Styling Comparison: 2020 BMW 3 Series Vs. 2021 BMW 4 Series

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Sedan or coupe? Universal appeal or contentious conversation starter? The choice is yours.

BMW has unveiled its long-awaited new 4 Series, and as with most new BMWs, the conversation is dominated by how it looks. Of course, it all comes down to the elongated kidney grille, which initially seemed like a joke when it was first spied last year. While many commenters have reacted with shock and horror, what the grille does do is completely distinguish the 4 Series from the current 3 Series for the first time.

This approach differs from that of older 3 Series coupes, which were only subtly different from the 3 Series models on which they were based. The previous-generation F10 3 Series and first-gen 4 Series also shared very similar headlights and grilles. With all this in mind, let's take a closer look at how the new 4 Series stylistically matches up with the current 3 Series sedan.

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In front, the 3 Series and 4 Series differ markedly. Both have much larger grilles than their predecessors, but the 3's version is stretched horizontally, while the 4 Series grille is angled forward and extends vertically, and is split almost in half by the license plate. Both have BMW's U-shaped LED DRLs, a departure from the brand's circular "angel eyes" used on the likes of the E90 3 Series and previous-gen Z4. And, while the 3 Series' headlight clusters have a lower notch that harks back to the E46, the 4 Series' clusters have a cleaner, uninterrupted outline that has more in common with the flagship 8 Series.

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2019-2020 BMW 3 Series Sedan Front View BMW
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The 4 Series' sportier profile is evident from the side, where it stretches 2.2 inches longer and sits 2.2 inches lower than the sedan, yet shares the same wheelbase length. The 3 Series has a straighter beltline leading to a more traditional interpretation of the Hofmeister C-pillar kink, whereas the 4 Series' beltline sweeps upwards, with a much slimmer glasshouse. The 4's frameless windows are a stylish touch, a feature shared with the 8 Series coupe.

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2019-2020 BMW 3 Series Sedan Side View BMW
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The 4 Series might only be an inch wider, but it looks noticeably broader than the 3 Series from behind thanks to slimmer, stretched taillamps. The 4 Series' LED lighting element also has a more elaborate twist as it stretches into the quarter panels. Opting for the M-Sport upgrade on either the 3 or 4 Series brings with it much larger air intakes and Shadowline trim inserts, while the M440i has trapezoidal exhaust tips.

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2019-2020 BMW 3 Series Sedan Rear View BMW

While the 3 Series is a neat, attractive sedan, there's little doubt that the 4 Series makes more of a visual statement, for better or worse. The downsized 8 Series look imparts greater exclusivity, and this is what you want in a sporty coupe.

My advice? Reserve judgment on the 4's humongous grille until you see it in the metal. For a marque often criticized for a cookie-cutter approach to design, the new 4 joins the 7 Series in quashing those claims. Now, if only BMW could approach its interiors with a bit more imagination.

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