Diesels…naah! Ever since our dear government politicised them several years back, I admit to an antipathy towards them.
I became almost obsessed with looking out for those old smokers who smog up our roads to this day.
But then along comes a car like BMW’s 4-cylinder 1997cc oil burner (and, of course, diesel engines in all the other manufacturers’ cars) and I am backed into my corner with my hands in the air saying, ‘OK, alright, I’m wrong!’
So, an enjoyable week behind the wheel of BMW’s very latest 4-series coupé underlined that fact.
Even if diesel fuel is still a bit more expensive than petrol, the end result over my drive, in the full variety of traffic conditions (except really heavy stop-start), was displayed by the trip computer at 48.8 mpg. This may be well below the official WLTP 61.4 to 65.7 mpg, but nonetheless is more than acceptable.
Apart from that, BMW’s diesel engine proved to be as smooth and quiet as any rival’s, with a quiet start-up and total lack of any old low-speed clatter; in fact, certainly once on the move in any gear, it would take a real engine geek to notice any difference between this diesel and a similar capacity petrol engine.
I found that most of my driving was done with the engine hardly ever reaching 2000 rpm.
On the motorway at 70 mph, it’s positively laid-back-relaxed at around only 1600 rpm. By the way, given a stretch of motorway with no real gradient, you can notice that the current-consumption indicator waves between 70 and 90 mpg. Of course, if you need to put your foot down to overtake something, that figure for a second or two will drop under 30 mpg.
If you do floor the pedal, with 400Nm of torque from 1750 to 2500rpm, not only do the 8-speed Steptronic gears instantly drop into a super surge in acceleration, but you get a most satisfactory, almost musical, growl from the exhaust. In fact, with its 190 bhp, the engine is not that powerful and the car is not that light. Zero to 62 mph in just 7.4 seconds. Clever, therefore.
In traffic, where was the start/stop system? Well, all BMW diesel cars are ‘mild hybrids’, so what happens is that the fossil-fuel bit can sometimes take a breather. For example, as you let off the accelerator on a long, gentle downhill, the 11 bhp electric motor is what you are left with; you are not in neutral, you are not coasting; the car will gradually slow down.
If the hill becomes steep, the engine automatically gets back to give braking effect.
At traffic lights, I found that I didn’t need to select neutral, which is my usual habit with automatics; keeping the car in drive, ‘ready’ mode and brake auto-hold on, the engine was usually not running (only if the battery needed a little boost, when all the lights, wipers, demisters and so on were working overtime), so the car would not move, whether or not on any gradient, until the accelerator was touched.
As previously reported, the 4-series is a real pleasure to drive, with superb steering and handling and quite outstanding brakes.
I found the ride on my local roads (where you really learn how an unfamiliar car might feel compared with what you’re used to), that, at first, the suspension, that defaults to ‘comfort’ mode when you start up, seemed a bit busy and on the firm side. That said, I got used to it and the bottom line is that some of our roads remain in a pretty poor state.
Little things I loved about this particular 420d included the heated steering wheel that automatically deploys in very cold weather. The BMW was very easy to defrost on some very early morning starts.
Apart from providing a very rewarding driving experience, with the usual selection of driving modes for this class of car, the 4-series is a very practical and comfortable coupé. It’s a genuine 4-seater, and my rear-seat passenger, although quite small, found it very comfortable in the back with plenty of headroom. Getting into the back is not that difficult: the front seats fold forward and automatically move as far up front as they can; getting back out of the rear is much more of a challenge that would have been alleviated by the simple provision of grab handles, but there aren’t any.
The boot is impressively spacious with a good-sized, flat floor. The rear seats can fold 40/20/40.
Technophiles will love this car. On offer are pretty much everything BMW’s competition has. Getting used to it is either fun or a challenge. Voice commands are more straightforward than they have been, being better-led by the car’s system and more intuitive. Gesture controls take practice — there are nine of them; these can be learnt over time…I managed to circle a dismissive finger to turn the radio volume down.
WLTP Emissions range from 121 to 112 g/km, putting this model into Band A road tax.
The version tested was the xDrive M Sport Edition at £44,030 before options. A lot of money, but certainly a great deal of car.
Tom Scanlan has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, particularly the Reading Evening Post for ten years, having got into motoring journalism in 1973 via the somewhat unlikely back door of the British Forces Broadcasting Service. BFBS produced a weekly radio motoring show for the services overseas and Tom produced it, as well as interviewing experts and eventually reporting on cars.
He is into classic cars and has owned Porsche, Ferrari, pre-war Alvis and Rileys and currently owns his fifth old Alfa Romeo, a 1984 GTV 2.0.
In his spare time, Tom is a professional cricket coach.
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