A new BMW sports car is always a good thing and when it’s based on the excellent 3 Series and the styling makes people mad, it’s an event.
I mean, really, the unhinging over the new nose has been more than a little silly. I mean, that’s what BMW was going for – a lot of people have been talking about this car’s styling and this is pure Bangle-level PR.
Looks aside there’s a lot to be excited about – the new 3 is amazing and this car is obviously based on it. It has a great set of drivetrains and BMW’s chassis form in the last few years has been almost exemplary.
I was really looking forward to this car and being able to drive all three models back-to-back was most illuminating.
How much is a 2021 BMW 4 Series and what do I get?
The 2021 BMW 4 Series range starts us off with three spec levels – 420i, 430i and M440i xDrive.
Across the range you get the M Sport package. which means aggro front and rear bumpers, knee pads in the interior (for bracing oneself during cornering) and some interior trim.
You also get the excellent BMW OS 7.0 (the artists formerly known as iDrive) with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, the latter a splendid addition and not before time.
BMW 420i 2021 Pricing and Specification
$70,900 + ORC
As ever, BMW hasn’t mucked about with the headline pricing but Australia is a weird market and doesn’t mind paying this much as long as stuff comes with it. And it does.
You get 19-inch wheels, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather interior, Live Cockpit professional (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and DAB radio.
From what I can work out, the 420i is actually cheaper than the outgoing model. Can’t argue with that.
BMW 430i 2021 Pricing and Specification
The 430i piles on adaptive M suspension, keyless entry and start including Digital Key (using a keycard or your phone), proper leather interior, M Sport brakes, upgraded auto parking and Driving Assistant Professional.
This is a hefty $6000 more than the outgoing 430i but it’s got a lot more stuff as standard as well as more power and torque.
BMW 440i xDrive 2021 Pricing and Specification
$116,900 + ORC
Moving on to the top-of-the-range (for now), you get 19-inch M light alloy wheels in Cerium Grey, M Sport differential, electric bootlid, various interior trim upgrades, glass sunroof, heated front seats, laser headlights and harman kardon-branded speakers.
This is an even bigger price rise, around $13,000. Again, lots more stuff, more power and torque and two extra driven wheels explain a fair bit of it. I’ll be fascinated to see how many folks go for this. You’ll find out why soon enough.
Look and Feel
I have made fun of the nose on the new BMW 4 Series, but I have now seen it in the flesh and will now declare that I like it. I think it looks terrific. The marketing pictures were so keen on making a big deal of the grilles that they made them look like Stonehenge had been bolted to the front of the car.
I don’t like the grilles chromed – I don’t like anything much chromed made after, say, 1965 – but when delivered in the darkened Cerium Grey or just blacked out altogether, I reckon it looks mint. And, lest we forget, the marketing images were also largely without a number plate, making the kidney grilles look yet bigger. I reckon when most people see the cars in the flesh they’ll say, “Well they’re big. But they’re not that big.”
Apart from that, the new 4 has a beautiful flowing profile. The new car is longer and wider so looks the part and with that extra width comes extra track for a more planted look and feel. The longer wheelbase also makes it look like a baby 8 from the side, and I am on board with that.
The cabin is another brilliant effort from BMW, the new interiors are absolutely top-notch, with lovely materials throughout and a fresh contemporary design replacing the ageing look of the old car’s, which you could trace back over a decade.
The new seats are brilliantly comfortable and supportive and there’s plenty of space in the front for you and your bits and pieces. It’s a lovely cabin – quiet, comfortable but with that special feeling you want when you’re dropping this kind of money on a car.
As you’ve probably worked out, there are three engine choices. Well, technically it’s two because there is the excellent B48 four-cylinder in two states of tune and the ever-glorious straight-six turbo in most 40i cars.
The four-cylinder cars are rear-wheel drive as so many excellent cars are, with the ZF eight-speed changing the gears for you.
The 420i’s brain spins up 135kW and 500Nm for a 0-100km/h time of 7.5 seconds. Respectable but hardly a rocket ship.
Stepping up to the 430i you’ll find beefier 190kW and 400Nm. With just 20kg extra to drag (and that’s stuff rather than engine, obviously), you’ll crack the ton in 5.8 seconds which is pretty swift.
And then of course the B56 3.0-litre twin-scroll turbo six-cylinder powers up for 285kW and 500Nm for a benchmark sprint time of just 4.5 seconds. Which is pretty quick, I think you’ll agree.
The six also comes with a 48-volt mild hybrid system, which is there to save a bit of fuel and recover energy via braking, a logical extension of the brand’s Efficient Dynamics schtick from the past five or so years.
