The vehicle previously known as the 3 Series Coupe has morphed into the sleek 4 Series. Andy Enright reports on changes that are about more than mere numbers.
The number may have changed but the 4 Series' recipe for success is largely the same as the 3 Series Coupes that preceded it. This time round, the Four has been on a weight loss plan and features a lower centre of gravity, but otherwise you know what to expect.
This is going to take some getting used to. Yes, there is a certain Teutonic rectitude in BMW giving the saloons and estates in its range odd numbers and the coupes and convertibles even ones, even allowing for the fact that the 1 Series Coupe's papers are not in order, but calling this car a 4 Series isn't going to come easy to most car fans. The M4. That'll take some acclimatisation too. Ever since BMW's F30 generation 3 Series saloon made landfall in early 2012, we knew this two-door model was going to subtly diverge from its progenitor in the way that it was marketed, but is there a great deal of difference in the way it's been built?
The oily bits are, somewhat predictably, shared with the 3 Series as it would be cost prohibitive to do anything otherwise. Diesel-wise, this means a choice of three engines, the biggest seller of which is certain to be the 181bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel in the 420d coupe. Next up is the 218bhp 425d and above that there are rear wheel drive and xDrive 4WD versions of the 258bhp 430d, before you get to the 435d xDrive diesel range-topper with a hefty 313bhp at its disposal. Should you prefer a petrol engine, there's also a base 420i model with a 184bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four cylinder powerplant that's offered in rear wheel drive and xDrive 4WD guises. The same engine is uprated to 242bhp in the 428i. For a six cylinder motor, you'll require the range-topping 435i coupe, powered by a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine that delivers some 302bhp. Top of the range is the twin turbo six cylinder 431bhp M4 super-coupe. The xDrive 4WD models are making up an increasing share of the product mix. The suspension meanwhile, is a modified version of the 3 Series' largely aluminium setup, this time with adjustable dampers. Additional bracing helps it achieve a torsional rigidity figure some 60 per cent better than the E92 3 Series Coupe.
Does that bonnet look familiar to you? You'll be forgiven a little deja vu there because it's the only body panel the 4 Series shares with the 3; everything else is unique to this model. Also noteworthy is the fact that unlike 3 Series coupes of the past, the widest part of the 4 Series' body is not across the front axle line but across the rear, giving it a subtly more power-packed look, underscoring its rear-wheel drive priority. Otherwise, things are much as you'd expect if you were asked, sight unseen, what you expected a coupe version of the 3 Series to look like. It's slightly larger than before but only by degrees. Overall length is up by 26mm, width increases by 43mm and height has decreased by 16mm. Likewise, the cabin holds no great surprises if you're familiar with the 3 Series' architecture. You sit 19mm lower but you're not going to need re-training when it comes to operating the dash controls or the infotainment system. There's a robotised arm for the front seat belts and the door cards and seats are 4 Series-specific. The rear retains individual seats with a divider down the middle, which means the 4 Series is a strict four-seater.
Prices start at around £30,000 for the Coupe version of the 4 Series. The entry-level variant gets leather heated seats, xenon headlamps, LED rear lights and a parking radar, as well as climate control. Satellite navigation is standard on most versions, but the adaptive dampers are a box you might want to tick on the options list as well as the sport steering. We could take or leave the sports seats, but the stereo upgrade is worth giving a listening to. BMW will also tempt you with a range of connected services, a head-up display, and some neat driver aids but you'll need to keep an eye on the asking price. Should you feel that you can't quite stretch to the top M4 super-coupe variant but can manage to afford a 435i, then BMW will sell you a Power Kit which endows the car with another 34bhp and 37lb ft, taking its totals to 334bhp and 332lb ft. Prices for the standard 4 Series models are around £500 more than the outgoing 3 Series Coupe, which means that you'll pay a premium of around £3,000 to go from equivalent 3 Series saloon to 4 Series Coupe. Clever marketing or naked opportunism? That'll be for the market to decide.
The 4 Series may be predictably pricey to buy but it's surprisingly affordable to run. BMW's EfficientDynamics technology is standard across the range, helping the cars achieve economy and emissions levels that belie the kind of performance that's on offer. The latest car looks a very strong contender with ultra-competitive economy and emissions figures right across the board and it's hard to be unimpressed by the 428i, a petrol-engined performance saloon that can dip under six seconds to 60mph, yet still returns a fuel economy figure of 42.8mpg and emissions of just 154g/km. The 420d is the frugality champion though, managing 60.1mpg and 124g/km.
You might think that in moving to the 4 Series badge, BMW could have been a little more adventurous in distancing this car from the 3 Series coupes that preceded it. After all, although they ride on similar platforms, the 5 and 6 Series models are clearly very different in look and feel. The thing is, this is a formula that clearly works. Sales figures have clearly demonstrated that there's a template and to deviate from it would be to risk wringing the neck of a goose that's laid a tonne of golden eggs. That's not to say we should underestimate BMW's achievement in developing this car. Drive one next to an Audi A5 and you'll appreciate the years of expertise that have been poured into this model. That a car can be so rapid, capable and desirable yet still return such befuddling economy and emissions figures is testament to the engineers in Munich. So, despite the name change, things are much as they were. BMW will see that as a result. Perhaps we should too.