Due to its long and heavy doors, the process of climbing aboard the 420i can be a bit tricky – particularly if you find yourself hemmed in in a tight perpendicular parking bay. Once inside, though, you’re greeted by a cabin that’s at once familiar in its layout and attractive in its appearance and material selection.
The electronically adjustable seats position you suitably low down in the cabin and offer excellent underthigh and lateral support. You sit bang in front of a typically chunky M Sport steering wheel and BMW’s digital instrument cluster, which still looks a bit fussy and is tricky to read but is at least slick in its operation.
Over your shoulder are two rear seats, although most adults would be keen to avoid these if possible. This car really a rather lovely place to spend time, not least because you can’t see its face from the driver’s seat.
Thankfully, it’s really a rather lovely thing to drive, too. With its adaptive dampers knocked back into their softest setting, the 4 Series doesn’t feel quite as taut as a passively damped 3 Series and so on faster A-roads and motorways makes for an impressively comfortable yet controlled companion.
There’s perhaps a slight fussiness about its low-speed ride and its run-flat tyres generate a bit of road roar at pace, but I can’t imagine anyone would ever find themselves flinching at the idea of having to use a 420i for a proper long-distance drive or, indeed, on a daily basis.
It handles sweetly, with its medium-quick, keenly weighted steering lending it a sense of agility and enthusiastic fleet-footedness that feels really quite special. It gives you a nice idea of how much grip you have at the front axle and, with a heightened level of lateral control, you can corner flat and quite fast, with little worry about running short of traction up front – even on a wet, slippery road.
Pare back the traction control and give the throttle a prod through halfway round slower corners and you can make the back end momentarily step out in a controlled, progressive fashion, but otherwise the 420i carves its way through bends very tidily indeed.
It really is a very enjoyable car to drive swiftly, but part of its charm is that it doesn’t necessarily make you feel obliged to do so all the time.
Its engine is at least partly responsible for this. It’s certainly punchy enough when you need it to be, with minimal turbo lag under part-throttle acceleration lending it good responsiveness, and a strong mid-range allowing you to make reasonably swift progress when you need to. But with an at-times gravelly soundtrack and a tendency to feel a bit wheezy right at the top end, you never feel particularly inclined to chase revs and accrue big speeds on the road. Better to relax a bit and just enjoy the car’s responsiveness and agility well within the limits of its dynamic ability.