What does a food and travel writer review when eating and going out are both verboten? It’s not that my 2* write up of Sainsbury’s Local isn’t going to be scintillating (scroll to the bottom to find out what I discovered in the cat food aisle…)
So when BMW asked me, a haphazard driver without any Clarkson-esque views on V8 engines or the slightest clue what torque is, if I wanted to review the brand new BMW 4 Series, obviously I said ‘Absolutely’.
So here’s my review: it’s very nice. Very nice indeed.
Which is a bit like going to Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, coming out and writing ‘Yeah, it was alright’, your editor will expect a little bit more. Indeed, the last time I went to the three Michelin star holder’s gaffe I then wrote a thousand word eulogy to the flock of chickens who lovingly scarified their lives for perhaps the most delicious meal I’ve ever enjoyed. So let’s do the car justice.
But within the guidelines of lockdown, which seriously curtail what you can actually do in a car. So, within the law, here’s what you could get up to at the time I was lent it…
From the moment you see the car, though, it's clear that this is a more-than-going-down-the-shops vehicle. Its muscles practically ripple out of its steel skin like one of those Abercrombie shelf-stackers...
You can go to the shops
The problem that BMW have is that they lent me an incredibly beautiful, powerful car that excels on the open road. And the closest I’ve got to the Nürburgring is the local ring road as I head to Tesco.
From the moment you see the car, though, it’s clear that this is a more-than-going-down-the-shops vehicle. Its muscles practically ripple out of its steel skin like one of those Abercrombie shelf-stackers. The yawning grill at the front gives it a sharky vibe that’s both menacing and cool all at once. The only shame is that the UK numberplates are so ugly and spoil the aesthetic slightly.
Once you reach Tesco, you’ll be surprised just how big-of-a shop you can do. The boot is disarmingly huge, particularly for a saloon car. Despite being practically a two seater (I’m going to get told off for saying that, we’ll come to it in a bit), the footprint of the car is comparable to many estate cars, which is perhaps why there’s so much room for a boot that’ll easily carry suitcases for a family of six. Or a shop for an illegal dinner party. Whatever.
You can commute (if you can’t work from home)
I don’t think BMW really wanted to boast about how nimble the 4 Series is over speed bumps. It’s not sexy on the ads. But after a few weeks commuting, I was loathe to return to my own, unnecessarily bulky, 4×4. This is a great commuting vehicle!
You get into the car in your morning stupor, the car knows you’re tired and stressed and an electric arm passes you the seatbelt to plug in. This saves you fishing around for it and prevents an impromptu morning yoga sesh.
The car is also fully aware that you need every bit of help it can give you. So the steering wheel is fully heated, a luxury I never knew I needed but which you really miss once you don’t have it. There’s also a heads-up display, that displays your speed and any vital information, like the speed limit, in mid air right in front of your eyes. Like you’re flying a Eurofighter or something.
Given your commute is likely taking place in stop-start traffic, the assisted driving function is a helpful novelty. You can set the car to steer within the lines and to track the car in front. While it’s clearly not an autopilot, and shouldn’t be treated as such, it’s a whizzy option.
It did, however, at one point start accelerating toward a pelican crossing as a crocodile of school children were making their way across, which required a hasty punch of the breaks to bring the BMW to heel. The only other time the car and I had serious artistic differences was when it refused to go over a speed bump. You know the stubby sharp ones outside Ikea in Croydon as you drive in? The 4 Series simply refused to go over it like it was a toddler being force fed carrots. As with my toddler, I finally gave in, driving around the speed bump instead.
You can take your children to school
The car is spacious, you and your passenger can stretch right out and the electronically adjustable seats ensure you’ll be comfortable. If you’re going to a drive-in movie this post-covid summer this is an ideal car to take. The back is a different story, where legroom is at a premium.
The lockdown rules say you can take your children to school or nursery. Deciding to undertake the nursery run with my two daughters in the snazzy car, I have to say that man-handling child seats into the back is incredibly difficult. There are Isofix points, but if you’re able to get your seat attached to them then it’s be a feat of human contortion to ever be able to unclick the fastenings.
Likewise, getting two wriggly toddlers into the seats, without back doors, was a job for about half a dozen Royal Marines, not a lone parent. The car was perfect for my wife and I to zip around town, but as a vehicle for the school run, don’t even think about it if you have little-ies.
Which is probably how BMW feel too, this wasn’t intended to be the review that lockdown subsequently dictated. I should’ve been driving round the Scottish mountains or the Brecon Beacons, not Wandsworth.
But you can’t drive just ‘go for a drive’
The rules at the time were pretty clear. You can’t just head out for a drive. Which is a pity. What’s a pretty nimble car on the school run or going down the shops transforms into something else altogether on the open road. I’m told… (ahem)
Shift the mode from ‘comfort’ into ‘sport’ and the car becomes alive. You can hurl it around corners (there’s a g-force monitor option on the dashboard) with abandon and it grips onto the tarmac just as hard as you’re clinging onto the steering wheel. The acceleration just keeps on giving, with seemingly endless helpings of ‘faster’, and if you’re looking for the perfect car for taking a lady to the labour ward or orchestrating a bank heist getaway, then look no further.
Of course, experiencing the car to its max is exactly what you can’t do during lockdown… but boy it’s exhilarating.
Cost: from £40,460
Top speed: 149mph (or 20mph everywhere I went)
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Fuel: Diesel of petrol
Out of 10
Just looking cool in-ness: 8
Front seat comfort: 9
Back seat comfort: 4
However, you can buy a car…
Car showrooms are closed at present, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a car before they reopen on 12th April (as an aside, of all retail car showrooms are famously empty, that’s their whole schtick, they are de facto socially distanced! Have you ever seen a bustling car showroom? Why on earth are they closed?).
You can arrange a test drive too, with garages dropping round cars and even buying a car has been perfected contactlessly.
And if you’re toying with the BMW 4 Series then I can only recommend you go for it. And as soon as it’s legal, take it for the drive of your life…
…and if you’ve scrolled down to find out what was in the cat food aisle, it was cat food. Obviously.