BMW 4 Series Coupe review

Our Rating: 
5
5.0/5.0
2013 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The BMW 4 Series Coupe builds on the success of the 3 Series saloon with stunning looks, powerful engines and a practical interior

For: 
Slinky styling, handling, decent engines
Against: 
2.0-litre diesel is noisy, high spec models are expensive

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OK, so it’s really just a two-door 3 Series but the BMW 4 Series hits the sexy coupe target square in the bullseye. It’s a class act all round with an excellent engine range and sporty yet composed handling. The 4 Series is also a very practical car for the coupe segment with usable rear seats and a decent boot.

Our Choice: 
BMW 420i M Sport

BMW’s rationale for changing the name from 3 Series Coupe was to more closely align the 4 Series with the even numbered 6 Series and 2 Series coupes and, consequently, to be able to charge more for it.

Best sports cars

Is it more desirable thanks to the name change? Well, it’s certainly more stylish than the old 3 Series two-door, with looks that are far more than merely those of a two-door variation on the saloon. It’s lower and more muscular in its design, with a real ‘road-hoover’ look to the nose, plus heavily flared arches. 

The 4 Series makes a standard 3 Series look like a bit of wimp, to be honest. In fact, the only exterior panel that is shared between the two cars is the bonnet.

There’s no great difference in weight between it and a 3 Series (and it’s actually a little heavier than the old 3 Series Coupe), but the centre of gravity is a good bit lower, which does tend to make the 4 Series feel more poised, pound-for-pound, than the 3 Series.

You can have it as a Convertible too, with a folding steel roof, but that just adds lots of weight and complication. It’s nice on a sunny day, but for the rest of the year the hard-topped Coupe is the superior car.

As with its Audi rival, the A5, the 4 Series has a huge breadth of engine choice, from the relatively humble 420i through to the enormously torquey 440i and 435d and, as with the 3 Series, four-wheel drive xDrive is also available as an option. At the top of the range sits the M4 performance flagship with its 424bhp turbocharged straight six.

BMW M4 review

There’s also a wide variety of trim levels in the mainstream range, but most buyers plump for the default M Sport specification, with its even-more-muscular body kit. It’s a popular choice that will definitely help come resale time.

You just have to ask yourself two hard questions – one: is it worth spending the extra over a 3 Series for a car that’s realistically only a little better looking and a little sharper to drive? And, two: if you’re going for a 4 Series, why not go the whole hog and get the more practical (and arguably even better looking) five-door 4 Series Gran Coupe?

Engines, performance and drive

4.5
Diesel engines have become a BMW staple, but don't ignore the petrol options - they're smooth, fast and more economical than you'd think

To drive, all 4 Series are pretty much identical. Go for an SE and it’ll be as smooth and sharp with beautifully weighted steering and sensationally good suspension damping. That steering could do with a little more outright feel, as the Jaguar XE saloon now sets the standard for steering feedback, but in general the 4 Series is a superb package.

Go for the optional M Sport pack, as so many do, and you get bigger wheels and a more muscular body kit. It really adds to the 4 Series’ looks, but the price is a noticeable reduction in the ride quality. It’s a price that’s probably worth paying as much for the positive effect that M Sport has on the residual values as for the sportier looks and feel on the road.

As with most BMW models now, you can specify the 4 Series it with xDrive four-wheel drive, as a rival to Audi’s quattro and Mercedes’ 4Matic. BMW's is a seamless system, and it doesn't upset either the handling balance or the weight (too much) yet brings obvious benefits when the weather turns rainy, slushy or icy. It’s a good option for those with long commutes when winter rolls around.

Engines

The range kicks off with the 418d but the 420i and 420d are the bedrock of the 4 Series range. Next comes the 428i which uses the same four-cylinder turbo as the 420i and adds more power. You’ll have to trade up to a 440i for a six-cylinder engine. On the diesel side, the 418d, 420d and 425d are powered by four-cylinder units, while the 430d and 435d are have six-cylinder.

All you really need is a 420i. Figures of 181bhp and 0-62mph in a little over seven seconds are sufficient for most daily purposes. You could trade up to a full-fat 435d diesel with xDrive four-wheel drive, which has such a traction advantage off the line, and such an endless wall of torque, that it can worry an M4 in a straight line.

