Looks as if BMW hasn't forgotten what made the badge great after all. Now THIS is more like it. After a plethora of misbegotten so-called lifestyle GTs and malformed crossovers, BMW returns to core competencies with this classically shaped coupe.
The newly designated 4 Series replaces the E92 3 Series coupe which -- despite being six years old -- remains BMW's best model line. So inherently BMW is it that, unlike the heavily criticised South Africa-built 3 Series sedan from which it's derived, the 4 Series is made in Germany.
The base 420i won't be available until March when a sharp $69,500 price should earn it plenty of custom. The same engine in the 3 Series is more than capable, with 135kW/270Nm. The 428i is the standout of the three models on sale at launch. At $80,500 it represents the best compromise between cost and competitiveness.
Using the full tune of the 2.0-litre turbo four, it goes hard yet officially uses just 6.4L/100km and has Beemer's trick adaptive dampers as standard gear. All models pick up xenon headlamps, Bluetooth with audio streaming, satnav and reversing camera, displayed on an 8.8-inch screen.
The 4 Series will compete against the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and while the Benz diesel has a price and performance advantage over the $71,800 420d, BMW's petrol engines are in a league of their own on both fronts. The 435i tops the range at $108,500. It's a lot of money for a two-door coupe but in this guise it's a genuine performance car.
It is unfair to say the 4 is just a reskinned 3 Series. It shares the basic platform and engines but the wheelbase is 50mm longer and the track's wider front and rear. The sporty intent extends to tauter suspension and sharper steering. The 4 has the lowest centre of gravity of any Beemer.
And it's a better, more old-school BMW for the changes. It responds decisively to steering and throttle inputs and the kind of car that encourages dirty weekends a long, long way from home.
Beauty is only skin deep but the sheet metal on the 4 Series makes it the best-looking car in the Bavarian range, just as the previous 3 Series coupe did. It looks athletic from any angle and the interior, while obviously based on the current 3 Series, has upgraded trim and upholstery as the premium price demands. Access is typical for a two-door, four-seat coupe and the design's only real downside is that the curved roofline compromises headroom for lanky rear passengers. Leave 'em at home.
Euro NCAP hasn't yet had time to crash a 4 Series, though no one expects it to earn less than five stars. The 3 Series was assessed by ANCAP at 36.76/37. That bodes well for the 4, which has the added reassurance of better brakes and roadholding than its sedan sibling.
It will take a back-to-back comparison to see if the BMW finally regains the upper hand over Mercedes in driving dynamics. It has the edge in its petrol variants on paper. If the 435i is the one to which everyone will aspire; the 428i is the smarter buy and cedes less than a second's performance to its big brother - 5.8 seconds to 100km/h against the latter's 5.1.
The 4's sound isn't as guttural as the turbo six-cylinder but still rorty enough to make other drivers sit up and take notice. The leather-trimmed seats are supportive and the head-up display ensures there's no distraction from the road ahead.
The Eco Pro drive mode is as effective as ever, though Carsguide suspects few will go for eco to dull the performance edge on their pretty-looking coupe. There's enough stopping power to match the acceleration. The suspension maintains the balance between around-town suppleness and back-road stiffness. Body roll is straitjacketed and the steering, while not perfect on centre, affords good feel when the roads start to turn.
This is Beemer back to the fore. Stylish looks are backed by an intelligent suspension tune - with adaptive dampers - to make it a prestige coupe with solidly sporty attributes. And the price-features equation finally matches what BMW's three-pointed-star rival's been doing for some time.
BMW 4 Series
Price: from $69,500
Engines: 2.0-litre turbodiesel 4-cylinder, 135kW/380Nm (420d); 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder, 180kW/350Nm (428i); 3.0L turbo 6-cylinder, 225kW/400Nm (435i)
Transmission: 8-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 4.6L/100km (diesel), 121g/km CO2 (420d); 6.3L/100km, 147g/km CO2 (428i); 7.2L/100km, 169g/km CO2 (435i)
Dimensions: 4.64m (L), 1.83m (W), 1.36m (H)
Weight: 1540kg (420d); 1545kg (428i), 1600kg (435i)