BMW's least powerful 4-Series coupe does many things remarkably well. It's got the looks, it'll go as fast as you'll ever need and on top of that, it barely needs fuel. That's why it's a shame America is not going to get it.
(Full disclosure: I told BMW Hungary we're going to see Pixies in Prague and will need a sporty car for the trip in case we got David Lovering to drive it. They gave us a brand new 420d. Unfortunately, the band had to leave early Friday night so David couldn't join us.)
I've driven a 3-Series wagon with the same 2-liter turbo diesel before, and I loved it. Travis on the other hand had a go on track with the top of the line 435i, only to find it disappointing. That's not a surprise as it was never meant to be sliding across rumble strips, but I was curious to see what could BMW come up with using their least powerful diesel with the sporty chassis of the coupe.
Our car even had the M Sport pack to make it look as aggressive as possible, so I was expecting plenty of performance to back that up, otherwise, it wouldn't be more than premium bullshit wrapped in Alcantara.
After all, it's not cheap. I could tell you that our test car costs around in $63,696 in the UK, but that's totally irrelevant, not only because you're not getting it, but also because cars are much cheaper in the US. The 4-Series will start at $40,500 around there...
I loved the concept, and the production car isn't far off. In short, I love the front, but I'm not sure about the back, it's like a reverse mullet. In fact, the back is plain fat. The rear lamps are just way too big, once again to make it appear as big as a 5 Series. And when you're inside, it certainly feels big too. I guess it's due to the wide windshield, but in the first few hours, I didn't have a clue about its actual size. As a result, when a truck went pass in a narrow street, it felt like we were about to lose a mirror.
It looks like serious business though. A proper BMW coupe, one that makes guys in suits peek through its windows when parked on the street. When you see it from the distance, walk towards it, press the key and jump in, well, that's satisfaction right there.
I'm pretty sure everybody around hated seeing a young bastard like me driving a metallic grey BMW two-door, but I couldn't care less. The M Pack bumpers also help sending a dominant message through other's rearview mirrors. People got out of the way even without driving like a complete asshat. It does the trick.
Instead of leather, we had Alcantara sport seats with blue stitching and matte blue accents on the dash and the door panels. The steering wheel was part of the package too, and while it had a great grip, I was missing the contrasting stitches I had in the 116i before. That's always a nice touch.
The rest is pretty much standard BMW. Good materials, solid build quality and smart ergonomics. The fixed LCD screen on top of the dash still feels old fashioned compared to Audi's offering, but the infotainment system works fine, and with the navigation projected between the two main dials, you don't have to look at the screen anyway. The optional head-up display makes it even safer, but our car didn't have it.
At the back, there's isn't enough headroom for 6'1" supermodels, but there's a large armrest in the middle with with cup holders and some storage space and we didn't have any supermodels.
The sunroof is lovely. It's sheer size makes the front row feel like they are in a cabrio, and that's what matters in a coupe.
It's 184 horsepower and 280 foot pounds from 2-liters thanks to a clever twin-scroll turbocharger and high-pressure electronic fuel injectors. Doesn't sound like much, but it never feels slow. Acceleration isn't mind blowing, but top speed is 150 mph, which should be enough even on the Autobahn.
While peak torque is all yours from as low as 1750 rpm, there is lag. A full two seconds of it. Takes you back to the golden age of turbocharging. I believe it has to do with fuel economy. Like, you're cruising in "eco pro" to save as many polar bears as possible, then floor it suddenly. No wonder poor engine doesn't know what the hell is up. But when it comes alive, you go. All the way.
I was speeding all the time. 30 mph feels like 18 mph, 62 like 37. It's just not friendly to your license. Then again, what proper BMW is?
I have no idea what the optional 'M Power' brakes do. This car had the standard set with the 18' wheels and Bridgestone Potenza run-flat tires, and I could stop exactly where and when I wanted, even in soaking wet conditions. That's good, because you want to stop really quickly at a curb once you remember how low the front spoiler is.