Based on BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) platform, the 4 is most closely related to the excellent G20 3 Series.
Compared to the old car, it’s 130mm longer, 27mm wider and the wheelbase is 41mm longer. Front and rear track are both up by 28mm and 18mm. Along with that wider front track, there’s now more negative camber on the front wheels for a more positive front end.
The M440i xDrive scores M Performance brakes and a tricky rear diff for extra-keenness.
I love stepping into a long-doored BMW. Don’t ask me why, there’s just something about them. Across the three versions you’ll find a terrific driving position with tons of adjustment so getting comfortable is easy and straightforward. You sit low, of course but vision out is good and the gaps are covered by sensibly-sized mirrors, parking sensors and the reversing camera.
Yep, that’s boring stuff, but important to know because one thing that BMW has done so well for years now is user-friendliness. It might be a sports coupe, but it’s comfortable and everything is where it should be. Wireless smartphone integration and a wireless charging pad mean you don’t have cables in the cabin anymore. Result.
I drove the 420i first, working my way through Sydney’s various tollways. I feel like this updated version of the 2.0-litre is the smoothest it has ever been. The eight-speed ZF has always been amazing but I couldn’t remember this engine being this smooth and this quiet.
This is obviously the easygoing cruiser of the three. Even though it has the M Sport suspension – BMW has wisely given up on the softer version for the Australian market – the ride is pretty plush and it wafts along.
Performance from the 2.0-litre is crisp rather than vivid, but if you’re just buying the 4 because you want a BMW Coupe and you’re not fussed about speed, you’ll be perfectly happy because it looks great.
It does handle, though. Punching up Bells Line may not have been especially rapid, but the 4 feels so light and delicate in the corners more than makes up for the lack of pace. Driving the 420i also gives you a feel for how neutral is the chassis, with the classic BMW 50:50 weight distribution. You also know it’s neutral because the Bridgestones all give up at once after giving you plenty of warning, the car settling into a gentle four-wheel drift before gather itself up again – the Sport mode is nicely tuned.
There are a few big jumps from the 420i to the M440i. For a start, there’s 200kg of extra weight, taking the car to over 1700kg. There’s a lot more power to shift that bulk and all-wheel drive to help stick it down, which is, naturally, a good chunk of the 200kg. And another portion of that weight goes to the 48-volt mild hybrid system that I didn’t really have a chance to test as the route I took the 440i down was all about fun.
As ever, the turbo straight-six is a corker. Refined and super-punchy, all that weight melts away as you push the right foot to the floor. The six is so smooth and powerful, you feel like you can do anything.
Firing through the corners, the xDrive system ensures there’s plenty of fun to be had while always ready haul you out if you get it a bit wrong. The seemingly bottomless pit of torque is a result of that tremendous ZF eight-speed making sure you’re in the right gear. Or you can do that yourself with the paddles behind that lovely M steering wheel.
The adaptive damping is finely-tuned, too, with a ride almost as plush as the 420’s in Comfort mode but with a suitably aggressive Sport+ mode. The steering is so sharp and not too heavy in this mode (something BMW has been struggling with the last couple of years), with the rear diff helping on the way in and out of corners. It’s terrific fun and doesn’t really feel like an all-wheel drive car, just a really sticky rear-wheel drive machine.
Driving this car last was interesting. Having tested to the other two, I was wondering if this might be the Goldilocks car. A fair chunk more power and torque, adaptive damping but only 20kg more than the 420i and BMW-purist rear-wheel drive.
While I didn’t get to throw it down the real twisty stuff, it has the appeal of the 420i’s quiet ride on the less grippy tyres but with extra-grunt from that super-smooth four.
I really like the way it changes direction but also punches out of the corners with the extra torque over the 420i. Not as quick or as violently as the M440i, no, but it’s still plenty of fun and still under a hundred grand. I’m a big fan of it.
In the end, I reckon I’d choose the M440i. I can’t tell you how much I love a BMW straight-six, naturally-aspirated or turbocharged. The security and stability of all-wheel drive bolted into a sure-to-be legendary chassis, it’s a ripper.
The 4 Series itself has reclaimed the mantle of the most desirable sports coupe. The A5 and S5 are lovely, but don’t have the driver involvement of the 4 while the Merc just falls short too.
And bizarrely, the photos BMW put out want you to make you think it’s ugly so you talk about it – but once you drive it, you’ll realise the error of the company’s ways. The talk will be all about what a brilliant car it is.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.