Ride and handling
The new BMW 4 Series is a little bit of a double-edged sword in terms of ride and handling. An increased emphasis on comfort over the preceding E92/E93 3 Series sees the new car lose a little of its dynamic edge. As such, some of the kudos that marked the BMW out as the enthusiasts’ choice has been lost. BMW has reinstated some of that dynamic edge with the facelifted version available from April 2017 onwards. It has uprated suspension components over the older model, but the 4 Series Coupé is still a car that majors on long distance comfort over B-road thrills.
The rough scale of ride comfort in ascending order goes Coupé, Gran Coupé and then Convertible, with the latter proving extremely supple and refined when cruising.
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Of course, that means the inverse is true of the handling; indeed, a 420d SE Convertible can get very ragged in terms of body control and does understeer if you decide to go to anything like seven-tenths pace. That’s not a huge issue in a four-seat diesel open-top (indeed, in any of the Convertibles), but given that the 4 Series Coupé isn’t the sharpest tool in the box either, it’s indicative of the change of direction beyond just mere badging that the 4 Series has undergone.
One of the best is the manual 440i M Sport Coupé, which manages to just keep its ride on the acceptable side of harsh despite rolling on 19-inch wheels and also proves to be a progressive, entertaining steer. The xDrive system is good technology for a company that has resisted all-wheel drive non-SUVs for so long and it provides the models it is fitted to with huge reserves of grip no matter what the weather – but the driven front axle changes the whole dynamic of the machine. It turns the 4 Series into a passable impression of a well-sorted Audi equipped with quattro. The biggest loser here is the 435d, which can only be had as an xDrive model no matter which body or trim you select.
BMW’s Servotronic steering should be commended though, because as electro-mechanical systems go, it’s pretty feelsome and pleasing to use in the 4 Series. The brakes are also strong across the range, an area that BMW has struggled with in the past.
Unless you live in a very remote area, avoid xDrive four-wheel drive models. While they do indeed possess superb traction and the sort of sure-footedness that would elude the drivers of previous 3 Series incarnations, the driven front axle robs the 4 Series of some of that traditional BMW chassis brilliance. The rear-drive cars are hardly faultless dynamically, but they are a little more engaging than the all-wheel drive versions.
The 4 Series offers up a broad level of driver engagement. A manual 440i M Sport for example can supply a dynamic package that in many ways will leave you wondering why you'd be looking at a full fat M4. Then you have the 435d xDrive M Sport, which is very much on the quick-but-dull path that has been trodden by so many quattro Audi over the years.
It used to be the case that when you drove, say, a 316i version of the E30 3 Series, despite its power deficit you could feel the BMW driving DNA running through it in the same vein as a contemporary M3 – but many of the more basic 4 Series models don’t possess that sparkle.
The convertible in particular is a big let down. Soft in the chassis department, it is difficult to recommend over four-seat open-top models from rivals like Mercedes-Benz or Audi.