We need some optimism – and this certainly fits the grille
I'm a pessimist by nature. I always remember someone saying if you laughed before dinner (lunch nowadays) you'd cry before tea (dinner nowadays). It stuck with me. Others I know say if they cry before lunch they'll make sure they laugh before dinner. More luck to them.
I provide that little bit of insight to temper what I'm going to say. People are telling me things are picking up. Order books for 14-registrations are healthy, there are more enquiries about new cars, there's more credit around. At the same time I realise these are only pockets of optimism. I know too well the reality for thousands who can't think about updating their second-hand car.
One thing I have learnt is that things move on regardless of whether you are pessimistic or optimistic.
This new BMW 4-series is one little bit of proof. This is the modern equivalent of the 3-series coupe – so beloved of well-to-do women traditionally. It is based on the same platform as the 3-series saloon (same dashboard and centre console too).
They have decided to give it a series name of its own because it is a coupe. It costs about €800 more than the old 3-series coupe.
The differences may not appear significant, there are few body panels the same and I think they've made a great job of how it looks. The roof is more severely sloped and lower. And the rear-wheel arches are so flared they represent the widest point of the car.
Obviously they have also retuned dampers, springs, camber angles etc to give it more dynamism. It is 25kg lighter, but – disappointingly – the boot, at 445 litres, has 35 fewer than the saloon.
I like the look of the front of it now. It has grown on me. My scepticism about it being a dressed-up 3-series coupe has faded somewhat. It just has more going for it. I think it helps a lot that it is 45mm wider at the front and 81mm broader at the rear. With the suspension 10mm lower, you are looking at the nearest-to-road Beemer on sale.
Critically, the wheelbase is up 50mm to 2,810mm and the car itself is 26mm longer and 43mm wider.
All these increases and nudges in dimensions give the impression and feel of a much bigger car. One of the bonuses is triangular rear-side windows that help with over-the-shoulder visibility. Another is in the handling.
One of the minuses is the rear-headroom is scant for anyone approaching six foot. Put the pessimists in there. Keep the optimists in front.
The rear seat bench is divided and cleverly slanted; and there's a bit more knee room and leg room (50mm). I got in and out handily enough for a six-footer. But I didn't stay. I was pessimistic about my chances of getting comfortable.
Behind the wheel much of the exterior impact is diminished visually because the dash is the same as the 3-series. However, as I drove it more, that feeling faded and I sensed a more dynamic piece of machinery under me. Not rubber-scrubbing, just snappier response in handling and ride and that special push I always get with the 2-litre diesel.
If you were to ask me to pick a high and a low I'd say: high – the driving position they have come up with embeds you in this car and makes you feel in total control. Great feeling.
Low – a real lack of zing and feel to the steering which dims the energy available. A pity.
I recently criticised seats in a Beemer for lack of adjustment. Here they show what a job they can do – great support and flexibility.
As I said, its 3-series predecessor used to be a huge favourite among women. By adding the bit of dynamism, more muscular looks, I hope I don't invoke the wrath of the politically correct by suggesting this will have men getting in behind the wheel. I have heard grown men say they'd love one.
The pessimist in me asks if there is a market of much substance for a car like this at a time like this. The optimist in me says we have eaten enough cold dinners – why not look forward to something that will put a smile on our faces? Anyone for tea?
* Prices start at €47,130 on the road for 420d SE. The price DOES include delivery and related charges.
* Standard equipment includes: several airbags/driver-assist systems, two-zone air con, cruise control, Dakota leather upholstery, Bluetooth, USB, front/rear parking sensors, Stop/Start, heated front seats, 6.5-inch colour screen, automatic lights/wipers and boot opening, Servotronic steering, Xenon headlights, DAB radio and Drive Performance Control. Entry level SE apart, 18-inch alloys and sport seats standard. Sport (€2,250 more) adds 18-inch Sport alloys, seats, high-gloss black interior trim. Luxury (€3,750 more than standard) adds 18-inch Luxury alloys, anthracite interior trim and media package. M Sport (€4,500 more than standard) adds M Sport suspension, aluminium hexagon interior trim, media package and 18-inch M Sport alloys.
My side of the road
A dear friend had the misfortune to have his car grind to a halt just as he was exiting a motorway.
He and his family were terrified. Obviously, they were upset at the car stopping, but they were really frightened by the speed and proximity of other cars.
Lots of them were dipping into the hard shoulder and were travelling too tight to each other's tail that if anything went wrong, there was so little time or room to do anything.
It is a different perspective when you are statically exposed to the rushing rawness of the occasion and how tight the margins are. When you are moving with the herd, as it were, you don't see just how much can happen in a second or two.
We might all bear it in mind.