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2014 BMW 4 Series Test Drive Review
The 4 Series, specifically the 428i, should be on anyone’s short list for a sporty daily driver that is as fun to drive as it is practical.
The 3 Series Coupe is dead. Long live the 3 Series Coupe.
BMW’s compact luxury 2-door was the thing that enthusiasts lusted for, pinching pennies for the chance to pick one up in the classifieds. Sure, there was the more potent M3 and larger 5 Series, but the 3 Series always seemed attainable. That lovable 3 Series Coupe has been replaced with the 4 Series, and here is what that means for any hopeful BMW coupe buyer.
BMW wants the 4 Series to compete more directly with the Audi A5 and other premium coupes. Alphanumerics have always meant a great deal in the luxury game. In order for the BMW coupe to grow in its own unique direction, it would need to don new branding. Under the new BMW naming system, 2-door cars have even numbers (the 1 Series is being replaced with the 2 Series), and sedans continue to start with odd numbers. Don’t ask us how the 4-door 6 Series Gran Coupe fits into this mess.
In some ways, this is just the latest 3 Series Coupe. In many more ways, it is a whole new car.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
At first glance, the 4 Series appears to be just a 2-door version of the 3 Series sedan, set off by only the black character scoop behind the front wheel, but the changes run far deeper.
Compared to the 3 Series sedan, the 4's twin kidney grille is lower and wider, and flanked by headlights that are similarly slimmed down. The real difference is in the aft of the vehicle, where the rear window descends into the trunk. 3 Series coupes that preceded the 4 Series had to remain spiritually connected to the sedan. As a result, the coupe would always suffer from an awkward C-pillar (the third pillar back from the front). The 4 Series is allowed to stretch, resulting in a profile far more befitting an executive coupe.
Meanwhile, the cabin of the 4 Series is close to that of its sedan counterpart. In fact, from the driver’s seat, it appears to be the same car—not a bad thing at all. The blue accent line, which actually matches the blue brake calipers, adds a thoughtful and welcome bit of character.
The interior aesthetic is modern and well fitted, but if you have not sat in a BMW before, prepare to see a masseuse. Any trip of more than 30 minutes will take its toll on your derriere and upper thighs.
While the cushioning may leave something to be desired, the side bolstering of the bucket seats is perfect for anyone who chooses to drive the 4 Series with passion. The purpose of a bucket seat is to hold you in place when making high-speed turns and changing direction abruptly, and these seats do that perfectly. The 4 Series is meant to be driven hard, and an enthusiast should (properly) look at the seats as a piece of athletic equipment.
Out of 10
In the past, the 3 Series has been called “the ideal performance-luxury coupe,” which means the 4 Series has some serious shoes to fill. Luckily it does that in spades. The 4 Series, specifically the 428i, should be on anyone’s short list for a sporty daily driver that is as fun to drive as it is practical.
There are two versions of the 4 Series: our 428i test model and the 435i. The 428i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that makes 240 horsepower and 255 pound feet of torque.
The 435i comes equipped with a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder that makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound feet of torque. It should come as little shock that both engines are on the list for Ward’s 10 Best engines of 2013.
The 4 Series comes standard with an 8-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. A 6-speed manual is a no-cost option we wish more people would select.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, while xDrive all-wheel drive tacks $2,000 on to the price. Our 428i test model featured all-wheel drive and the automatic transmission, as well as the Dynamic Handling package. That $1,000 option includes variable sport steering and the adaptive M suspension.
There is a little button to the left of the shifter that allows you to select between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ driving modes. Sport tightens up the suspension and steering, while Sport+ turns off the traction control, allowing you to become one with the car.
We selected Sport+, enabled manual control of the 8-speed automatic and took to the back roads of Eastern Massachusetts, and the 4 Series responded in kind. Steering was responsive and taut, and acceleration from the turbocharged 4-cylinder was brisk. Torque is decent when revs are low, but let the tachometer rise into the 4,000 range, and the engine comes to life.
Strangely, the added gears (there for improved efficiency) make for a cluttered performance driving experience. Typically, you downshift once or twice to get into the desired gear for going into a turn. With 8 gears, you may have to go as many as 3 gears down to get to the desired ratio. This can become tiresome.
As future transmissions contain more and more gears, “manual” shift modes may require hitting the “+” or “-“ paddle to actually jump the transmission two gears so the driver actually feels like a shift is being made.
Our 428i also has engine stop-start capabilities. This feature cuts off the engine rather than letting it idle at a stop light. It is incredibly responsive and starts the engine again when you lift your foot off the brake. By the time your foot is halfway to the accelerator, the engine has started again.
That feature, along with the 8-speed automatic, helps the 428i achieve 23 mpg city and 35 highway. Our all-wheel-drive xDrive coupe is rated at 22 city, 33 highway, and we found 25.8 mpg through a week of driving. The 6-cylinder 435i returns 22 city and 32 highway.
