Farewell BMW 3 Series Coupé! Welcome BMW 4! Yes, it’s the all-new 4 Series. Beyond the name change, the new German coupé is more imposing and noticeably more elegant, aiming towards the values of an old rival: The E Mercedes-Benz Class Coupé.
Undoubtedly, the coupé is one of the most wonderful creations in the automotive industry. Even at its origins, more than a century ago, this silhouette had sort of an exotic look that stands out with its compact but sporty design.
And when this car’s body is derived from a sedan built in large numbers, the result is nothing short of excellent. However, the same history points out several exceptions.
A very good example is the last generation E92 3 Series Coupé which was arguably less better looking than the sedan from which it was derived. In its defense, the coupe didn’t really have a very good starting point because the design of the E90 3 Series Sedan was utterly wrong from the beginning – the E90 was appreciated for several reasons, beauty was not one of them.
Thankfully, BMW managed to step out of this identity crisis a few of years ago when the last reminiscences from the “Bangle era” where finally forgotten. And if the initial approach was slightly conservative with the 5 and 7 Series, the new 3 Series (codename F30) brought a more daring design while maintaining the core values of a BMW.
The masterpiece Bavarian design department was yet to be revealed until the first pictures of the new midsize German coupé emerged. Although it was rumored for a long time, the official launch of the new 3 Series Coupé brought a name that aligns to the current nomenclature of the German brand: 4 Series.
It has been awhile since we considered the 3 Series Coupé a real motoring icon, but the new 4 Series Coupe is already building an iconic status in the BMW community, and not only. The new model is aiming at its old rivals with very sharp weapons. Of course, the competition is not resting on their laurels which spiked this interesting test drive comparison against the Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTEC Coupé.
Looking from any angle, the BMW 4 Series Coupe is simply stunning. The front end of the 3 Series GT, with its arched hood, blends perfectly with the low line of the roof. It’s the top that captures your attention with the way it flows towards a purely balanced back, with wide taillights. The rear overhang seems to be shorter, making the overall proportions of the 4 Series look very close the shape of a true grand tourer.
Of course, some of the credit goes to the Luxury trim – available on the the car we tested – which emphasizes the sumptuous character of the car. At the same time the new BMW coupé seems to have sort of an elegance gene derived from the typical bimmer DNA.
It seems strange that BMW chose to walk down this path, considering that the graceful side of the segment was always dominated by Mercedes-Benz. The E Class Coupé was a successful design from its launch on the market, succeeding to maintain the aristocratic stance of the sedan which was derived from. And the substantial facelift which refreshed the whole range at the end of 2012 brought a welcomed touch of fierceness, correcting any inaccuracies and resetting the time counter.
The proportions and the grandiosity of the E Class Coupé are traits that truly define the profile of a luxury cruiser – certifying an outstanding achievement of the Mercedes-Benz designers. Furthermore, the side profile without a central pillar, specific for coupés and significantly more expensive, is unique in this segment, offering a very pleasant feeling when running with all four side windows lowered.
However, the aggressive frontal appearance was somehow unusual for the tested model. The generous air intakes and the deflector blade under the bumper are specific details for a strident sport car and not for a stylish coupé signed by Mercedes-Benz. Yet the AMG package blends seamlessly with these new headlights, looming an appearance that impose respect.
The same contrasts continues in the cabin where Mercedes-Benz has the typical sporty and sober feel and look. The E Class Coupé interior is being dominated by black leather and aluminum inserts. Dark shades amplify this solemn and impersonal feeling, outlining an Teutonic ambiance. The layout of the dashboard is Mercedes-Benz, with a center console loaded with plenty of controls. The location of the automatic transmission selector on the steering column requires a bit of accommodation, but those familiar with this solution used on other models of the German car maker will appreciate its consistency. Located in the middle tunnel, the joystick that controls the infotainment system can’t match the almost impeccable ergonomics provided by the iDrive found in BMWs. Neither the graphical interface of the multimedia panel from the E-Class does not help very much, and the 4:3 ration and the screen size feel a little bit dated.
