This two-door 4 Series looks exactly as you would expect a coupe 3 Series variant to be styled. And it has all the predictable BMW coupe design elements we've seen so often over the years - the short overhangs, the long bonnet, the set-back passenger compartment, the shallow frameless side windows leading into the signature Hofmeister kink on each C-pillar and a flowing roofline that offers up a low, stretched silhouette. With so much familiar, how is it that this car can be so different and dynamic in its appeal?
Move past the tick-shaped Air Breather ducts behind the wheel arches in the aluminium-crafted front wings and you'll find rear haunches that, for the first time on a mid-sized BMW coupe, were the widest part of the car, their swell giving a fantastic power-packed look to the rear end, like a bottle rocket that's about to launch. The rear end continues the theme, emphasising this model's increased track width through prominent horizontal lines and stretched L-shaped LED taillights at the outer extremities of the car.
It's the styling that's the most credible confirmation of BMW's desire to differentiate this '4' from its 3 Series stablemate. Though the two cars use the same engines and basic platform, in exterior panel terms, the bonnet is the only thing they share, this coupe being 14mm wider and some 52mm lower than its four-door sibling - 14mm longer too to create an overall length almost identical to first generation versions of its Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class Coupe rivals. The overall effect was to visually lower and widen this design to create a far more dynamic look than the old 3 Series Coupe could ever offer. You'll notice that up front too, where the grille and the xenon headlights give the effect of a car that's got a lot of gravity acting on it, hunkered down purposefully to the tarmac.
The driving position's lower-set too, but that, the 'belt butler' that (rather slowly) hands you your strap once you get in and the grippy three-spoke sports steering wheel are really just about the only things setting this cabin apart from that of any other compact BMW. The fundamental ergonomics are virtually flawless and it all works so well, the main dials in particular a model of clarity. We particularly like the easy access to the climate and stereo controls that doesn't require you having to root around in submenus on an infotainment touch screen. You don't get one of those in this car - and you don't need it because BMW's iDrive system works so well, even if its screen isn't quite as well integrated into the dash layout as, say, you'll find with the Audi MMI set-up. There's a lot on it - from maintenance schedules and visual handbook representations to the many, varied and mainly optional functions that make up the Munich maker's ConnectedDrive system. And it's all very easy to find, particularly with the revised rotary controller that's part of the optional BMW Professional set-up many original owners specified.
Getting into the back isn't the easiest task in the world and once you're snuggled in there, you'll find a slightly strange combination of decent legroom but rather pinched headroom. The extra 50mm of wheelbase this car enjoys over its 3 Series Coupe predecessor really tells here, freeing up 13mm more stretching room for your lower limbs. Unfortunately, the lowering of the roofline by 16mm that was necessary to achieve those slinky looks will see taller folk grazing their scalps on the headlining. Still, assuming they're not sat behind a couple of basketball players, most adults will be fine in the back on all but the longest trips.
There'll be reasonable room for their luggage too. Once open, the boot reveals a large but shallow 445-litre space that probably does quite well to get within a whisker of the cargo capacity of slightly frumpier-looking rivals. BMW insisted on charging extra for a split-folding rear bench from new, but most original buyers specified that.
Most of the 4 Series Coupe buyers in our ownership survey were very happy with their cars but inevitably, there were a few that had issues. One owner had to replace a catalytic converter, an exhaust pipe and an auxiliary radiator, while on another, the air tube on the turbo broke. Elsewhere in our survey, there were problems with water pump thermostats and rear indicator bulbs. On one car, the front camera tended to fail in high climate temperatures or when sunlight directly shone on it. Niggly problems included a failure of the trunk release, the remote entry system and the front passenger's electric seat. There are also issues with the surfaces of the alloy wheels pitting: check the rims carefully on the car you're looking at.
(approx prices based on a 2014 420d ex VAT) An air filter costs in the £9 to £20 bracket, though you could pay up to around £53 for pricier brands. An oil filter costs around £15 and a fuel filter costs around £24. Brake pads sit in the £25 to £45 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £70 to £95 for pricier brands. Brake discs sits in the £43 to £95 bracket, though for pricier brands, you could pay in the £125 to £145 bracket or even as much as £265-£340. Wiper blades cost around £5, with pricier brands in the £14 to £16 bracket. Ae wing mirror glass is priced at around £30-£40. A radiator costs in the £187 to £225 bracket.
