Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4

Update 1: Welcome

James Dennison has a new long-termer. A BMW 4 Series in 420i M Sport spec, its styling has already caused a stir. But what of the car underneath? Will it be better to live with than an Audi A5 Coupe or Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe? Let’s find out…

BMW 4 Series Arctic Race Blue Metallic

Introducing my latest long-term steed, a striking Arctic Race Blue metallic BMW 4 Series. And, when I say striking, I mean it, because much of the chatter around this car since the first official pics were seen a few months back, has focused on that grille. Large and decidedly unsubtle it’s split opinion right down the middle. Some think it works, others are violently against its very existence – ‘an affront to the BMW badge’ is a phrase I’ve heard a number of times. 

However, at the end of the day, an object’s looks are, by definition, highly subjective. What really matters with this car – and indeed any – are what’s under the skin. And I fear that in all the furore over its appearance, this may have been lost somewhat.

BMW 4 Series grille

So, in order to try and rectify this I have six months to find out what the G22-generation 4 Series is hiding under that controversial body and figure out whether it’s a better car than chief rivals such as the Audi A5 Coupe, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe and Lexus RC. But, before I get properly stuck in, here’s a rundown of exactly what I’m working with.

The spec – BMW 420i M Sport

The car in question is a 420i M Sport model. It’s expected to be the biggest selling variant of the 4 Series range and it’s not hard to see why. Early impressions suggest that the 184hp 2.0-litre petrol does an excellent job of replacing the previously popular (and now very much out-of-vogue) 2.0-litre diesel. Smooth and torquey enough (300Nm from 1,350rpm), it returned a highly respectable 49.2mpg on the 100-mile drive home from picking the car up – far greater than the claimed 42.2-44.1mpg figure.

BMW 4 Series interior

It’s also worth noting that this car is absolutely loaded with kit and has a hefty £48,925 list price (more on that later). So, as well as the reasonable M Sport standard equipment, it’s got the Adaptive M suspension with sport and comfort modes. How this will impact the overall drive of the car (especially on the pretty but large 19-inch alloy wheels) is what I’m bristling to find out. Rear-wheel drive is standard on this model, as is an eight-speed automatic transmission – no more manuals on this generation of 4 Series (at least in the UK).

Huge equipment list

Trawling through the brochure, it’s initially hard to find an option that this 420i doesn’t have. As far as I can tell, the only tech missing is the Visibility Package, featuring BMW Laserlights and high-beam assistant. Now, interestingly, the latter is technically on the vehicle (it’s standard on M Sport cars) yet BMW doesn’t activate it from standard. Instead, you need to purchase it, either as part of the Visibility Package or using the MMI. Opportunist on a car with a £40k starting price?

BMW Parking Assistant Plus

Equipment that is fitted and activated, however, includes the M Sport package Pro, Technology Plus Pack, Comfort Plus Pack and individual piano black interior trim. All features that we’ll be sure to explore in future updates and, crucially, let you know if they’re worth paying the extra money for.

*Apologies for the dirty car – finding a car wash that's open isn't easy at the present time!

Starting mileage: 731 miles

Claimed fuel economy: 40.6-44.4mpg


Update 2 – Practicality

Since there’s not a huge amount going on at the moment, it seemed an appropriate time to discuss my first impressions of the 4 Series’ space and layout. Sure, it’s a svelte coupe, but can it cope with the practicality demands of everyday life?

Granted, you’re unlikely to be buying a sleek, three-door coupe for its practicality and boot space. But that doesn’t stop it from being a consideration – especially if said car is going to be your only form of personal transport. Every so often there’s a need to take something large and bulky (or someone large and bulky) from A to B. Hence why I’m putting my sensible hat on this week and talking 4 Series space.

Front seat space in the 4 Series

No problems up front – as you might expect. I’m not the world’s tallest human being, but my average-height frame fits like a dream and there’s a good few inches of spare headroom. Storage space is also generous, with a large glovebox and capacious under-armrest area capable of taking bulky items. The door pockets, too, have a neat set of dividers in them which is perfect for keeping your water bottle and sunglasses case apart.

A couple of things I have noticed about the driving position in recent days is that it’s not quite as excellent as I first thought it was. Admittedly, I’m only spotting this now as I’ve recently spent time in a Porsche 911 and Porsche Taycan – both home to exemplary driving positions – but it pays to aim high, right?

BMW 4 Series offset pedals

Either way, even in its lowest setting the seat still feels a touch too high (especially when you have the backrest quite upright like I do) and the pedals are noticeably offset. What I mean by that, is that instead of the two pedals lining up with the center of the steering column, the accelerator is shoved out to the right a couple of inches.

Of course, this is not the end of the world, but I do wonder what effect it has on my posture and general seating position over long journeys. Still, there is plenty of adjustment on offer (in the wheel and the seat), so I’ll report back on how this all comes together in a later update.

BMW 4 Series rear seat space

As you’d expect in a three-door coupe, it’s a bit of a squeeze climbing in through the gap into the rear seats. And while the electric sliding front seat means you need very little effort to move it out the way, it does take longer than if it was fully manual. Impatient passengers beware.

Once back there however, there’s a decent amount of leg space behind my own driving position. My knees have plenty of room, even if the gap under the front seat is a little tight to slide my feet into. However, like most coupes, it’s the headroom that’s the big question mark.

BMW 4 Series rear-seat entry

At 5’10” tall (short legs, long torso), I can sit relatively comfortably in the back of the 4 Series, but only if I slouch down and slide my bum forwards on the seat. If I try and sit bolt upright, my head is uncomfortably pushed forwards by the roof. Not ideal, but also not uncommon.