The 6-cylinder engine is more powerful but nose-heavy. The weight savings offered by the 4-cylinder engine makes for a more fun ride. Basically, the 428i is the best of both worlds.
Form and Function
Out of 10
One might think that BMW’s iDrive user interface would be discussed under the technology section. But so many features run through this system and it is such an integral part of the 4 Series' ergonomics that it is no different than how the shifter or cupholders work.
The stereo, climate, phone, navigation (optional) and several other vehicle features run through this system. It is not very intuitive, but after a day of using it, you’ll get the hang of it. After a week, it will be like another appendage.
One issue that tends to plague cars of this size is the rear seat area, and the 4 Series is no different. Not only is seat size an issue, but so is access. Where the 3 Series has a rear bench, the 4 Series has a 2+2 layout, fitting 2 bucket seats in the rear. The front seats have a latch that quickly slides and folds the seat forward for access, but it’s only enough to cram a backpack or gym bag through the passage. Getting a full-grown adult through the space offered will be a test of one’s body-contortion abilities. Once you’ve slithered your way into the rear seat, you'd better hope the person in front of you moonlights as a jockey, as knee and leg room are at a minimum.
One benefit to the 4 Series’ elongated silhouette is a respectably sized trunk. It looks like as many as 3 full-size golf bags could fit back here, and it offers plenty of room for road-trip or skiing gear. Impressively, it even has a 60/40 split-fold rear bench, which can effectively double your usable cargo space.
An odd feature is the seatbelt extender, which is an R2-D2-like retractable arm that pushes the seatbelt out to the driver and front passenger so they do not have to reach as far for the belt. It is peculiar at first and seems unnecessary, but eventually you just go with it.
The lesson here is that you can cram 4 people into the 4 Series, but 2 people and their gear will travel in far more comfort.
Out of 10
As we stated already, iDrive is an incredibly solid resource for the driver. However, there are some pay walls to key features that would have earned the 4 Series a better score in the tech department.
First, we cannot overlook the fact that it takes a full day to learn iDrive. It’s great once you’ve learned it, but good luck lending your 4 Series to a friend and having them get how the system works (for some that could be an advantage).
Also, for the $50K-plus price of our test model, it did not feature navigation or streaming Bluetooth audio. Sure, we had basic Bluetooth hands-free calling, but no voice command of any of these features.
The lack of Bluetooth streaming music would not be an issue were it not for the fact that the USB connection was unresponsive to my iPhone. One would have to bring along an analog headphone-jack-style cable to stream music from your phone. This is pretty archaic for a car in 2014—especially when these sorts of features are standard on cars that are thousands of dollars less.
Out of 10
The 4 Series comes outfitted with all the requisite safety equipment, including front and side impact airbags. You’ll have to pay more for more active safety tech, but at least our test model came with a backup camera. There was a glaring issue with that backup camera, however.
Either the camera itself is low-grade or the smaller iDrive screen does not have the highest resolution available, but at night you can barely see anything through the backup camera. I tried to play with the settings, lightening it and tweaking the contrast, but you can barely see anything through it. You may say, “Well, just turn around or use your mirrors,” but people rely on the technology provided to them. If you were unaware how bad the view was, you might think there is nothing behind you and back up into that pickup you parked next to. Once again, these are problems we should not be experiencing in a 2014 model year vehicle.
Out of 10
The BMW 4 Series is a fun-to-drive coupe that has looks to kill. It is one of those styles that will remain relevant long after the last 2014 model is produced. We’re not so sure about the value. Ten years from now, a car with a poorly working backup camera and no streaming Bluetooth or voice control will be considered a dinosaur.
You can get these features, but you’ll have to pay. Consider that the 428i starts at $40,500 for the rear-wheel-drive model, and our 428i xDrive all-wheel-drive model starts at $42,500. Toss in the M Sport package, Dynamic Handling Package, Cold Weather and Driver Assistance packages, and you're paying more than $50,000 for a car that does not have navigation. Ouch.
Another factor is that the 4 Series takes Premium fuel. Fueleconomy.gov estimates that the average driver will spend more than $2,000 on fuel for the 428i– even more for the 435i!
But there is a right buyer for the 4 Series, and that is one who truly enjoys the drive. The car is sublime to pilot over a windy back road. The acceleration is just where you want it, the controls are very driver friendly, and you can get lost in a long ride on an open stretch. For the driving enthusiast, this car will be worth every penny. Besides, the Google Maps in my iPhone works better than most nav systems anyways.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a producer and senior writer at WheelsTV, an associate editor at Autoblog.com and a freelance contributor to Hemmings Classic Wheels. He is currently an editor at BoldRide.com and is a featured contributor to the Boston Globe.