If there are three aesthetic rules to live by, they could well be that style is subjective, strong designs soften over time, and it’s rude to comment on other peoples’ nose-jobs. Pity, then, the 2021 BMW 420d Coupe and its love-it-or-(more-likely)-hate-it grille, as bold as the automaker’s boasts of driving prowess and lashings of technology.
The Ultimate Driving Machine has received the Ultimate Nostrils in this latest generation, and to say that hasn’t met with universal acclaim is to flirt liberally with understatement. Like most of BMW’s recent launches the front grille is more than oversized; no longer a functional element with a twist of chrome, but a dramatic styling exercise that just so happens to do double-duty for cooling.
BMW’s design team is confident you’ll grow used to it. Until then, owners of the 420d Coupe should probably expect, well, let’s call it “enthusiastic feedback” from their friends and neighbours.
The side view is more elegant, and the tail inoffensive.
0-100 km/h is quoted as 7.2 seconds though feels faster. There’s a whole lot to like about this engine, from the way it surges forward with a judicious stab of the accelerator to the noise it makes as you do so. Is there a little digital trickery to enhance that soundtrack? Yes, maybe, but unlike in some cars it never feels too much like fakery.
The transmission, meanwhile, lacks the rifle-bolt sharpness of a DCT but I’m not sure that matters. It’s content to slur through the ratios in regular Drive mode, or speed things up – including eager downshifts when you’re pushing it – in Sport.
Elsewhere, though, the 420d Coupe leans on the touring side. It’s flat and composed in the corners, even with the drive mode set to Comfort to soften out the bumps, but doesn’t feel entirely eager or playful. Instead the standard all-wheel drive keeps the power in check: you’ll get around the corners just fine, with understeer telegraphing when things are getting hairy, but there’s none of the RWD-aping that other M-badged cars deliver.
It’s not to say this 4 Series is dull, only that it takes its dual personality seriously. Sure, there’s speed when you want it, but it also makes for an excellent long-distance cruiser.
The brake pedal grabs hard at first graze, but then the long travel is better suited to subtle modulations while cruising rather than instilling maximum confidence when you’re looking to change direction in earnest.
For all the brashness of the exterior, the interior is oddly familiar. You could mistake the cabin for one of any number of BMW models: the generous might say that there’s no need to fix what doesn’t need it, but it’s a reminder all the same that there’s less distance from the 3 Series than the outside might suggest.
A leather-wrapped M Sport wheel with paddle shifters is optional, while the 8.8-inch central touchscreen is standard. As is the analogue cluster with 5.1-inch display, 14-way power front seats, a power glass moonroof, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and navigation. That Executive Package throws in heating for the wheel and front seats, ambient lighting, a head-up display, gesture control, and a full digital instrument cluster along with a larger 10.3-inch central screen. There’s also auto climate control, WiFi hotspot, parking sensors, and keyless entry; add more rands and get a wireless charging pad, and upgrades to the Harman Kardon audio system.
It’s a clean, easy to use dashboard, and everything feels screwed together nicely. The iDrive system has matured into something surprisingly straightforward, usable with either the touchscreen or the control knob in the centre console. I wish BMW’s drive mode buttons were a little easier to find without having to look down at them next to the shifter, though time and familiarity would probably ease that headache.
As for driver assistance, blind spot warnings are standard, and you get frontal collision warnings and rear cross-traffic alerts too.
In the rear, meanwhile, there’s a surprising amount of space. BMW’s decision to throw in some creature comforts back there – including dedicated USB charging ports and air vents – suggest it’s intended to be more than just a leather-lined parcel shelf. I wouldn’t want to spend extended time back there as an adult, but older kids should fit just fine.
Would the 4 Series Coupe be an easier sell with a less-ostentatious fascia? Almost certainly. I’ll say that – consistent with those aesthetic laws – my attitude toward it did soften over the course of the week, though I’m still not sure it’s entirely in keeping with the rest of the 420d Coupe’s style.
If you expect vascularity from your coupe then this isn’t quite it; if you’d love your budget to stretch to an 8 Series, however, but you just can’t dig deep enough, the 4 Series could be a welcome compromise.
Time will tell if BMW’s polarizing design is one day seen as classic or caustic. From the inside, though, the 2021 420d Coupe is far less challenging, and more than suited to the task of road trip companion.
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