Instead, the elegance of the 4 Series is felt beyond the two large doors, and this feeling is being accentuated by the soft leather, dyed in a warm shade and by the noble wood inlays. Although BMW will always be synonymous with sportiness, the Luxury trim insists, as its name suggests, on a lush attitude – even if the emphasized dynamism is further highlighted by a very low driving position and the M Steering wheel, that provides a perfect contact with the driver’s hands.
The test car came with with the new iDrive controller and the touch sensitive surface that provides a function for handwriting recognition, plus a series of predetermined gestures. And from this perspective, the ergonomics are a chapter where BMW is truly superior, the controls and the infotainment system interface being more intuitive than the those found in the E Class Coupé.
However, the two German coupés cannot be differentiated in terms of the premium feeling of their cabins, both remain true landmarks in the segment. The materials used and the workmanship is impeccable, so the purchase decision comes down to everyone’s tastes. Especially that, not infrequently, fans of both brands can’t justify their choice with consistent arguments. Devoted BMW buyers will never let themselves seduced by the lack of a central pillar, while Mercedes-Benz fans will not pay any attention to a 4 Series, classifying it instantly as a car for “hooligans”.
The personality suggested by the design of the two German coupés is materialized by the way they drive. Sort of. The E Class Coupé is more rigid despite its 18-inch wheels – while the 420d Coupe was running on 19-inch rims – unable to handle road imperfections in the same positive manner. It’s true that the massive Merc didn’t tilt noticeable while cornering, but damping refinement pales in front of the 420d, which adapts better on the tarmac, providing constant feedback about the intentions of the car.
On a flawless road surface, the E Class swallows miles avidly, as a true cruiser, thanks to the generous resources of the 3.0 liter powerplant. Although it weighs about 1,800 kilograms, the big Coupé is surprisingly linear on a tortuous road, but the limits of grip are not as predictable as in the Bavarian rival. Neither the brake pedal feel is not as intuitive, the first braking betrays the mass of the car, but those generously sized perforated front discs do their job abundantly. While braking system of the 4 Series does not seem in any way oversized, it not only brakes better – the lower curb weight has an important role in this respect – it also offers a permanent feeling of control, and therefore, safety.
The 420d’s steering provides plenty of feedback, while the feeling is almost contagious in a world full of artificial, electronically assisted steering systems. The tested model had the “Variable Sport Steering” optional equipment, which adds 316 euros to the base price, but it is absolutely worth it. Low speed maneuverability is noticeably improved, steering wheel travel being reduced to slightly more than one turn.
Getting behind the wheel of the Merc, the steering seems seems a bit anesthetized. The gearing is longer, and the assistance is more present, matching the character of a true GT, focused on high speed journeys.
Therefore, apart a quite firm ride, the E Class Coupé remains a genuine Mercedes-Benz by the way it runs, pleasing those who want a fast German Coupé, suited for a relaxed drive.
Engine and transmission
When it comes to power, this comparison is far from being balanced, so the assessment should be seen more in terms of technical refinement and energetic efficiency. With 250 bhp and 457 lb-ft, the 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine found under the hood of the E350 CDI remains a benchmark in the premium segment. Of course, there are punchier alternatives – and BMW will take back the crown as soon as they will launch the 435d – but the sound, elasticity and prompt response of this Mercedes-Benz powerplant can’t be overlooked.
At the time of this comparison test, the only diesel option available for 4 Series is the well known 2.0-liter diesel unit, which produces 181 bhp. Except for a few issues mentioned in previous articles – as BMWBLOG Romania tested several BMW models that had this engine under the hood – especially that “diesel roar” entering the cabin every time the driver steps on the accelerator pedal, this engine can’t be criticized for many things. The 280 lb-ft torque is available fully from 1,750 rpm, providing a very crisp response to every acceleration, while the low curb weight points out the excellent dynamics. Although official figures say that the BMW is not as fast as its rival from Stuttgart, the 8-speed automatic transmission covers the power handicap very well. The ZF sourced unit doesn’t need an introduction, being widely considered one of the best automatic transmissions on the market.
