Not since the Z1 or Bangle era limousines, has BMW had to answer so many questions about vehicle design, as has been the case with the new 4 Series.
For decades, the BMW 3 Series coupe was an example of exemplary taste and considered design. Although the brand's M3s were always purposeful and intimidating in their stance, the 3 Series coupe was graceful and elegant by comparison.
Not so, the new 4 Series. Or at least, that is public perception.
We spent an afternoon with BMW’s German design and production team responsible for the new 4 Series to try and learn what guided the project to its eventual conclusion: a shape and front-end which has triggered even ardent fans to project strong opinions.
To understand the existence of new BMW's 4 Series grille, you need to look into BMW's history.
Being different, whilst reviving heritage
A theme that was constant in our discussion with BMW’s designers, was the issue of tradition. Few brands have a history of product excellence similar to BMW. In a global marketplace where high-margin SUVs and disruptive electric vehicles are gaining market share, without any provenance of their own, BMW risks losing a crucial part of its identity.
By way of example, imagine the case of Hyundai. Excellent Korean cars, ironically now influenced by a staff of former BMW engineers. But for all its current technical achievement, Hyundai has no historical product legacy or iconic design details to revive.
With BMW, that is not the case. The 4 Series vertical grille is controversial, but only to those who aren’t students of the brand’s true history.
Any committed follower of BMW will immediately have recognised the strong 328 roadster and 3.0 CSi connection, regarding that huge vertical grille. BMW’s design team is not creating anything new, merely for shock value. They are applying the brand’s historical design values, with modern materials and proportions.
In a world where car design is enormously constrained by safety regulations, the challenge of creating an original and organic front-end is tremendous. One can hardly blame the BMW design team for having reached into the company’s history and attempting to create something that does the brand's legacy justice.
Dramatic – at a distance
Some love it, some hate it, but from BMW's perspective, there's a method in the madness...
One of the most valid reasons for BMW’s designers to opt for the 4 Series having such a distinctive grille, was vehicle differentiated vehicle recognition. Any coupe must, by implication, make a statement when parked or on the move.
BMW’s 4 Series design team want it to be recognisable at 100m, which is a distance that has traditionally been held the uppermost standard for product differentiation. The two most recognisable vehicles, which have been in continuous production since their launch, are Porsche’s 911 and Volkswagen's Golf. Both of which, are deemed easily recognisable by most people, at a distance of 100m.
Any discussion around 4 Series, as a piece of industrial design, must include its licence plate mount. BMW admitted that there were various options, all trialled during the car’s concept phase. One of these included an asymmetric mount option, similar to what is used by Alfa Romeo on its Giulia.
In the end, homologation issues in BMW’s most important 4 Series market, guided the design team to settle on a centre mount, for the licence plate. There were simply too many American States where crash safety and licence plate display regulations required a more traditional licence plate mount.
How is 4 faster than 3?
The 4 Series is more dynamic than its 3 Series sibling, even if the differences are marginal.
Although BMW’s 3 and 4 Series share a similar platform, the coupe car’s engineering team applied a lot of skill and resources to make it drive with more verve.
BMW technical staff we spoke to, admitted that any 4 Series equipped with a similar powertrain, would be faster than the equivalent 3 Series. Making this comparative advantage possible is a 23mm wider track 21mm lower core centre of gravity, thanks to the 57mm lower roofline.
Compounding those dimensional advantages over 3 Series, are individual component upgrades regarding the dampers and auxiliary springs at all 4 wheels on the new 4 Series. BMW’s engineers wished to leverage the car’s wider and lower mass distribution. A marginally reconfigured suspension was deemed the best way of achieving this, delivering the promise of a slightly more dynamic driving experience.
How much of a difference is there really between a 3 and 4 Series? In terms of linear acceleration, virtually nothing. But if you add any route with some testing braking zones and direction changes, BMW is confident that a 4 Series will deliver meaningfully more cornering speed.
In BMW’s slalom tests, using the same engines, 4 Series is 2kph quicker than 3 Series through the cones.
Keen on buying the new BMW 4 Series? Check SA specs and pricing here!