As a (now admittedly commonplace) bonus, you do get the benefit of a climate control switch in the back, while the nets on the front seats are a small but welcome touch. Mind you, the comparatively tiny door pockets are less so.

BMW 4 Series bootspace

Let’s just say my experience of the 4 Series bootspace didn’t get off to the greatest of starts when I couldn’t squeeze a large parcel in no matter how hard I tried. See, at 440 litres it’s very similar to the Audi A5 Coupe (and far more than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe), yet the opening to the boot is restrictive.

BMW 4 Series bootspace

Of course, this isn’t something unique to the BMW – all coupes have a similar issue. But just bear in mind that while the on-paper boot volume should easily be able to swallow a copious amount of luggage, the shape of said cargo is crucial to your chances of packaging success.  

As ever, deep side pockets with netting are invaluable and mean you can stop the smaller objects from flying around the boot when you’re in the mood for some ‘enthusiastic’ driving. More on that in a later update…

Current mileage: 1,252

Average fuel economy: 36.4mpg


Update 3 – How much does it actually cost to own a BMW 4 Series?

It’s easy to find out what the cash price is for a BMW 4 Series. This one in particular is £48,925 with options. But how much does it actually cost to run and own?

One of the many quirks about buying, running and driving a car in 2021, is that the OTR (on-the-road) cash price bears little resemblance to what you’ll actually pay month-to-month. Indeed, the soaring popularity of car finance (Personal Contract Purchase, Personal Contract Hire etc) means that the monthly repayment figure is now far more relevant than the sticker price you’ll often see quoted in car reviews.

Take my BMW 4 Series long-termer for example. Without options, the cash price is £40,465, yet only a small percentage of buyers will hand this figure over in full, upfront, whether out of their own pocket or via a personal loan. So what I want to find out in this update, is how much would actually come out of my bank account every month if I were to ‘buy’ and run a BMW 420i M Sport using BMW’s PCP finance scheme. And, to give some context, I’m also going to collect similar figures for an Audi A5 Coupe S Line 40 TFSI.

Using BMW Select (PCP)

It’s been a while since I’ve had a play around with a manufacturer’s finance calculator, but thankfully BMW has a reasonably easy-to-access program that allows me to collect a basic set of figures. I’m putting down a £4000 deposit (plus BMW’s £1,973 deposit contribution) and looking for a 36-month term with an annual mileage of 10,000. APR is 2.9%.

BMW Select PCP

This all works out to 35 monthly payments of £539, with an optional final payment of £17,865. Overall, this adds up to a total amount payable sum of £42,721 (£2,256 more than I would have paid in cash, despite the deposit contribution).

Fuel, insurance, servicing and tax

We’d rather we didn’t have to pay for any of the above, but unfortunately they’re all essential – and it does add up! For the purposes of insurance, I used my 40-year-old alter ego, Ken Dennis. He lives in Peterborough, has had his licence for over 20 years and has a 10-year no-claims bonus. He keeps his pride and joy parked on the street and uses it for social, domestic and pleasure + commuting. The result is a £540 insurance bill paid annually.

BMW 420i badge

As for fuel, I took the 39mpg approximate average I’m getting from the 420i and calculated how much it would cost to fuel it for 10,000 miles using the average UK fuel price. This came to £1,462. Servicing meanwhile is based on BMW’s 36-month payment plan (£25 a month), while tax is hefty after year one (which is included in the price) as the vehicle costs over £40,000 and thus attracts a surcharge. Total = £490 per year.

Including the £4,000 deposit, I make that a first-year cost of £12,822 for the BMW. Year two and year three, meanwhile, are £9,312 per annum, working out at roughly £776 per month (for the latter two years).

Is it cheaper than an Audi A5?

In cash price terms? No. The A5 Coupe S Line 40 TFSI comes in at £42,965, although that is including £675 extra for metallic paint – an option that the calculator does not appear to let me remove. However, Audi does offer a far more generous deposit contribution of £5,000, plus (at the time of writing), are currently doing a ‘three months on us’ deal, where the interest rate is reduced to 3.1% APR.

Audi A5

However, the A5 Coupe still comes in at £635 per month – £96 more than the BMW, totalling up to in excess of £1,000 extra per year. Optional final payment, though, is cheaper at £16,052. We can also assume that fuel will be roughly the same, while tax will be identical. Add this onto a £540 a year insurance bill (£52 less than the BMW) and servicing working out at £264 (first year) and the A5 Coupe will cost around £13,886 for the first year of ownership. This then drops to £10,376 and £10,112 over years 2 and 3 respectively – coming to roughly £865 and £843 per month.

So, a notable jump in monthly costs over the BMW and one that’s also reflected in how much you’ll pay for the cars should you hand them back at the end of the three-year term. The 420i will set you back £31,446, while the A5 Coupe is considerably more at £34,374. However, should you choose to complete the purchase and pay the balloon payment, the Audi will cost £16,052, while the BMW is almost £2k more at £17,865. This means final scores on the doors are £49,311 for the full PCP deal and running costs of the 4 Series and £50,426 for the A5 Coupe.

The message, then, is both are worth considering if you plan to make the purchase at the end of three years. However,  if you intend to hand the car back then think long and hard about whether the Audi is worth the near £3k premium… Anyhow, enough man maths. Next time I’ll be going through every last piece of optional equipment on the 420i, telling you whether I think it’s worth paying extra for or not. Stay tuned.

Until then, don’t forget to tweet me @JDennisonCars (or email james.dennison@parkers.co.uk) with any questions you have about the new 4 Series and what it’s like to live with.

Current mileage: 1,856

Average fuel economy: 37.4mpg