To see the new BMW 4 Series Coupé approaching from a distance you could be forgiven for passing it off as just another BMW. It has the same double-halo headlights, the familiar kidney grille and the circular blue and white logo positioned prominently on the front of the bonnet.
If you know the German company's models, you'll recognise the latest 3 Series in the design, with the lamps tapering to join the grille as if in a single, integrated unit. Basically, it is a 3 Series - the result of overcrowding in that particular line-up. Over the years, the 3 Series grew to encompass a sedan, coupé, sports wagon and gran turismo. BMW then decided that enough was enough, and rebranded the coupé as a 4 Series. In a similar exercise, the 5 Series coupé was earlier rebranded as a 6 Series; two doors, even numbers.
Up close, the 4 Series Coupé stands firmly on its own four wheels. Although it shares a chassis with its four-door stablemates, the exterior design elements combine to produce a far sportier model. The tracking is wider, the roofline lower and the body slightly longer. The flared rear wheel arches are more muscular when compared to the 3 Series, and side strakes add a promise of power. Together, these design tweaks give the car a more dynamic stance, and it appears eager to get off the starting blocks. All in all, it's a sleek, well-contoured machine and among the most athletic looking cars in the BMW stable.
The 4 Series comes in a range of packages, including Modern, Sport and Luxury lines, and an M Sport edition. A convertible version will be coming to town in the near future.
BMW supplied the top-end M Sport Edition for our test-drive, and it was an impressive sight in dazzling "Estoril blue". Immediately noticeable is the more striking, sculpted M bodywork, with more angular design elements on the front and rear than the other, more curvaceous coupés in the pack.
Enticingly, it is littered with "M" badges, denoting BMW's motorsports division, and always a welcome input. Badges appear on the fenders, wheels and brake callipers. There are more M markers in the cabin, including on the door sills - just in case you need reminding. The car comes with standard 18-inch M double-spoke alloy wheels, with 19-inchers as an option.
The M Sport variant is replete with a three-litre, in-line six-cylinder engine with an output of 306 horsepower and 400 N-m of torque. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission but with the addition of paddleshifts behind the steering wheel for a more engaging drive. Specified by BMW as the 435i, the M Sport manages the zero to 100km/h sprint in a satisfactory 5.4 seconds and tops out at an electronically limited 250km/h. It swallows up about eight litres of petrol per 100 kilometres. Other variants are also available in a smaller, two-litre engine.
M characteristics in the conservative yet stylish cabin include comfortable front bucket seats, which lie lower than in the 3 Series, and a racy, leather-bound steering wheel with handy thumb grips. The cabin is surprisingly spacious, with no issues regarding legroom for passengers in the back seats. It also has a surprisingly deep and spacious boot.
Watch: Mark Sharp takes the new BMW 4 Series Coupe for a spin
For added convenience, the coupé also comes with an extendable arm that gently thrusts forward when you close the door, presenting the driver and front seat passenger with the seat belt. Take the belt and the arm retracts. It's a classy touch that can also be found among the Bentley range. It should be a must in any two-door car.
The dashboard controls are arranged neatly and tidily in the driver-focused cabin, with no clutter, no unnecessary gimmickry and nothing to confuse the first-time driver. The central console houses a shorter gear lever than in the 3 Series that fits nicely in the hand. The iDrive controller is also within easy reach of the left hand, and wired to an onboard computer and a 6.5-inch screen on top of the dashboard, which is safer and more convenient than a touch screen being introduced to many new car models. The revolve-and-click iDrive knob provides a quick and easy choice of a range of functions displayed on the screen, such as technical information, navigation and entertainment choices.
Another good thing to learn is that, along with the lower centre of gravity, the new 4 Series Coupé is also blessed with a perfectly stable 50:50 weight ratio. So, not surprisingly, it's a dynamic car to drive, shifts effortlessly and grips the road well. It feels breezy and nimble, aided by the lightness of the electric power steering. We can only guess whether other versions perform equally well, given that the M Sport is the most expensive coupé in the pack.
You are presented a choice of drive modes in the 4 Series, including Eco Pro for enhanced fuel economy, and also Sport and Sport+ in the M Sport. While you will be burning more petrol, the latter is fun and engaging in the switch from automatic to use of the paddleshift, although gear changes do not always feel quite as smooth.
And since it's a BMW with "efficient dynamics", there are the other regular fuel economy features such as the option of turning on the stop/start function, which cuts the engine when you stop at a red light and bursts back to life when you release the brake.
At HK$868,000 after tax, the M Sport edition costs almost HK$200,000 more than the baseline model. There are plenty of options that could rack up the cost if they take your fancy. A favourite of mine is the holographic speedometer that appears to be projected hovering over the bonnet. This will set you back another HK$11,900.
It was a bold move by BMW to spin off the 3 Series coupé into a car with its very own numbering. But the look and feel of the 4 Series Coupé suggests it will be a successful initiative. The M Sport, for one, also offers a taste of what can be expected from the full-on M4, which will be released next year.