For the individual: Driving the BMW G22 420i

Just like individualistic people, modern BMW Coupes face quite a challenge throughout their gestation period. Visually, while they might share similar underpinnings with their sedan counterparts, they have to carry their own distinct identity, familiar enough to sit within the same family yet special enough to set themselves apart and be appreciated for years to come. Dynamically, they must deliver an enjoyable driving experience capable of engaging a myriad of drivers and driving styles. And most importantly at the end of the day, they need to generate a profit for the manufacturer in an ever-shrinking niche automotive segment.

Aesthetically, from the front at least, there is no mistaking the new 4-Series from any other car currently on the market. It is an extremely bold design decision, to say the least, and one that seems more sensitive to colours than most with dark greys and solid blues working much better than the usual shades of black or white. Dimensionally, the new 4-Series is longer (by 128 millimetres to 4,768 mm) and wider (by 27 mm to 1,852 mm) than the car that came before with a slight 6mm increase in height ( to 1,383 millimetres).

While the face of the new 4 invites plenty of “conversation”, the rest of the car is a lovely flow of crisp elegant lines which at the same time are once again in defiance of traditionally established BMW design cues. Gone are the distinctive beltline graphics that used to cut across the body aft of the A-pillars and gone are the classically shaped Hoffmeister kinks. While the loss of the beltline graphic has allowed the designers to give the 4-Series broader hips to create a more aggressive wider rear stance, the redesigned kink has sadly lost quite a bit of the marque’s identity, almost bordering on generic.

Singapore cars will come in two distinct levels of trim. M Sport for the 420i and M Sport Pro on the more powerful 430i. With 420i M Sport cars featuring large sculpted air intakes up front, a redesigned rear apron, 18″ M Double-Spoke Style 848 wheels, some tasty High-gloss Shadowline trim and to finish up, twin rear exhaust pipes.

As you’d expect, the 430i M Sport Pro takes everything you have on the standard M Sport and bumps it up a notch with Adaptive M suspension, 19” BMW Individual Double-Spoke Style 793 wheels, BMW’s brilliant heads-up display, a Harman Kardon surround sound system, re-engineered active sound design, M rear spoiler, M seat belts and extended levels of Shadowline trim all around.

Unfortunately due to ever-increasing difficulties faced in the homologation process and a genuine lack of demand, the much-acclaimed M440i will not be coming to our local market anytime soon making it the first time a 6-cylinder is no longer offered in our local 3 and 4-Series lineup.

Because seeing pictures of the 4-Series tend to cause viewers to focus on very specific parts of the car’s design, it becomes quite a different experience taking in the overall shape in person. Love it or loathe it, the design of the new 4-Series is anything but boring and forgettable, which some might argue is the bigger automotive design sin.

Once inside, the bold and daring exterior lines of the 4-Series give way to a more sensible looking cabin defined by clear clean lines familiar to those who have driven its 3-Series counterpart, except this time, the cabin feels slightly more enveloping with a larger, more steeply raked (acoustic glass) windscreen flanked by two large side windows rising out from a pair of ridiculously long doors. The longest ever on a production BMW. The materials used once again look beautifully upmarket and have a Germanic air of quality to the construction.

If there’s one complaint, it has to be the hard plastic buttons used for drive mode selection, just feeling a little less tactile than I’d like them to be. The placement of the Start/Stop button also needs some getting used to and feels a little less intuitive than having it straight-ahead on the dash.

Space inside is great for those up front and while the rear seats provide quite a generous amount of leg space for a 2-door Coupe, my 1.8m frame and the 4-Series’ tapered roofline did mean I could not sit fully upright against the backrest without having to tilt my head. I could, of course, slouch a little to avoid grazing the headliner but I doubt such a position would be comfortable for an extended journey. While I’m pretty sure putting 2 full-sized adults in the back is not high up on the list of needs for those looking for a stylish Coupe, it is worth noting.