So why are we not recommending the 420d, with its 60mpg economy? Simple – too much noise. It’s a cracking engine from the point of view of all that torque and all that economy, but the trade-off in refinement is too much. It’s a similar story with the entry-level 418d except it only has 141bhp to call upon. A 430d would be far smoother and sweeter, but the price point is just too high.

If the driving experience is your priority, the 428i is a sweet spot of the BMW 4 Series range. Yes, it’s a ‘mere’ four-cylinder engine with a turbo, but it’s seriously punchy and mostly very refined. Plus, BMW’s artificial engine sound symposer which pumps engine noise in through the speakers makes it sound even more muscular. It’s a touch thirsty perhaps (at least compared to the frugal 420d), but it has the kind of performance and rev-happy delivery that really bring the 4 Series chassis alive. If budget stretches to it, the 440i is a fanstastic option as well, with a smooth and powerful six-cylinder unit up front.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

5
Considering the performance on offer, the 4 Series' economy and emissions are something close to witchcraft

The 418d and 420d are the most efficient 4 Series models you can buy. The 418d can manage 67.3mpg on the combined cycle. It’s a number that, not so long ago, you’d have needed a Toyota Prius to match, yet this is a slinky, fun four-seat coupe we’re talking about.

You can save yourself a few pounds by going for 418d, which uses a detuned version of the same 2.0-litre engine, but to be honest, the 420d is a far better bet – you have to work it harder to make it perform and that hurts the economy and refinement. And come on; if you’re trying to save and scrimp on either purchase cost or fuel efficiency then why are you shopping for a 4 Series in the first place?

The petrol engines are almost equally impressive – a 420i with the automatic transmission emits 139g/km of CO2 and returns an official 47mpg overall, while the 428i can manage 44mpg and 147g/km.

The nice thing is that these figures aren't just spec-sheet pie-in-the-sky; from our experience you can replicate them in the real world, driving like a normal human being. One caveat – the CO2 figures are dependent on the alloy wheel sizes so choose carefully when you’re personalising your 4 Series. You’ll also find that there’s a significant weight penalty if you choose the Convertible version, and that will have a knock-on effect on your fuel consumption. 

The xDrive four-wheel drive system will also add to your fuel costs, but not by as much as you’d think – the system is relatively lightweight for its type. Those seeking to add extra efficiency to their 4 Series should go for that automatic option – gone are the days when an auto made consumption worse, and the slick ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic actually makes the 4 Series more efficient and in most cases actually drops the CO2 by a few grams per kilometre.

Insurance groups

Lower-end 4 Series models hover around the Group 30 mark for insurance, but that grouping rises steeply once you start adding more engine capacity or power, and especially if you add on M Sport spec.

A 420i Modern is in Group 30, while the same car in M Sport spec is Group 31. The 418d models can drop as a low as Group 25, but the 435d xDrive is up above Group 40.

Depreciation

The BMW 4 Series retains around 45 per cent of its value over a typical 3-year ownership period and that’s about the class average.

Interior, design and technology

4
It looks a little plain inside compared to some rivals, but the BMW 4 Series' cabin is practical, comfy and well made

Although everything’s a little lower-slung, the 4 Series is basically the same as a 3 Series inside and there isn't anything wrong with that. You get all the bits you expect from a BMW – clear, handsome instruments, great seats and a steering wheel that feels just right in the palms of your hands. Quality is generally excellent although really stripped-out, basic versions can look and feel very plain. There are also some cheap plastics to be found if you go looking.

It’s best to avoid the default black leather trim. Practical it may be but it just sucks all the light from what is already a very dark cabin. Beige or biscuit-coloured leather might be a bit harder to look after, but it really lifts the ambience inside.

You can, of course, go mad on the spec of the interior by adding sportier seats, carbon or wood trim and lots more. It’s best to keep a sensible head when perusing the options list though. The standard seats are just fine and too much wood makes everything look a bit eighties – keep things simple, choose some bright colours and lots of add-ons for the infotainment and you won’t go far wrong. 

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

The basic infotainment comes with a 6.5-inch screen and the iDrive system with its rotary controller and ‘hot-key’ buttons. It’s just fine in this form, and it comes with DAB radio as standard.

The iDrive system has also improved out of all recognition since it was introduced in 2001 – it’s now one of the slickest and simplest of such systems to use. You can upgrade the infotainment pretty much as much as you like with a bigger screen (the presence of which really lifts the cabin ambience), live traffic updates in the sat-nav, a Harmon-Kardon sound system, heads-up display, parking cameras and more.

