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The new BMW 4 Series Coupe noses into town
CHRISTOPHER Wehner has a soft spot for the new BMW 4 Series Coupe. That's understandable, because the managing director of BMW Asia helped to write its recipe. Years ago he worked with BMW's product management team, a crew that sniffs out car buying tastes so that engineers know what to cook up. "We really try to get the customer perspective into the company, to develop the right cars for our customers," he told The Business Times.
Launched in Singapore via a virtual event last night, the new 4 Series is a showcase of how BMW design is evolving. There is no mistaking it for the old one, chiefly because it has an unmissable nose, decorated by the biggest iteration of BMW's signature double-kidney grille in the brand's history.
The in-your-face looks are literally by design. "I think this is the quintessence of a BMW coupe, because it's characterful, sporty and prestigious," Mr Wehner said. "We always look to our target customer, and the 4 Series customer is a little bit more extroverted."
Along with a prominent snout, the new coupe has strikingly aggressive headlights that flow into a body draped in smooth lines and elegant curves. It stays faithful to BMW's typical long-bonnet/short-tail proportions, while growing in size to accommodate a more spacious cabin.
Two versions went on sale in Singapore last night, both powered by a 2.0-litre turbo engine with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The range starts with the 420i Coupe M Sport (S$218,888 with Certificate Of Entitlement), whose 184 horsepower engine accelerates it to 100km/h in 7.5 seconds.
The racier 430i Coupe M Sport Pro (S$266,888 with COE) does the same sprint in 5.8 seconds, thanks to a brawnier 258 horsepower engine. To go with the speedier performance, it has adaptive suspension and sporty styling elements, such as larger wheels, a small tail spoiler and large air intakes up front.
The 4 Series was spun out of BMW's popular 3 Series range in 2013, beginning life as a two-door coupe but eventually becoming a family of models in its own right with the addition of Convertible and four-door Gran Coupe versions.
But the first model resembled its more executive sibling, and the new car's enormous front grille is part of a conscious decision to change that. "We wanted to have more differentiation to the 3 Series. It should be more characterful," Mr Wehner said of the new coupe. "Then of course, we want to have a lot of differentiation to the predecessor, to really offer our customers something new."
Yet, the new 4 Series' face has its detractors. One high-profile critic is Frank Stephenson, a designer not only responsible for creating iconic cars for McLaren, Ferrari and Maserati, but who also happened to pen the first BMW X5.
Critiquing his former employer's latest coupe on his YouTube page, Mr Stephenson winces when discussing its grille. He likens it to "nostrils" and says it fails to match the rest of the car's clean surfaces. "I can understand, you know, trying to make a statement, but there's a certain sense of refinement that you have to bring in when you do something like this," he says.
Mr Wehner said BMW was convinced about the front grille from the start. "Immediately, when we saw the first design sketches, everybody said, 'Yes, that's it, we have to follow this direction,'" he told BT. He also pointed out that the 4 Series' front grille takes inspiration from BMW's earliest coupes, which makes it less radical than people think.
In any case, potential buyers have given him good feedback, he said. "We've had tremendous, positive results, because our customers see that this is really something fresh, something new, something characterful," he said.
BT asked if Mr Wehner had a favourite part of the new 4 Series and received an emphatic reply: "For me, it's the grille." Sometimes it pays to be nosy.