It hasn’t been an ideal year to test cars. As a Londoner, my world since March has largely been reduced to these invisible city walls. When government restrictions have tightened, this has further condensed to our local area where, naturally, driving is unnecessary and cars mostly redundant. Which brings me to the new BMW 4-Series Coupé – my car for Christmas. Just before the festivities, the UK capital was moved to “tier four” – as in red alert and an almost total lockdown. It so happens this latest mid-size premium motor car is an ideal urban companion. With my husband as co-pilot, armed with sanitizers and masks, water and snacks, as well as a cheery Spotify playlist, we have adventured Covid-style within the city limits.
The 4-Series Coupé joins its sibling, the Convertible, both of which have been on sale in Europe since October. The new car is largely based on the one it replaces but with design, engineering and technology upgrades. It has grown in size to be a touch longer and wider, a little higher and with a larger wheelbase, although it manages to maintain a slender silhouette thanks to the slim pillars and long doors, frameless windows and a flowing roofline. Then there is the grille. There appears to be a bit of an online debate surrounding the new bold vertical double kidney design, with those types who tend to join such forums less than complimentary. Personally, I remain neutral and having spotted a few of my fellow Londoners eyeing up the grille, I’m happy to report there didn’t appear to be too many extreme expressions. If anything, a couple of cars lowered their windows in traffic to complement the new 4 Coupé.
What occurs to me – heightened no doubt by the isolated nature of our lives under Covid – is that the user experience of cars is increasingly dependent on an intelligent interior design, one with the right balance of homely and technology, analogue and digital. Cocooned in the cabin during much of my time with this car, I’m reminded of how little of our car-time takes place outside the vehicle. We may park it in our garage, the driveway or on the street, but unless yours is a classic or a seriously gorgeous piece of priceless metal, the majority of owners in this category of purchase are unlikely to walk around their vehicle shaking their heads in admiration. Instead, it is with interior that we develop a love or hate relationship – something that I suspect will become even more pronounced as cars evolve further into highly technical, smart mobile gadgets.
BMW’s new 4-Series delivers on this point. Everything about the user journey here has been seamlessly planned, so inhabiting the car is a genuinely intuitive experience. I love that without fuss I can connect my iPhone and navigate all the various elements with ease. A few things have been moved around too to make the controls more intelligent. The start/stop button, for instance, now sits in a control panel in the center console, where the newly designed selector lever is joined by the iDrive Controller as well as the driving experience control switch and parking brake – all of which are encased in tactile metal.
This 4-Series comes equipped with the “M Sport Pro Package” which include luxuries such as the Harman Kardon surround sound system. My car also has the “Technology and Comfort Plus Pack”. One of its highlights is gesture control, a handy technology which sadly I’m forced to disconnect since my exaggerated talking gestures sends the stereo volume into random convulsions. There is also enhanced Bluetooth with wireless charging and, best of all on these cold winter days, automatic steering wheel heating. The leather swathed heated sport seats, with subtle blue stitching and contoured side bolsters to provide maximum support, are truly comfortable. Finally, LED ambient lighting in a variety of mood-altering shades comes as standard across the range and the 4-Series offers a “light carpet” to guide you to the car in the dark. It is these little pleasures that make all the difference.
The new 4-Series Coupé delivers great performance and has perfect handling for city driving – though I suspect the drive would be even more amplified on open roads. The car loaned to me is the 420i M Sport with upgraded four-cylinder petrol engine which allows for a maximum 184 horsepower, peak torque of 300Nm; it reaches a top speed of 149 mph and can do zero to 62mph in a reasonable 7.5 seconds – none of which I was sadly able to put to the test.
So, limited to my London lockdown, how did I find the 4-Series Coupé? It delivers more than expected. With all the extras, the model loaned to me comes to just over £48,000 (around $65,000), which to me seems a fair exchange for the sheer amount of advanced technology and design detail delivered. Personally, though, I’m looking forward to the upcoming electric i4 – a car that, when it arrives in late spring, will take all the intelligent design thinking from this 4-Series, expand on the technology, add clean power to be ready for the next age of personal transport.
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