As standard, all 4-Series models in Singapore come fitted with BMW’s digital Live Cockpit. Which I do not like, as it seems to be prioritising visual excitement over legibility and readability. There are often times when just too many things are going on within the screen and trying to pick out specific bits of information require more than just a casual split-second glance.

While there are options to toggle through various parameters on the display, it just feels too cumbersome whilst on the move and with no way to fully customise it to display only the items I wish to see, feels like a wasted opportunity with a fully digital display.

Dear BMW, could we have one option to switch the display to a “Classic” view mode with clear legible fonts, selectable parameters to display and legacy clockwise sweeping gauges set against orange instruments? Not every one of us wants to look at (or can make sense of) an Iron Man interface while driving. It’s a digital interface, so implementation shouldn’t be too difficult right? It isn’t as if BMW doesn’t have the talent to design such an interface as Mini’s digital display readouts are exemplary when it comes to clarity and legibility.

One thing BMW has so far been getting right though is the iDrive infotainment system, now in its 7th iteration. With media, navigational and system controls easily available via touchscreen, iDrive, steering wheel controls or the now rather good BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant voice controls. It’s really good. BMW OS 7 now also come with both wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto integration for those Spotify tunes.

As a bonus for iPhone users, the BMW Digital Key will also enable drivers to unlock and turn on their car with their mobile device.

A nifty new feature that also comes as standard is BMW’s Reversing Assistant which memorises and playbacks (in reverse), your last 50 metres of progress. It is quite uncanny in action and a great feature to have if you ever find yourself headed into a tight spot.

Unfortunately, while our 420i came with a couple of active safety features like the Lane Departure Warning with lane return assistance and a Speed Limit Info, it misses out on having a radar-guided cruise control which while not quite the deal-breaker is a feature that is increasingly becoming more and more commonplace in the premium luxury segment and would have been very much welcomed in a vehicle in this price bracket.

For those wondering about the practicalities, cargo space is decent with 440 litres of loading room available and extra space can be easily accessed by folding down the rear seats. While it manages to swallow up quite a bit of cargo, there is a structural beam cutting into the height of the boot which might make loading taller items a little challenging even with the rear seats folded down.

On the road, the extra dimensions of the new 4-Series do immediately make themselves felt and coupled with the more upmarket interior, one could even think he/she was in a slightly smaller 6-Series. If the 6-Series was still around. This isn’t that far a stretch as the wheelbase of the 4-Series is only 4mm shorter (2851mm) than that of the previous generation’s 6-Series (2855mm). This slightly extended wheelbase does of course translate to a more capacious cabin and from my short time behind the wheel, a rather refined ride. In full comfort mode, the 420i can be a rather nice place to cruise long distance in.

While the 420i’s chassis feels very well sorted with sharp precise steering enabling the (big) nose to point pretty much wherever you want it to. I suspect this keen driving behaviour could be the result of having a lighter inline 4 engine upfront set as far back as possible within the engine bay. But with only 184hp and 300Nm of torque at your disposal from the lightly boosted 2-litre power-plant, progress is adequate, building smoothly in a linear fashion and allowing the 420i to reach 100km/h from a standstill in an acceptable 7.5 seconds.

These might not exactly be numbers to set your heart on fire but they do provide for a decent amount of push required on occasional spirited drives. This isn’t at all a bad thing because for most of us, having a comfortable commute around town matters more than reaching the next set of stop-lights a few tens of seconds quicker than everyone else. More Grand Tour, less Grand Prix if you will.

For those living by their own set of rules, life’s not easy. Their paths are often fraught with trials, tribulations and at times, ridicule. To succeed, they require strong conviction, determination, wisdom and eventually experience. These individuals know what they want in life and aren’t afraid to challenge the norm.

While these defining attributes are often used to characterise people, I reckon the same can also be said of the bold new BMW 4-Series. Just like its clientele, the new 4-Series knows what it is, what it can be, and isn’t afraid to stand out to achieve its goals, it’s for the individuals.

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