The BMW 3 Series Coupe is no more. Long live the 4 Series.
The 2014 BMW 4 Series has been the talk of the automotive world over the past few months because of BMW's decision to rebrand the world famous 3 Series Coupe to the 4 Series. After having a few days with the 4 Series in Seattle, I believe the discussion is going to change once more people have a chance to get behind the wheel and see just how much fun the 4 Series is to drive.
The first thing you need to know is that the 4 Series is a very good looking car in person. It was so good looking that I was continuously asked about the car while making stops in and around Seattle last week. Everyone wanted to know what the car was or why they had not seen one yet. The car really does stand out that much from the previous generation and it pains me to say that since I have a 3 Series Coupe sitting in my garage at home.
All of my time was spent behind the wheel of a BMW 428i that was equipped with the optional M Sport package and it is probably a must have option if you want that more aggressive look. The front bumper stands out immediately and the subtle slotted air curtains on the outer edge help frame the driving style of the car before you ever turn on the engine. The lines flow extremely well from front to rear and the fastback styling gives the 4 Series an athletic presence on the roadway. The only part of the car I am still not sold on is the Air Breather integration on the side profile. I would have preferred a more clean integration like on the F15 X5 (see our First Drive of the new X5) but that is just my nit picking on an overall pleasing design.
The interior of the 4 Series follows on that of all newer BMWs with a more driver oriented dash coupled with a freestanding iDrive control screen. The screen you get is dependent on what options you get on the car and I would assume most of you will end up with the larger 8.8" screen that comes with the navigation system or technology package. The 428i that I was driving did not have navigation and it was disappointing to not be able to try out the newer iDrive Touchpad system in the car. Based on previous experience though, the new iDrive is a huge leap forward from pre-July 2013 production cars and is a good reason to buy a 2014 model.
Hitting the Road with the 4 Series
The first stint of driving I had in the 428i was mostly highway driving, as we passed from the United States into Canada on the way to Vancouver for some time with the new X5. I have to say, I couldn't decide just what to think. The power from the 2.0 Liter 4-Cylinder TwinPower Turbo motor was more than enough to get yourself into trouble but driving straight and directly into rush hour traffic is not the way to review this car. This drive is certainly where the lack of navigation made things more interesting in a bad way.
Lucky for me, that was not the end of the driving experience but only the beginning. The next leg of the journey with the 428i took us through the twisty, curving roads that this 4 Series was made for. All the marketing talk about this 4 Series having the lowest center of gravity of any BMW and a rear track that was 2.1" wider than the current M3 finally came into perspective. The 428i sliced into the curves of the road while firmly planted on the ground and seemingly asking for more. You could feel how solid the car was going through some switchbacks and then hurtling down a quick straight into another set of tight turns. It was not all marketing hype; the car really did feel that good.
The steering on the 428i seemed to be improved over that of the Electric Power Steering (EPS) found on the previous F30 328i cars that I have driven but there is still a sense of numbness when at extremely low speeds. While driving spiritedly, the steering feel was more than adequate and seemed very precise in its movement. Sometimes I had a feeling that I was over thinking the EPS and convinced myself that the hydraulic steering found in the previous generation; you could almost call it being stubborn. The car was a blast to drive and when in the moment, I never once thought twice about the steering feel.
Over the next few days, I managed to put about 500 miles on the 428i driving it from Seattle to Mt. Rainer National Park and back up to the Olympic National Park going from highways to small country roads. The most amazing part of the whole experience to me was that I never thought to myself that I missed the feel of my 2007 335i. The 428i's 240 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque was almost perfectly fitted for all the roads I encountered. While the power in the 435i would be a nice luxury, it never crossed my mind that I needed that power.
When you pair the 428i's 4-Cylinder motor up with their brilliant 8-speed transmission and you can see why BMW is so supremely confident in their offering and why less people are buying manual transmissions. The 8-speed automatic transmission smoothly transitions between the gears to provide the power you need. Toss the car into Sport mode and Sport Transmission mode and the car will hum along the roadways with all the power you could want at your fingertips. If you still want control of the shifts, just pull back on the paddles to take full control of the experience. Even though my daily driver is a 6-speed manual, I would almost be hard pressed to select that option in this car. The engine and the 8-speed automatic work that well together.
Bringing it Home
After a week with the 428i, I found myself back home driving my E92 335i and reflecting on the differences between the two. The biggest change by far is the interior design which is something I sorely miss now. I felt more connected to the 428i than I do to my 335i and perhaps that is part of the reason I enjoyed driving the 428i as much as I did. The exterior design brings modern and sleek lines to the car and makes people take notice when you drive by. The most impressive part though to me is just how nimble the car feels through a set of tight turns and how firm it grips the road while doing it.
BMW set out to make a car that was worthy of a name change and based on the 500 miles of driving I had, I can't argue with their choice any longer. The car is sleek, smooth and sexy in almost every possible category and almost had me thinking about trading up to the next generation before I remembered that I wanted a car with four doors again. Maybe that will end up being the 4 Series Gran Coupe if they manage to make that as fun to drive as the 428i was. Only time will tell.
I encourage you to go take a 4 Series for a test drive when they arrive at your local dealer. Do not settle for a quick on and off highway drive though as you won't get the full experience. Insist on an extended drive that takes you through some twisty roads and I think you'll stop caring what it is called.
If you have any questions, ask away!
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