You’ve no doubt spent a good deal of time eyeballing pictures of the new 4 Series Coupé and formulated opinions regarding what’s perhaps the boldest interpretation of the kidney grille to ever grace the snout of a BMW. Yes, even the X7’s seemingly all-inhaling grille garners fewer slack-jawed stares than this bold set of nostrils so let’s deal with the elephant in the room – the 4’s design – before delving into what really matters: its on-road talents.
The German Big Three have, in recent years, stumbled into the design-related pitfall that is otherwise known as the cookie-cutter effect. A cursory glance at most product line-ups often confronts you with what looks like the same car, stretched or squashed to fit its particular price bracket. While familial styling is especially important in the realm of premium cars, it’s also galling for owners of halo models to see little in the way of visual separation between their cars and lower-tier products.
It’s fair to say BMW’s radical reboot of the 4 Series doesn’t so much sidestep any such concerns, but rather swerves clear of them by a country mile. BMW saw fit to distance the 4 as much as possible from the 3 Series with which it is mechanically related. Instead, they had a particular audience in its crosshairs: affluent, mature, less encumbered by kids and – a term often used at the launch event in Stellenbosch – edgy. The juxtaposition of graceful curves on the rear haunches and flanks terminating in a bluff, aggressive-looking nose may not sit well with everyone but there’s no denying it’s a real attention grabber, making its rivals from Audi and Mercedes look quite pedestrian.
Inside, the general layout is a subtly massaged version of the 3’s facia, replete with the impressive fit and finish. Rear legroom is slightly more generous than that of the outgoing 4, owing to a platform that’s around 40 mm longer in the wheelbase than that of its forebear, although being 57 mm lower and possessed of a dramatically raked C-pillar means rear headroom isn’t particularly generous. Fortunately, the boot is a more practically packaged affair with a depth that looks particularly golf-bag friendly.
Under its striking shell, the 4 shares a modified version of BMW’s wide-ranging CLAR modular platform with the 3 Series, adding a 23 mm-wider rear track, additional structural bracing above the suspension struts and engine bay, and a power steering module that’s been tuned specifically for the 4’s lower centre of gravity and stiffer ride.
The result is not a massive departure from the sedan in terms of general road manners. It feels just as impressively supple and composed as the 3 in most driving scenarios. Yet, oddly enough, the M440i’s ride proved less affected by bump lurch than the M Sport-equipped 420d that we sampled on the launch route; perhaps an upshot of the additional weight that inline-six engine and all-wheel drivetrain places over the axles.
Pressing on in a more spirited manner does, however, reveal a car that’s palpably sharper than its four-door relative. The steering is light but alert, while the huge reserves of grip channelled to the road via the AWD system and the standard M Sport differential make tucking the nose into a string of corners on the Western Cape’s Franschhoek Pass and Clarence Drive deeply satisfying.
The rest of the local 4 Coupé range comprises four-cylinder models in the guises of the 420i, with its 135 kW 2,0-litre turbocharged petrol and the 140 kW 420d. Although the diesel is refined and the 400 N.m of peak torque lends it pleasing flexibility, there’s simply no substitute for the punch and aural drama served up by the 3,0-litre turbopetrol engine. Coupled with a well-calibrated 8-speed transmission – developing 275 kW and a whopping 500 N.m of torque from just 1 900 r/min – it’s another one of those setups that appears to throw down a weighty gauntlet to the upcoming M4.
In all, the 4 Series Coupé represents a thoroughly polished and satisfyingly wieldy new branch of the BMW midsize tree, blessed with both the visual and experiential distinction from the 3 Series for which its predecessor was found wanting.
The styling is divisive but like the Bangle-penned BMWs of the Noughties, it will likely grow on its audience in due time. Besides, where’s the appeal in being instantly liked when you can instead be challenged?