The BMW 4 Series is, essentially, the result of a naming shuffle that split the two-door version of the 3 Series to have its own dedicated range. But as it’s now divorced from the four-door sedan, it still shares plenty while clearly having more effort put into it for the sake of differentiation. It competes with the Audi A5, predominantly, but is often compared to the two Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and Convertible.
Despite all this, you're still more than inclined to just summarise it as a 3 Series coupe, which is entirely forgivable. But here’s the thing: BMW has gotten quite good at making sporty cars, and a the nameplate to which it shares lineage has one of the most distinguished among enthusiasts.
BMW unveiled the F30-generation 3 Series in 2011, and soon after came the F32 4 Series Coupe, which led shortly to the 4 Series Convertible (F33), then a four-door version called the Gran Coupe (F36). As you’d expect, the main differences point to desirability and practicality, with the 4 Series - in any body style - favouring the former over the latter.
On paper, though, and depending on your needs, those sacrifices can seem trivial. Overall, the 4 Series is a very accomplished all-rounder, just like its sedan counterpart. Offered with both petrol and diesel engines, great build quality, and imbued with the famed BMW rear-driven handling characteristics, there’s little to find real fault with here. Maybe. Again, it comes down to priorities.
“You might argue that a 3 Series is classy enough for BMW to continue with a coupé that looks and feels just like it, except with two fewer doors. But things have inevitably changed with the inexorable rise of Audi.” - Autocar
Surprise surprise, the 4 Series is styled much like the 3 Series, only sleeker and sportier. That pretty much sums up the design brief back in Munich, but its executed with great finesse. Despite occupying similar footprints on the road, the 4 Series’ combination of sloping roofline and wider haunches give it a more hunkered stance. It’s a looker, this one.
BMW has been honing this aesthetic that uses plenty of contours, both soft and sharp, to create a fluidic design that implies motion even when at a standstill; here, it’s perhaps best emphasised. Only the Convertible has some visual caveats as the metal roof mechanism necessitates a shape that isn’t quite as tapered as the Coupe or Gran Coupe when folded up. As always with a BMW, picking the M Sport pack will result most aggressive looking exterior, accompanying the self-explanatory Luxury line and halfway house Sport trim.
Engine and Drivetrain
“The only engine to avoid is the basic 420i petrol, which revs quickly enough but simply can’t match the in-gear response of the diesels; it has to be worked hard to make reasonable progress.” - What Car?
Powering the 4 Series is essentially a mirror of the 3 Series’ range of engines and transmissions. This means a choice of either a 2.0-litre four-cylinder or 3.0-litre six-cylinder. An in-line arrangement, twin-scroll turbocharged, and longitudinally-mounted, burning either diesel or petrol.
They’re all very impressive engines, especially the 3.0-litre petrol as it suits the sportier image of the 4 Series. Available in the 440i, it generates a meaty 240kW and 450Nm smoothly up the revs. BMW claims it can serve up a 6.8-litres/100km economy figure, but that may take some very focused ‘hyper-miling' techniques.
Frugality is the speciality of the diesel though, which is offered here in a 2.0-litre capacity. Relatively quiet and brimming with torque, though, and capable of a consistent 4.2-litres/100km. The petrol burning version of this 2.0-litre block is found in the 420i and 430i, and tuned to produce a satisfying135kW or a hot-hatch-esque 185kW.
The four-cylinders are impressive in isolation, but just cannot match the straight-six’s vocal range. Important in a car like this, we reckon. Either way, you’re going to want the 8-speed automatic as it’s a really smooth operator. The six-speed manual option is more involving, yes, but ultimately a weaker overall experience next to the ZF-sourced slushbox.
“The problem comes with that predictability – the sense that you could just be sitting in a standard 3 Series or even a 1 Series hatchback. The 4 Series […] doesn’t really stand out or feel particularly special.” - AutoExpress
While rivals like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and Audi A5 may offer more flash and brutalist modernity, in that order, BMW’s have taken a more functional approach - in a sporty way. The materials are high quality, build is top notch, and the control placements and weights are better judged than any competitor in this price range.
Every 4 Series comes with leather for the seat upholstery and steering wheel but if you’re used to more extravagance, the BMW approach may not impress. Though, it’s hard to pick at the amount of care put into how the interior will aid the driving experience.