On The Road
Dynamically, the Munich engineers would have struggled to go too far wrong with any car based on underpinnings as good as those of the E30 sixth generation 3 Series saloon, a design seemingly forever unchallenged as the dynamic model of choice in its segment. So let's remind you of the basic winning formula here: front engine, rear wheel drive and near perfect 50:50 weight distribution, further aided here by a low-slung stance that gives this 4 Series the lowest centre of gravity of any BMW from this era.
It helps that feedback from the tactile, pleasantly chunky three-spoke sports steering wheel is far better than you fear an electric steering system might offer, complementing corner turn-in aided by the fact that the front end of this car is fully 60% stiffer than that of its 3 Series Coupe predecessor. So it impresses at first acquaintance, but it's also the sort of car that has more to give the more you ask of it. Just how much more depends upon a number of factors, the first of which is your selection of modes from the standard Drive Performance Control system, the rocker switch for which you'll find down by the gearstick.
You might be familiar with this kind of thing by now, a set-up that allows you to tweak the steering, throttle and stability control system thresholds depending on the operating mode you select. Gearchange times too if you're in a car whose original owner decided against the slick 6-speed stick shifter ordered his or her car with the 8-speed auto transmission that comes with steering wheel paddles and a natty launch control system for would-be Schumachers. That auto 'box was standard on more powerful models. Ignore Drive Performance Control - or select its most relaxed 'Comfort' or efficient 'ECO PRO' settings - and the travelling experience in this car, though very comfortable, isn't especially memorable. Push the rocker switch forward into 'Sport' though and the reaction you get immediately feels keener and more alert. More like the kind of 4 Series enthusiasts would expect this car to be.
Original buyers who really wanted to create that kind of machine though, had to spend a bit of extra money, primarily on the Adaptive Suspension set-up, a system able to alter the ride to suit the road you're on and the mood you're in. It'll firm up nicely in 'Sport' mode and, in the additional 'Sport +' setting, it'll relax the DSC control to give you a little more tail-out cornering leeway - if you should be that way inclined.
Tail-out tearaways will probably want to avoid variants fitted with the xDrive 4WD system you'll be glad to have in the winter months, distributing as it can almost 100 per cent of power to either axle or a mix between both front and rear, so keeping this car firmly planted through the tightest bends. The xDrive system came as an affordable option with very little performance or efficiency penalty on both of the entry-level 2.0-litre petrol or diesel models, the 420i and the 420d. Over 60% of original buyers favoured this BMW in black pump form, mostly choosing the four cylinder 420d derivative, a variant offered first with 184bhp and later with 190bhp. This engine gives you nearly 30% more pulling power than you'll get from its petrol-fuelled 2.0-litre 420i petrol counterpart. The most obvious stats don't immediately bear this out - both cars make 62mph from rest in around 7.5s on the way to a top speed of just under 150mph - but you really feel it out on the road.
If you do need more, then of course there are plenty of further options. Diesel drivers in search of more horsepower have to have six cylinders and an automatic gearbox, either with the 262bhp 430d, good for 62mph in 5.5s, or the 317bhp 435d which is nearly a second faster and offers xDrive as standard. Both models must be artificially restrained at 155mph, as must the two properly quick mainstream petrol variants. First amongst these is the 245bhp four cylinder 428i, good for 62mph in 4.9s, which makes it only fractionally slower than the six cylinder 306bhp 435i - and at a substantial saving. If we couldn't stretch to the flagship 431bhp six cylinder twin turbo supercar-slaying M4 model, then we think the 428 would be our variant of choice.
So is this BMW 4 Series the coupe that does it all, the class benchmark from its era, the go-to choice in its segment? The answer's probably yes. Overall, there's a sustained level of excellence shot throughout this car that Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class Coupe rivals can't quite match, something especially evident when it comes to handling dynamics. There's a levity about this 4 Series, a certain joy you get in driving it that the others can't quite match. Great then, that it does all the sensible stuff really well too. You get impressive safety systems, a big boot, plenty of rear legroom, excellent day to day running costs and residual values that are markedly superior to this model's two key rivals. Which all helps your conscience. Why? Because this is a car that, exactly because of those attributes, you can buy and use - and use hard - without that nagging sense of guilt that you may have over-indulged yourself.
Can it be criticised? Perhaps. Some have found it a rather overly mature proposition, but these we think are people who would be better suited by Toyota GT86-style coupes more aimed at hot hatch folk - an approach that wouldn't really work with the target demographic here. Otherwise, assuming you can afford the asking price, just about the only thing that's perhaps open to complaint is that the interior isn't quite as exciting as maybe it ought to be. But a carefully specified version of this 4 Series can still be pretty special in that respect. What's not up for debate is that here, BMW built decisively the best car in its class.