On track with the 4 Series Coupe: Estoril Circuit, Portugal
Aside from getting to experience the new BMW 4 Series on the street, the 2014 BMW 4 Series Coupe International press launch in Portugal also treated us to some track time with the 4 at Estoril Circuit. That’s right, the former F1 and MotoGP circuit. Estoril has a rich history. F1 greats like Michael Schumacher and David Coulthard won here, and Ayrton Senna had his first victory at Estoril. It’s not everyday you get to drive such a track. This was a great setting to put the new 4 Series through its paces and see just how good it really is.
Let’s see what we had to work with first. The 4 Series Coupe I was driving was the 435i Sport Line with optional 19-inch wheels fitted. It packs BMW’s award winning 3 liter inline 6 that pounds out 300hp and 300ft.lbs of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission (the 6-speed is a no-charge option). The 4 Series also incorporates some chassis changes from the outgoing 3 Series coupe. The 4 Series has a 2-inch longer wheelbase and the wheels have been pushed further out to the corners, 1.8 inches in the front and 3.1 inches in the rear. This is 2.1 inches wider than the current M3! A lowered roof line and almost .5 of an inch of suspension lowering offer a lower center of gravity, while some tweaks in the control arm positions in their bearings drop the roll center .7 of an inch. The front end is 60% more rigid and the 4 Series is up to 99lbs lighter than its predecessor. Add in the car's 50/50 weight distribution and it sounds like a formula for some good laps around Estoril.
Estoril Circuit is a 2.6-mile track having 13 turns. Turns range from long radius to a tricky tight uphill chicane, with some interesting elevation changes thrown in. There are also 2 long straights, the main straight (which we didn’t use) and a second straight that has a kink; both offer lots of speed into braking. It's an all-around fun and challenging track.
It was time for some laps.
I took my seat, fired up the engine and set the Driver Experience to Sport+. Sport+ gives maximum performance, while adding Dynamic Traction Control to help keep things in line. I got to take a couple pace laps before being let loose solo. Since the pace laps were by no means slow, it was a good way to feel out the track and the car. The main straight was bypassed and after each lap we rolled through pit lane. I rolled in to start the solo laps. The flagger gave me the go ahead and off I went. A drop of the accelerator and a couple pulls on the right paddle and I was hurling down into turn 2. Turn 2 is pretty fast; I trail braked a bit, turned in, and got back on the gas. Heading into 3, a late uphill right, I braked then got back on the gas pretty hard through the apex to 4 at the top of the hill.
A moment of reflection: so far, I had only been around the track a couple times, but I was already feeling pretty comfortable in the 4 Series. The seats, while being quite comfortable, held me solidly in place and didn’t block out the feedback from the chassis. That seat feel is pretty important. The 435i is very stable and planted in the turns. Body roll was at a minimum thanks to BMW’s tweaking of the chassis. I could get on the throttle earlier to get a good drive on to the straights. Cue the grin on the face.
Turn 4 is a late apex left-hander leading into a straight, where you can get fully on the gas and start grabbing some gears. Full throttle through turn 5 (a right-hander), which is pretty much just a kink in the straight, and then hard on the brakes for turn 6. This section highlighted the TwinPower inline 6 and the 8-speed auto box. The TwinPower 6 produces a lag-free 300ft.-lbs. of torque from 1200 RPMs, and 300hp, which rocketed the 4 Series down the track with help from the smooth, lightning fast shifts from the gearbox. There was never a shortage of power and when gears were selected, revs were matched superbly without a disruption to the chassis. The brakes got the car slowed with ease and had good pedal feel.
I rolled on throttle through the left turn at 6 and into braking for the downhill right at 7 and into 8. The 4 Series gripped well through 6, 7 and 8 when putting power on and begged for more. With the power always on tap, it was easy get the revs up on the short straights, even when I was a little low in the rev range.
Through the uphill chicane in turns 9 and 10, cornering was still pretty flat, even in these tight turns. I noticed some understeer when entering the hard left and the right, but this changed to oversteer when I got on the gas as I crested the top of 10. Exciting! The 4 stayed composed, letting the back out just far enough then reeling it back in again. I might even attribute some of that understeer to my rusty track skills. Possibly a bit too much steering input from the driver.
I was still on the gas from the exit of 10 into 11, a shallow right bend into a fast left and you feed throttle through turn 13, which is a long right-hand radius onto the front straight, and that lap is history.
I took a few more laps with the 4 Series and came to the following conclusion: the 4 Series handles better than you would expect on the track for a coupe that is ultimately built for the street. The new 4 Series Coupe definitely lives up to its BMW pedigree and earns its new designation in the BMW line.
There's still more content to come, including some on-track video!
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