Visibility is fair all around, but slightly compromised in the Convertible with the roof raised. The rear seats here and in the Coupe are completely usable, but far from ideal for ferrying adults over a longer journey. That said, they are comfortable and while the space for second row occupants is only passable, you’ll really want the Gran Coupe to solve this should it be a recurring issue. It’s not a true five-seater, but both legroom and headroom are an improvement over the two-doored body styles and there’s even a larger boot than in the 3 Series sedan.
Behind The Wheel
“The 4 is on safe ground here. It’s simply the best car to drive in its class, with a genuine appetite for being leant on through corners, a deft and sweet balance thanks to 50:50 weight distribution between the front and rear axles, and exceedingly honed powertrains.” - Top Gear
Over the years, BMW cars have had to adapt to new technologies that have gradually robbed them that finer analogue feedback. The same goes for every modern automaker, to be sure, but the Munich outfit has done more than most to preserve that sensation.
The ride is firm but not crashy, and the steering is direct but also composed at high speed. A lot of cars feel safe behind the wheel, but driving the BMW 4 Series - particularly the Coupe - quickly transmits a confidence in its abilities and yours. Not for any singular reason, either, but a combination of factors that instil a familiarity with it.
The 3 Series is a class act in the handling department, even more so after the facelift, and the 4 Series is no different. It’s can be playful when pushed, but with the systems left on, there’s ample grip through corners and an incisive front end. We do wish there was more communication through the steering, though.
Safety and Technology
On the safety front, the 4 Series hasn’t been crash tested as a coupe by Euro NCAP, but the 3 Series was in 2012 and it scored a maximum five stars. - AutoExpress
ANCAP awarded the F30 3 Series a with a 5-star safety rating upon testing it in 2012, and while that isn’t a direct endorsement of the 4 Series, both cars share a near-identical structure and safety feature list. The 4’ comes with dual side and head airbags, lane departure warning, reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection, and autonomous emergency braking as standard.
The technology package in the BMW mostly surrounds the excellent iDrive system that’s viewed via an 8.8-inch central display with onboard navigation, controllable using the rotary knob just behind the gear lever. It’s honestly one of the easier to use in-car system out there, but is technically outdone by the Audi Virtual Cockpit.
There’s no doubting that the 4 Series is one of BMW’s most compelling offerings, and given how many flavours it’s offered in, there’s plenty of choice as to which would best suit your needs. If you find 3 Series too common or would rather have something a driving experience that’s more emotionally charged, and don’t mind sacrificing some practicality, BMW’s first stab at a ‘new’ compact exec coupe may be just up your alley.
Top Gear - 8/10 - “Less inviting to own than a Mercedes C-coupe, but scores points with excellent driving dynamics, a strong range, well laid-out cabin and class-best infotainment.”
AutoExpress - 4/5 - “The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe blends the 4 Series Coupe’s sharp design with some of the 3 Series’ practicality.”
CarsGuide - 3.5/5 - “The sharpening of the sticker prices and the additional spec helps their cause as well, with the 430i Coupe probably our pick of the range. The 440i is the firecracker of the group, while the 420d is also worth a look, thanks to its value and prodigious torque output.”
What Car? - 4/5 - “The BMW 4 Series is a classy and fun four-seat coupé. Few cars in this class have such a broad range of abilities.”
AutoExpress - 4/5 - “BMW 4 Series [Coupe] is essentially a two-door coupe version of the 3 Series, but there's enough differences to justify the name change. It’s a class act all round, with a top-drawer engine range that delivers great performance and economy, and composed yet entertaining rear-wheel drive handling.”
Autocar - 4/5 - “…what surprised us – and disappointed us a little – was that the car feels more the junior 6 Series than the added-amusement 3 Series. Its ability to cover ground in rich, quick and comfortable fashion is more convincing than its capacity to slice delicately through a corner. On performance, desirability, usability, comfort and more, this is a seriously accomplished product that merits its top billing.”
Motoring.com.au - 73/100 - “For the moment, the 4 Series is improved, and still a good product, but a buyer choosing the 4 Series over the C-Class will be increasingly predicated on transaction price and the intangibles – does the BMW make the buyer feel better than the Benz?”