Start-stop is standard, so if you stop at the red light, it cuts the engine. The system understands slow crawling though, and can be switched off anyway if you can't bear it.
Pedal feel is really nice, and since these brakes know way more than what 184 horsepower can ever throw at them, give great confidence. Also, while no burnouts with this one I'm afraid, there's a traditional handbrake if you want to do something silly.
Trust me, it tested this part thoroughly. Forget potholes. I'm talking about going fast on nice cobble stone roads in the historic part of Prague, and going slower in much less well maintained ones missing one too many pieces in the exotic part of Budapest where I live.
My car feels like it's going to fall apart anytime I have to drive through these certain streets. This felt like a tank.
Modern BMW chassis swallow bumps. It's awesome. Even the settings are irrelevant. Works in comfort, works in sport, works in polar bear.
A monkey could drive this fast. I drove it on the highway, on narrow country roads and in the empty city too. It's very stable and predictable, although don't expect power slides or any form of oversteer. That's due to the massive amount of grip against not so much power, the automatic gearbox and the traction control, which is there no matter you switch it off or not.
The steering is a bit slow in every setting except sport and sport+. In those two, it gets much heavier which is exactly what you want. I would make that standard, but I guess most buyers will go slowly in the city, where less feedback is still plenty and easy parking is the biggest priority.
You still have to pay extra for variable steering ratio, which is bit of a shame.
I have no idea why it has flappy paddles. It's a sporty diesel, not an Aventador.
Still, the more I use BMW's eight-speed Steptronic, the more I like it. It's smooth, knows exactly what you want, or if not, corrects the gear instantly. It helps with hill starts, but also makes the engine rev ridiculously high when going downhill. Engine brake and energy regeneration might be great, but the noise isn't.
The most important thing though is how well the automatic suits the 420d. You might want a manual with a more powerful 4-Series, but to get the most out of the diesel, the Steptronic is the right choice.
And when it comes to the cabin, don't expect a hardcore party either. I have a theory that standard BMW audio is rubbish just to make you buy the optional one, and I don't like the idea. At least it recognizes your iPhone and knows all the special characters and album art, but without the middle range, what's the point of listening to music?
This metallic grey car didn't have the optional head-up display, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, things I barely missed at all. The standard cruise control lets you drive it with your thumb anyway.
What it had was the extra navigation which worked perfectly, heated seats which felt great early in the morning and BMW's iDrive system of course, which got quite nice over the years. There is no touchscreen, and all the important iDrive functions can be accessed by pressing buttons too. That's exactly what you want at 86 mph.
One thing: don't trust the range it tells you after you reached reserve fuel level. The number goes up and down depending on how hard you push the pedal. About as accurate as David Hasselhoff after his usual at an airport.
As I said before, the tested car costs about $63,696 here. That's a lot of money for 184 horsepower, but you don't need to worry about that since it's not going there anyway. What you can buy is a 428i M Sport, which starts at $45,475. That's not bad for what you get. The looks, the feeling of owning a premium German coupe, the comfort and the advanced technology all around. The 4-Series is a good car.
But what you might miss from the 420d is how efficient it is. We went fast, we went slow, we went up and down in the Czech Republic, and we stopped in heavy traffic on their useless highways. Overall fuel consumption? 40.55 mpg. That's not remarkable, but very good for a big car that doesn't feel slow and seats four with enough room for their luggage.
I know people around won't necessarily like you. BMW drivers have a bad reputation. Be nice, and that might change some day. Audi drivers are asshats, too, you know.
And the 420d might just worth the trouble. It's more useable than the convertible, just as sexy as a petrol coupe while much more economical. It's a smart package, one that I think is pretty close to the perfect daily driver before you would start a family. I would rock it.
Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged I4 diesel
Power: 184 HP at 4000 RPM/ 280 LB-FT at 1750-2750 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic with Steptronic
0-62 MPH: 7.5 s
Top Speed: 149 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,362 LBS
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 39.2 City/57.36 Highway/50.04 Combined (US/NEDC)
Photo credit: Máté Petrány/Jalopnik