Car reviews - BMW - 420i
Meaty torque delivery, snappy and clever transmission, handling, driving position, voice control system, semi-usable back seats, love it or hate styling
Room for improvement
Bridgestone Turanza tyres, jiggly open road ride, iDrive can be fiddly, love it or hate it styling
BMW shocked the world with its new 4 Series’ styling, but how does it drive?
26 Aug 2021
THERE was a collective gasp from the motoring fraternity when BMW revealed its new-generation 4 Series and its extreme take on the twin-kidney grille, which the brand says was inspired by the likes of the classic 328 and 3.0 CSi.
Softening the visual blow somewhat is the M Sport exterior package that comes standard on all Australian-delivered 4 Series’ and we have to say, in the ‘M Portimao Blue’ paint our test car flaunted at least, we honestly don’t mind the look of it.
Besides that radical front end, the rest of the package is decidedly 4 Series with all of the usual flowing coupe lines – it really is an elegant package.
With the new model being 128mm longer and 27mm wider than its predecessor, we’re keen to see whether the 4 Series is still one of the benchmark offerings if you’re in the market for a usable, everyday two-door – and so we spent a week with the entry-level 420i coupe.
With a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet developing a modest 135kW/300Nm, the 420i was never designed to be a cut-price M4 – look to the M440i xDrive if that’s what you’re after.
Nor was it designed to dispatch road trains in the blink of an eye on the open road with reserves of power ready to light up the rear tyres at the sight of a hairpin – the pokier 430i should have that covered.
The 420i was designed to deliver the classic BMW driving experience for those without the need or want for big speed, rabid acceleration and tail-out antics.
That’s not to say it can’t do any of those things; 0-100km/h is up in 7.5 seconds and it’ll hit 240km/h on a long enough stretch of German autobahn – far from being outrageously fast, but certainly not slow.
While lacking in kilowatts, the 420i’s meaty 300Nm of torque is the star of the show in most driving situations, with all of it available from just 1350rpm.
The torque band is usefully wide, stretching right the way up to 4000rpm before all 135 of those kilowatts come on song between 5000-6500rpm, allowing for some effortless, fuss-free progress to be made both during the daily grind and on backroads.
Befitting of a coupe, the driving position is low and long with plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment while the pedals are mounted deep into the footwell, allowing the driver to stretch their legs out in front of them rather than be boxed in.
The leather steering wheel itself has a chubby rim but reasonably small diameter; perfect for effortless cruising or more aggressive corner carving.
The 420i’s ride errs at the sportier end of the equation, which is fine for a coupe, although on Australia’s far from perfect roads, that sportiness can translate into jitteriness outside of city limits and the case not helped by the standard Bridgestone Turanza tyres.
In our opinion, it’s the Turanzas that prove to be the weakest link in the 420i’s entire driving experience in being loud, harsh-riding and far from the last word in grip or feedback, which is a shame because the 4 Series chassis is such a sweetie in the bends.
Even in Comfort mode, the steering is quick and direct with the nose eager to dart in towards the apex while mid-corner line changes are executed accurately and fuss-free.
Sport mode adds a heap of artificial weight and makes the rack even faster, so much so that a middle ground between the two modes would be welcome as the difference can be quite stark when switching between them.
Body roll is virtually non-existent and when the tyres begin to give up the ghost, the Beemer stays neutral and composed as it gradually drifts off-line.
Superior rubber would undoubtedly elevate things to a new level, but straight out of the box, the 420i is a capable and fun cornering companion.
That torquey engine plays a part here too as you can work the epically slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission up and down through the ratios and exploit quite a lot of the available grunt without over-stepping the speed limit.
Where the 4 Series really excels though, even in 420i guise, is on long journeys.
Save for the tyre roar on coarse-chip bitumen, the 420i is a serene place to spend time with hardly any detectable wind noise and barely a peep from eerily smooth engine.
That long and low driving position combines superbly with the standard Alcantara/Sensatec sports seats, which strike a nice balance between comfort and support, complemented nicely by the clean and elegant looking dash.
Factor in the abundance of room in just about every which way and you’re left with a classy, comfortable GT car capable of covering huge distances.
The 12.3-inch digital dash, pumping sound system, wealth of driver aids and premium build quality only elevate things further, though we did have a few issues with the wireless Android Auto dropping in and out.
Never fear though because BMW’s Operating System 7.0 software is on hand to take over, the highlights being its breadth of capabilities and intuitiveness of the voice control system.
A few times when the iDrive controller and system was proving a bit finicky, we simply reverted to using the voice control and all was well.
Given it’s based on the 3 Series sedan, the 4 Series also happens to be one of the more generous coupes on the market in terms of luggage space and rear seat room, with two adults able to squeeze into the back without too much difficulty.
While we wouldn’t recommend travelling from Perth to Albany and back in the rear pews, it’s refreshing to see two proper seats and an armrest back there, with the limiting factor being a lack of headroom – those in need of four doors but don’t want to settle for a 3 Series will soon be able to opt for a Gran Coupe version of the 4.
Priced from $71,900 plus on-road costs, the 420i squares up well against the competition from Audi (A5 40 TFSI) and Mercedes-Benz (C200).
It matches the Audi on price and while it may be down somewhat on power, it fights back with its rear-drive dynamics and a greater overall sense of exclusivity in that it looks and feels more like a coupe than a just a two-door version of a sedan.
Meanwhile the Merc costs an extra $900 but lacks 20Nm of torque compared to the BMW and is due to be replaced in the final quarter of this year by an all-new model.
The new 420i, then, makes for a compelling premium coupe offering from BMW with huge grand touring potential and bundles of talent in the corners.
But it would be even better with nicer set of tyres…
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