and doors are all aluminium to save weight and move its distribution further back.
Under all that, the body is stiffened in several places around the front strut towers, the bulkhead and the rear axle attachments. The aim is more driving precision, evidently.
It should be sharper to steer
Revised suspension geometry – more racy negative camber at the front – should have the same effect as the stiffer body. That is, making it a tauter thing to steer. The 3 Series’ clever ‘lift-related’ passive dampers type is used, but all moving suspension parts are firmed up.
In the UK, a lower M Sport suspension is standard. There’ll be optional adaptive setups too. The comms out of Munich says it’s notably more agile than the sedan. And remember, the sedan already tends toward a nuggety-riding dynamic over pillowy comfort.
There's plenty of power: six cylinders, turbo, hybrid boost
Pending the M4, the 4-in-chief is the M440i xDrive. This has a better powertrain than even the M340i sedan and Touring.
In the M440i xDrive, the 374hp of the terrific straight-six gets an extra 'electric boost' hit of 11hp from the 48V mild-hybrid system, which will give you 385hp in a pinch. Its snap of extra e-torque should also swat away the 40i turbo lag – not that there’s much to begin with.
I speak as one who adores the M340i xDrive, as a Touring especially, so this car has it all to muck up. But signs are it won’t. Again there’s the benefit of the enhanced feel and precision in the suspension, and the active torque vectoring of the xDrive.
Other engines are available
If you still seek purity on your BMWs I’d commend the 430i. One of my drives of the year in 2018 was in a 330i. Because it’s four-cylinder and RWD, it’s lighter and more nimble than the sixes, with clearer messages coming through the steering. It’s at its best on a dry and a tightly curving empty road. Anyway the 430i gets the same remarkably sweet and punchy 258hp engine. You can even spec it with an M Sport active diff.
Of course you can also save some money by having the same engine with less boost. That’s the 420i.
The diesels all now have two turbos, and mild hybrid. The 420d is the company-car special, in a good way. It drops as low as 103g/km but still makes 190hp and cracks 100km/h in 7.1 secs.
There’s also a 420d with xDrive, and next spring it’ll be topped by a pair of sixes, the 430d xDrive and M440d xDrive. That last one serves up 340hp and a walloping 700Nm of torque. And a (provisional) 6.7l/100km WLTP.
All cars will feature the 8spd autobox.
There'll be M and i versions to come, and cabrio and Gran Coupe
This 4 Series coupe will sire an M4, of course, with a straight-six recently launched in the X3 M. Launch being the operative word: it’s good for 510hp. But the tyres will be relieved to know it has a 4WD.
In 2021 there’s a cabrio (fabric roofed this time) and Gran Coupe – one of BMW’s best cars in its current generation, and this time available as an M4 too.
And the yang to the M-Power yin: the i4 electric car, which will mostly share the Gran Coupe’s body, but with its own wheels, drag-shaving aero aids and flashes of i blue trim.
Petrol engines will live for decades
Why does the i4 share the combustion-cars’ platform, when the i3’s was unique and had its own unique plant? BMW’s product strategy chief Peter Henrich tells Top Gear, “The i3 was visionary and is still modern. We learned a lot. But it was limited in scalability. We want to take electromobility to core segments for BMW and our customers. The i4 has a Gran Coupe concept which is at the heart of BMW”.
See, Henrich reckons that petrol, diesel, PHEV and EV versions will all be in demand for decades. Hence the need for a versatile platform that’ll suit them all.
The man from the Bavarian Motor Works adds: “It’s not the engine alone that creates the characteristic of a BMW. It’s a lot of different elements – steering balance, the axles etcetera. The electric drivetrain brings assets, like immediate torque, an input we embrace.”
But, y'know, that grille…
Oh and the i4, like the 4 Series, has the enormo-grille too.
That said it won’t, BMW’s design director Domagoj Dukec tells Top Gear, turn up in the same form on all BMWs. He wants them to have more individual looks.
But he isn’t apologising any. “We never used the radiator itself as an identity, like Cadillac, Mercedes and Rolls-Royce did. All of our early kidneys were vertical. So it’s not just us changing things for change’s sake. It’s our original. It doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
Anyway, you can have an opinion on the looks but it’s not really your choice. Dukec told me, “Premium isn’t about customers telling us what they want. It’s our researchers seeing how people react. We define how BMW looks.”
But BMW isn’t just one thing any more. “We have so many cars in the range. Some are more elegant and some are more expressive. But not all of them are both – you don’t mix sweet and salty popcorn.”
STORY Paul Horrell