Added to which, BMW’s Connected setup now offers buyers a lot of extra options, although many of them can only really be exploited when the car is sitting still. Weather and news headlines can be accessed once you’ve selected upgrades, plus you can specify a very useful Wi-Fi hotspot, which can also use the car’s aerial to boost your mobile phone’s reception.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3
Space in the cabin is pretty good for a coupe, but the boot is a touch shallow

This is a coupe and there are practicality penalties that come with the slippery shape. The 3 Series saloon is a more practical car than the 4 Series coupe but next to its sports car peers, the 4 Series stacks up relatively well. The rear seats are roomier than you might think and there’s no issue with space for front seat occupants. 

Size

The 4 Series more or less mimics the 3 Series saloon with its 4,638mm length and 1,825mm width. That makes it a manageable size for being wieldy and manoeuvrable in tight spaces, but gives the car enough of a footprint that it won’t feel cramped inside.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

When it comes to cabin space, the 4 Series is not bad. Yes, the back seats are pretty much best kept for smaller people, but you’d be surprised just how tall someone needs to be before they feel uncomfortable back there. The front seats are excellent though – the standard chairs don’t look all that exciting when you see them, but they’re wonderfully comfy and supportive and there are lots of sportier options for extra bolstering and side support. Plus, unlike a lot of modern sporty cars, you can get the seat low to the ground for a proper sports car driving position.

It’s worth remembering that not all 4 Series models have three rear seatbelts though, which can limit the car’s practicality somewhat. OK, so you’re probably not going to expect to squeeze three people into the back often, but you never know when an extra belt set will come in handy.

There is more room in the back than in the current Audi A5 and Mercedes C-Class Coupe and a little less than you get in larger models like a Mercedes E-Class Coupe, but it’s adequate on the whole. Less good is the Convertible, which forces the rear seats into a more upright position to make room for the roof stowage. This sounds like a small thing but it makes a huge difference to comfort on a longer journey for anyone relegated to the back. 

Again, of course, if you want your 4 Series to be a bit more practical you can upgrade to the five-door 4 Series Gran Coupe, which has a bigger boot, if not actually any more useable space in the back seats.

Boot

A 445-litre boot is pretty decent, but you do need to remember that it’s a little shallower than that of the 3 Series saloon and that the aperture isn’t very wide. Folding rear seats are also not standard, so remember to tick that box if you want your 4 Series to be as practical as possible.

Reliability and Safety

4
BMWs are usually well made and very safe, but long-term reliability is on shakier

There’s a palpable sense of quality when you pop the door handle, see the frameless side glass drop by that precise couple of millimetres to clear the door seal, swing the door open and drop inside. Most of the cabin surfaces look and feel lustrous and options such as Nappa leather and carbon trim can make a BMW 4 Series look, feel (and actually be) very expensive.

General mechanical reliability is pretty good, but you do need to keep an eye out. Previous versions of the BMW four-cylinder diesel engine were prone to developing serious trouble with their timing chains and turbos. BMW has made efforts to rectify these on more recent models, but we’d advise keeping strictly to the service schedule and stay within the BMW dealer network for servicing, just in case any problems do develop. Mind you, the fact that the 4 Series finished in 19th place overall in our Driver Power 2015 survey bodes very well indeed.

On the safety front, the 4 Series hasn’t been crash tested as a coupe by EuroNCAP, but the 3 Series has and it scored a maximum five stars. As the two cars are all but identical under the skin, you can expect pretty good safety standards from the 4 Series. There are also lots of extra safety options you can choose from, such as adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED lights, lane departure warning and a forward collision alert with city collision auto-braking.

Warranty

All new BMWs come with a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty. You can get an individual quote to extend the warranty of your car beyond that time limit if you like.

Servicing

As always with BMW, there are no set service schedules as such, but the on-board computer will give you a mileage and time countdown to when you next need to visit your garage. Once a year, basically.

BMW was one of the first car makers to offer pre-paid inclusive service packages and that continues on the 4 Series. You can pay £475 to cover your servicing costs for the first five years or 50,000 miles (including replacement parts for any MOT failure points) or £1,470, which covers the same period but includes the cost of wear and tear items such as wipers, brake pads, brake discs etc.

Last updated: 5 Jul, 2016