Instead, the 7G TRONIC PLUS transmission from Mercedes-Benz is not really in his youth days, despite numerous revisions it went through over time. Therefore, passing through those seven gears is not as fast as in the 4 Series and the sequential mode is not as exciting. On the other hand, this transmission is more suited to relaxed cruises, long gearing and almost imperceptible changes confirming the GT character of the E Class Coupé.
No matter how heavy the E Class Coupé would be, when you have 457 lb-ft under your right foot, driving dynamics will not fall short. Acceleration from 0 to 62 mph takes only 6.4 seconds, and beyond the speed limits, the Merc continues to pull vigorously until it hits the electronically limiter, set at 155 mph. But even more impressive is the mid range acceleration, providing the E Coupé plenty resources for quick overtaking, effortless even.
Maybe it can’t match the strong acceleration of the E350, but the BMW gathers speed in a convincing manner when the four cylinder powerplant is put to work. Thanks to the short gearing of the lower speeds – through which it passes in a truly thundering manner, especially when the Sport setting of the Driving Experience Control system is selected – the 4 Series checks the 0-62 mph benchmark in 7.3 seconds. Though it is a respectable achievement, the dull diesel rumble is killing all the drama, leaving you to indifferently observe the technical excellence of the Bavarian engineers.
On the other hand, the E350 CDI’s delicious mumbling makes you regret that German engineers didn’t conceive a lighter car. Of course, some will say that this engine is also available in the C Class Coupé, which is more compact, scoring better in terms of agility, but those doors with fixed frames are a true deal breaker for most of the coupé amateurs. More than that, considering how the 4 Series has grown over the old 3 Series Coupé (E92), the comparison with the E Class Coupé is more appropriate, especially since under the latter’s elegant silhouette is actually the platform of the younger brother – the C Class Coupé – intensively modified. The AMG Sport trim – which brings, among other things, that aggressive front end, impossible to miss in traffic – provides a firm suspension setting which manages to keep the masses under control, but steals some of the feeling of a true Merc.
So call it a compromise. A very good one on the other hand.
Despite the differences regarding performance, it’s hard to decide between the two German coupés. Not even the interior confort does not make a clear tiebreaker, both cars being convincing in its own way. The strong personality determined by the exterior appearence is undeniable both in case of the BMW and the Mercedes-Benz. However, the evolution of the 4 Series Coupé towards a path that has always been dominated by the rival marque based in Stuttdart. The new BMW coupé is larger, more elegant and confortable, targeting the GT title that the old 3 Series Coupé, due to its compact dimensions and an insufficiently imposing design, could not afford. But the typical Mercedes-Benz customer will not be touched by this development, because E Coupé offers all he could ever want from a mid-range coupé. Plus an extra topping for refined tastes.
BMW 420d Coupe
Price: from 40796 euro, including VAT (in Romania)
Engine: 1995 cm3, L4 diesel
Power: 181 bhp / 4000 rpm
Torque: 280 lb-ft / 1750-2750 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, RWD
Performance: 0-62 mph in 7.3 seconds, 144 mph
Fuel consumption: (city/highway/combined): 43.5/57.3/51.1 MPG, 121 g CO2/km
Dimensions: (Lxwxh) 182.6×71.8×53.6 inches
Wheelbase: 110.6 inches
Trunk volume: 445 litres
Curb weight: 3395 lbs
Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec Coupe
Price: from 55397 euro, including VAT (in Romania)
Engine: 2987 cm3, V6 diesel
Power: 252 bhp/3600 rpm
Torque: 457 lb-ft/1600-2400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, RWD
Performance: 0-62 mph in 6.4 seconds, 155 mph
Fuel consumption: (city/highway/combined): 34.6/50/43.5 MPG, 143 g CO2/km
Dimensions: (Lxwxh): 185.1×70.3×55 inches
Wheelbase: 106.5 inches
Trunk volume: 450 liters
Curb weight: 3979 lbs
Text: Alin Ionescu
Foto: Elena Hîrțan