The BMW 3 Series Coupe has always bridged the gap between sleek sports car and sober-suited saloon. As a result, it’s traditionally been seen as a rakish two-door saloon rather than an attention-grabbing coupe.
However, that’s all set to change with the latest model, which has a new name – 4 Series – and a racy new look. This fresh addition to BMW’s ever-expanding model line-up is longer, lower and wider than the 3 Series Coupe, and at launch it offers a choice of three engines and five trims. For the first time, there’s also a trio of xDrive-badged all-wheel-drive versions. And with proven 3 Series mechanicals under the skin, the new 4 Series promises to be great to drive and surprisingly cost-effective to run.
But will it be a class leader like the 3 Series saloon? To find out, we’ve put the entry-level 420d SE up against the Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class Coupe. Like the BMW, these desirable models combine head-turning looks and sharp driving dynamics with strong premium badge appeal. So, has BMW come up with another winning number?
The dictionary definition of a coupe is “a two-door car with a fixed roof and a sloping rear” – so the profile clearly counts for a lot if these models are going to be considered real coupes rather than two-door executive saloons. All three look the part, but the 4 Series and A5 have a lower roofline than the Mercedes, while the BMW stands out with its long wheelbase, high shoulder line and flowing lines.
The 4 Series features the latest generation of BMW’s iDrive cabin control set-up. It gets a bigger controller and very clear navigation mapping. But the Audi’s MMI and Mercedes’ COMAND packages are equally easy to use – and all three are better options than the fiddly touchscreen systems of some rivals.
With a manual gearbox, the 181bhp 420d is the slowest car here from 0-60mph, posting a time of 7.8 seconds. But the 4 Series hit back in our in-gear tests, where a 50kg weight advantage and shorter top gear gave it the edge over the Audi in the 50-70mph sprint. As the C-Class has 201bhp and 500Nm of torque, we weren’t surprised that it was the fastest car in all our tests – it does 0-60mph in 7.5 seconds. If you can live with less pace, the cheaper C220 CDI has 167bhp and 400Nm.
BMW has come up with yet another winner. The 4 Series mirrors the attributes of the class-leading 3 Series, and this 420d makes financial sense: it’s affordable to run and holds its value well. But what stands out is the sharp handling, smart cabin and top-notch engineering. Plus, it’s more practical and stylish than rivals. Whereas the BMW 3 Series is far from exclusive, with just shy of 25,000 finding UK homes to date this year, the 4 Series stands out a bit more on the road. It promise all the traditional strengths of the 3 Series with an added dollop of style.
Launched in 2007, the stylish Audi A5 is a stern rival for the new 4 Series. The desirable two-door is based on tried and tested A4 underpinnings, and effortlessly blends head-turning looks with a solid gold premium image and composed driving dynamics. A mid-life facelift in 2012 has kept the A5 looking fresh, while a choice of front-wheel-drive or quattro models, a wide spread of trims and a variety of engine options mean it’s still a very popular coupe. S line versions, in quattro or front-wheel drive, look great, but cheaper SEs appeal to fleet buyers. And all A5s are strong buys with their sure-footed handling, upmarket cabin and refined diesels. They’re just not as much fun or as strong residually as the BMW.
If the standard Mercedes C-Class is too dull for you, the Coupe serves up the extra style needed in this fiercely contested class. While the lower-spec Executive SE has a more traditional look, racier trims like our AMG Sport Plus mimic the image of the range-topping C63 AMG. And our car is the higher-powered C250 CDI diesel. Our Mercedes test car featured the £530 AMG chassis upgrades, but still wasn’t as good to drive as the BMW. So while the C-Class is still a classy coupe – with a fine CDI diesel engine and top-quality finish – in this company it’s outclassed.
|BMW 420d SE Coupe||Audi A5 Coupe 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic||Mercedes C250 CDI AMG Sport Plus Coupe|
|On-the-road price/total as tested||£31,575/£38,840||£37,225/£41,899||£36,795/£49,400|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/30,000)||£16,261/51.5%||£17,496/47.0%||£16,411/44.6%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£1,198/£2,396||£1,630/£3,260||£1,599/£3,199|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,711/£2,851||£2,143/£3,572||£2,255/£3,758|
|Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost||TBC/£568/D/£105||29/£392/E/£125||38/£483/E/£125|
|Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service||£425 (5yrs/50k)||£159/£309/£159||£25pcm (3yrs/36k)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,995cc||4cyl in-line/1,968cc||4cyl in-line/2,143cc|
|Peak power||181/4,000 bhp/rpm||175/4,200 bhp/rpm||201/4,200 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque||380/1,750 Nm/rpm||380/1,750 Nm/rpm||500/1,600 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||6-spd man/rwd||7-spd dual-clutch/4wd||7-spd auto/rwd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||57 litres/run-flat||61 litres/space saver||66 litres/space saver|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||455 litres/N/A||455/829 litres||450 litres/N/A|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||11.3 metres||11.4 metres||10.8 metres|
|Basic warranty (miles)/recovery||3yrs (unltd)/3yrs||3yrs (60,000)/3yrs||3yrs (unltd)/4yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||Variable (1yr)/154||Variable(1yr)/135||15,500 (1yr)/136|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||15th/24th||10th/23rd||5th/12th|
|Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./points||N/A||N/A||90/79/57/5|
|0-60/30-70mph||7.8/7.2 secs||8.0/8.1 secs||7.5/7.3 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.4/5.4 secs||3.4/4.8 secs||3.1/4.2 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th||6.3/8.7 secs||6.6/9.6 secs||5.7/7.4 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||149mph/2,000rpm||140mph/1,600rpm||149mph/1,600rpm|
|Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range||45.6/10.1/572 miles||36.4/8.1/488 miles||34.6/7.7/502 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||166/124g/km/19%||208/139g/km/22%||219/139g/km/22%|
|Airbags/Isofix/ rear parking sensors||Six/yes/yes||Six/yes/yes||Seven/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||Yes/yes/yes||Yes/yes/£300||Yes/£1,720/£330|
|Met paint/xenon lights/cruise control||£645/yes/yes||£615/yes/yes||£645/yes/yes|