Say what you will about the bucktooth grille; the new BMW 4 Series remains a class act of dynamic balance

The first-generation 4 Series still looks good to this day. It’s even better to drive, thanks in particular to the 50:50 weight distribution between the two axles and BMW’s affinity for a driver-centric experience - and by that, I don’t mean just the fact that the cockpit points every button, knob, or screen at whoever is sitting behind the wheel.

That genuine appetite for spirited driving is still present in the new 2021 BMW 4 Series, albeit wrapped up in a polarizing package. What I’m really trying to say is that this book should under no circumstances be judged by its cover. That would be a mistake.

What’s it like to drive, then?

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Exterior
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Before I let the cat out of the bag, let me offer some context. I drove the new BMW 4 Series in EU spec, specifically in 420d xDrive guise. I know, a diesel, yuck, but those oil-burners are still popular in Europe.

If it helps, every mill in the 4 Series range (said 420d’s 2.0-liter diesel included) is paired to a mild-hybrid setup the mixes a 48-volt starter-generator and a separate 48-volt Li-ion battery pack. The system is a double-bladed sword and it words lie one: it offers a small power bump (10 horsepower, to be more precise) that alleviates the load on the ICE and at the same time, it improves energy storage during brake recuperation.

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Exterior
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Since we’d been split into compact groups of three drivers and weren’t allowed to swap cars - thank covid for that, the car I climbed into initially remained “mine” for the rest of the event. It just so happened to be the 420d, which isn’t sold in the U.S., where the lineup (at the time of writing) is limited to the likes of 430i, 430i xDrive, and M440i xDrive.

The four-cylinder diesel engine in the 420d xDrive makes 188 horsepower (190 PS) and 400 Newton-meters (295 pound-feet) of twist in the 1750-2500 rpm band. That means shooting off the line is a piece of cake, especially with the xDrive all-wheel-drive, when you also have the extra grip offered by the front wheels doing the pulling. And while I didn’t get to drive it on the road - just around a race track - the way this mill pulls and how well-oiled it is in relationship with the crisp eight-speed Steptronic makes me pretty sure that it will also allow for quick overpasses and lane changes when needed.

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Exterior
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2021 BMW 420d xDrive specifications
Engine 2.0-liter diesel
Horsepower 188 HP
Torque 295 LB-FT @ 1,750-2,500 RPM
0 to 62 mph 7.4 seconds
Top SPeed 238 kph (148 mph)

Push the accelerator hard and the mill needs a moment or two to come to life. But once the torque kicks in, it just pulls and pulls relentlessly, aided by the slick Steptronic ‘box.

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Exterior
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Moreover, grip is another impressive trait of the new 4 Series. The previous 4er was already a high-finesse corner carver on rails, and the new one feels even better. There’s so much grip that even if you approach a corner the bad way, you’ll have that extra invisible layer of glue on the wheels to correct your trajectory and get back in the game. That’s down to the extra negative camber BMW added to the front wheels and a center of gravity that’s 23 mm lower than in the current 3 Series.

The precise steering, too, stands out by sending to the center of your palms just the right amount of feedback. You always know which way the front wheels are headed in and out of a corner. Always. In this respect, the 4er, even as a diesel, acts like a pure BMW sports car. Oh, and they’ve gone for 50:50 weight distribution for the new one, too…

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Exterior
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Keep in mind while reading this that the 20d xDrive is quite heavy. The 420i, for example, which doesn’t come with xDrive, tips the scales at 1525 kilos (3363 pounds), while the diesel weighs 1670 kilos (3682 pounds). So I’m guessing gasoline models (with or without xDrive) should handle swifter than the diesel, which is always bound to be heavier by the nature and build of its engine. Even so, the 420d xDrive will still zap from naught to 100 kph (62 mph) in 7.4 seconds (which is not bad at all) en route to a top speed of 238 kph (148 mph).

What about the interior?

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Interior
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It’s fair to say I didn’t have the time to fiddle with every button and panel, but I can tell you that it looks and feels fancier than a 3 Series. Not that the visual differences are that big, it’s just that the list of tweaks BMW made is just enough to emphasize that cocooning sensation you get from the cockpit’s geography. Everything’s within reach, either you use your hands or your eyes to interact with it and there’s visible quality baked into every panel, knob, and trim element.

I’d like to say the seats are comfortable but the race track is not exactly the best medium for such a test. I will mention, however, that they offer wonderful lateral and lumbar support, way beyond what you’ll actually need in mundane traffic conditions. As for the rear, well, who cares about those sitting in the back in a coupe? You buy a two-door to treat yourself, not your pals.

2021 BMW 4 Series Track Review: Sharper Than Ever Interior
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Speaking of treating oneself, the 4 Series gets BMW’s iDrive 7 suite available with either and 8.8-inch center touchscreen and a 5.1 color display between the rpm and speed gauges or (optionally, via the Live Cockpit Professional upgrade) a 10.25-inch center display and a fully-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster. So, yeah, it can be dressed to impress in and out if that’s what you want.

Final Word

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I don’t know about you, but I consider the 4 Series a core model for BMW. Leaving money-making aside - the 4er isn’t a hot-seller like the 3 Series or the 5 Series, we’re looking at one of the best driving cars in Munich’s lineup that can also pull off the premium/luxury stunt as well as the quality one.

It’s all very clear to me now. In the 4 Series, the emphasis is on driving and the driver, on how well you connect to the car and how well it responds to your input. Sure, you can get your dose of technology and plushness, no doubt about that, but the satisfaction of an excellently balanced vehicle you can actually enjoy driving is such a rare commodity these days that I’d be willing to sacrifice a chunk of comfort just to see more of the 4 Series in every other car out there.

Tudor Rus
Assistant Content Manager - Automotive Expert - tudor@topspeed.com
Tudor’s first encounter with cars took place when he was only a child. Back then, his father brought home a Trabant 601 Kombi and a few years later, a Wartburg 353. At that time, he was too young to know how they worked and way too young to drive them, but he could see one thing – each of them had a different ethos and their own unique personality. As time went on, he started seeing that in other cars as well, and his love for the automobile was born.  Read More
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