The elephant in the room is how this car looks, we know. Either you love it or hate it, so let’s put that debate aside for a moment. What really matters for BMW’s all-new next-gen 4 Series coupe is how it drives.
You see, BMW’s entire reputation arguably rests on this car. The 3 Series (and now by extension the 4 Series) have always been at the core of the brand’s claim to make the Ultimate Driving Machines. In the late 1960s, BMW proved to North Americans that cars didn’t have to be enormous gas-guzzlers in order to be entertaining. In the 1980s, the 3 Series brought luxury and handling to the masses. In the 1990s, BMW’s growing range of compact coupes and sport sedans ran circles around the competition and the brand’s rep was firmly cemented.
The new 4 Series is standing on the shoulders of giants. Whenever there’s a new 3 or 4 Series, BMW’s reputation is on the line.
Given the brand’s history, it’s fitting that our first taste of the new 4 Series is on a racetrack, barreling down the main strait of the short circuit at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. BMW’s new turbocharged straight-six engine sounds better than ever. It has a not-so-subtle growl that becomes an exotic, mechanical howl as the redline approaches. It sounds less muted that before. Flick the right-hand paddle just behind the steering wheel and the eight-speed ‘box bangs up a gear much more quickly than the old car’s gearbox ever did. A high-speed kink tests the car’s body control, but it feels absolutely planted, going where the driver points it like a laser-guided missile.
A look at the spec sheet and you’ll see why the new 4 is such a rocket. The M440i xDrive, which will sit atop the 4 Series range until at the new M4 hits showrooms, has a 3.0-litre turbocharged mill producing 382 horsepower (an increase of 62) and 369 lb-ft of torque (up 39). Zero-100 km/h officially takes 4.5 seconds, but that feels like a conservative figure from where we’re sitting.
This car is like a greyhound; it wants to run. The track is admittedly wet and greasy, but the engine’s power easily overwhelms the rear tires on command. With the electronic helpers in Sport Plus mode, the car will squirm out of corners, the rear end wagging, pushing the car onto the straights with a good dose of oversteer. It never lets you get too out of control, but it certainly allows you to feel you’re in a rear-drive sports car. That’s an especially miraculous trick because this car is actually all-wheel drive; BMW’s xDrive system does an excellent job of hiding that fact until you really need the front wheels to kick in and pull you out of trouble.
Those that know BMWs know it’s not the engine that defines these cars, it’s the chassis. Here, the new 4 Series is a massive improvement over the old model. The neutral balance of the chassis and feel through the steering is better than any rivals. On its adaptive dampers, the car seems to flow with the road.
On a tight autocross course set up in the racetrack’s parking lot, the steering felt very sharp on initial turn in. Thankfully, the front wheels – which have a wider track than before – can keep up. It inspires great confidence to push faster and faster. It’s addictively, honestly. The balance comes mid-corner where the car feels perfectly poised. You can adjust its trajectory intuitively with the throttle: over- and understeer is easily corrected. It’s more engaging than anything this side of the hardcore BMW M2 CS.
Other first impressions? The ride on rough roads is much plusher than before thanks to those new adaptive dampers. The cabin is gorgeous with (predictably) a pair of new high-res screens. The whole car is wider, longer and lower than its predecessor which means it’ll be much easier for rear-seat passengers to get in and out. Everything you touch and feels is more luxurious than before too, although maybe that’s down to the fact our test car was fitted with the $9,095 Premium Excellence Package, which includes niceties such as aluminum ‘fabric’ trim, a galvanic-finish on the controls and stitching across the dash.
Alas, we had just a brief taste of what the new 4 Series is capable of. We’ll need to see how it performs day-to-day to offer a proper verdict, but at least when it comes to the thing that matters most – how it handles – there can be no doubt; the 2021 4 Series absolutely lives up to its ancestors, and then some.
Specs: 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six
Power: 382 hp