First Drive: 2017 BMW 4 Series

First Drive: 2017 BMW 4 Series
 

Misuse of social media can yield spectacularly disastrous results. Just ask the people at Bell Pottinger or anyone who has ever shared an unsolicited opinion in haste. Many live to regret the actions of thumbs that moved faster than thought processes. One bitter Tweet symphony is all it takes to spell the end.

But let me not sound like a fogey by bemoaning our connected online community and its benefits.

Because, admittedly this scribe is partial to the pursuit of self-portrait excellence – and the dubious practice of sharing pictures of food with the greater digital universe. Amusing clips of cuddly animals are great too.

Truth be told, few other professions have mastered the art of humble-bragging on Social Media as well as automotive scribes. One grimaces seeing hashtags placed before words like “blessed” in online scribblings by colleagues, about the new wheels they are evaluating that week.

Maybe the term “evaluating” should be used loosely in the context of a group known as influencers.

Armed with an assortment of smartphone camera picture filters and lengthy lists of Instagram followers, they have the power to shape narratives. Their might cannot be underestimated by ardent newsprint apologists.

And the collective clout of the digitally-influential was proven with the recent launch of the revised BMW 4-Series. The subject was trending on Twitter by the fourth day of the national media event. If your feed was bombarded by gratuitous superlatives and repetitive BMW imagery, allow us to try and present a more considered take with the objectivity filter engaged.

The 4-Series moniker was introduced in 2013, with the brand wanting to reserve even numbers for their more exclusive variants. The 4-Series line-up comprises the regular two-door Coupé, four-door Gran Coupé and Convertible.

Constant enhancements are essential to staying germane in the relentless world of motoring. It was time for the range to undergo the customary mid-life tweaks. Look closely because they are subtle. New elements include hexagonally-shaped LED lights at the front and a slightly bigger aperture for air to be inhaled through the bumper. The taillights were redesigned too. There are new shades to pick (Snapper Rocks Blue and Sunset Orange) which looked hashtag-resplendent in the striking Mpumalanga sunlight.

You may think these minor enhancements would go unnoticed. But a fellow in a BMW M4 Convertible drove after our convoy with more exuberance than necessary to get a closer glimpse. He eventually pulled over and lit a cigarette – then probably sent a Tweet to the local dealership to enquire about a trade-in on the improved model. These aesthetic adjustments have also been applied to the M4 variant.

In May this year we held a comparative test between the Audi S5, Mercedes-AMG C 43 and BMW 440i. Perhaps it was unsurprising that our staffers deemed the BMW as the one that spoke most eloquently to their sporting sensibilities. Make no mistake, the 4-Series in Coupé guise is utterly enjoyable to pilot if you fancy yourself as something of a driving enthusiast.

In the upgraded model, the suspension is purportedly stiffer – in addition to damping revisions to counter a resultant harshness in ride. We sampled two derivatives. First was the 420d Coupé Steptronic, which had been blessed with the optional M Sport package. We can confirm that it steers, accelerates and stops in a manner befitting a BMW: rather well. Our second test stint involved the 440i Convertible Steptronic, also endowed with the M Sport accoutrements.

According to BMW, this roofless representative of the range was “harmonious and agile” enough to not need any fettling beneath the skin. It does without the suspension alterations of its siblings. Well, in this format, it is agreeable as a leisurely cruiser. Pushing through one of the many entertaining passes in the province with more conviction revealed its deficiencies. Rather opt for the 440i in Coupé or Gran Coupé body templates, than squander the talents of this engine in the compromised chopped-top. If spirited driving is your thing, of course.

The Coupé and Gran Coupé are available with four engine choices. The 420i (135kW and 290Nm); 420d (140kW and 400Nm); 430i (185kW and 350Nm) or 440i (240kW and 450Nm). You can have the same pick in the Convertible – except for the diesel derivative. Interestingly, a six-speed manual transmission is still available with the 420i and 430i.

So, the 4-Series still looks appropriately svelte and drives with admirable composure. But the cabin feels outmoded, especially with the current Audi A5 and S5 as reference points. Sure, it has the assuring logic and familiarity of the usual BMW layout. Although one expects a little more plushness from the textures of items in a high-tier coupé – and this is where it falls short.

This is despite efforts like faux leather stitching patterns on the dashboard and a more liberal peppering of chrome finishes. Buyers can specify conveniences such as a wireless smartphone charger, ensuring a low battery never interferes with a Snapchat production.

“Four means more,” to quote the marketing brains at BMW. We cannot dispute that, although we would add the words “only slightly” in parentheses to be extra truthful. – Brenwin Naidu

2017 BMW 4-Series Pricing:

BMW 4-Series Coupé: From R603 200
BMW 4-Series Gran Coupé: From R603 200
BMW 4-Series Convertible: From R715 400