When it comes to entry-level luxury autos, for years the BMW 3-Series has reigned supreme.
Armed with a closet full of accolades and kind words, it seemed like you would have to be an idiot to buy anything else for the same buck. These days though, the competition has turned up the heat, which has made BMW even more aggressive in its efforts.
This comes from a multitude of perspectives.
Now we have the 1-Series and 2-Series and legacy nameplates like the 3-Series have birthed the all-new 4-Series, which is essentially 3-Series coupe. But if you think that this vehicle follows in the footsteps of its predecessors you'd be mistaken. You'll find out below.
In addition, its styling has become more sleek as the car has gone a bit more upmarket. Although the nomenclature seems stupid, I think it actually allowed BMW to make a more aggressively designed coupe. My old 330Ci and even the last-gen E92 felt like it had the headroom of a cathedral when compared with the all-new 4.
2014 BMW 4-Series
Approaching the vehicle for the first time, it's hard to miss the three-dimensional grille and integrated headlights. It's a new touch that's starting to sweep across BMW's product portfolio. I like that BMW continues to keep the trademark kidney grilles interesting. My test vehicles, both equipped with the M Sport package looked particularly aggressive with the large, flanking air intakes in the front clip.
From the side profile you'll start to see the much sleeker roofline and strong shoulder line. Nothing wrong here. If you ask me, it reminds me of the also teutonic side profile of the 6-Series. While past products have always had a lot of greenhouse and been a bit bulbous, it's apparent BMW's cutting this down for style points. It earns them.
Around its back side there's the predictable LED L-shaped rear taillights and with the M Sport packs you get a glossy black rear valence that takes away the vehicle's visual heft.
Slipping behind the M Sport three-spoke steering wheel, there's not much to see here. If you've ever sat in an all-new 3-Series, you've sat in the 4-Series. Although I've heard a lot of chatter from folks that this interior is the best 3-Series interior yet, I just don't see it. I think people forgot how nicely designed the E46's interior was and the quality of materials — I assume they forgot because the E9x's interior was so bad it hurt.
Although my 428i and 435i testers were not equipped with navigation, all vehicles do feature an infotainment screen. If you spring for the navigation system I will say that I've grown to adore it. Once you get over understanding the hieroglyphics that appear on the map, it is a very functional, menu-based graphical user interface (GUI).
One thing BMW deserves props for not axing is the standard e-brake. While many others have gone the electronic route, the Bavarians still kept it simple in the 4-Series. I am sure many have applauded the company for keeping a manual transmission but if they axe that, it's sort of like taking the soul of the company away.
2014 BMW 4-Series
Remember how I mentioned the 4'ers more sleek design? While it may get a nod from a design perspective, it definitely hampers headroom, which has become a bit tighter. In addition, I am pretty confident that the seat was actually raised as the driving position feels much higher. While I don't mind the more intimate feel of the cockpit, I do mind a higher seat. What happened to the feeling of riding close to the ground it used to have?
As the vehicle has gotten a bit longer over time, rear seat legroom will allow you transport more than two torsos. Assuming you're not like me — and 6'8 — there's no reason why you can't travel with four adults.
While these are all critical elements to any vehicle you're thinking about leasing or purchasing, let's be serious: if you're looking at a BMW you probably are expecting a superior driving experience relative to the competition.
Well, I wouldn't get too hyped up, in all honesty.
As seen in the 3-Series' variations, you can have a 428i and a 435i. As of now there doesn't seem to be any plans for a 420i but you never know.
The 428i features the all-too familiar 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor that's aided by a single twin-scroll turbocharger. Power is more than ample as it produces 240 horsepower and 255 lb.-ft. or torque. On a long distance drive from Seattle to San Francisco I didn't feel any urge for more power when passing. It really is just right. Power is relatively linear though you do feel that turbo kick in just a bit.
On my long distance trip, I earned a high of 36 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg around town in the 428i.
Although the original 328i sedans had a bit of a Honda-ish sound to them at idle, it seems BMW worked to refine the 4'er at a stand still a bit. My experience with the 428's sound was that it actually isn't buzzy or annoying as you'll find in most four bangers. Is it my favorite choice of engine? Absolutely not; however, I will admit that if you're not bleeding oil in your veins you'll find it more than adequate with power delivery and in the acoustics department.
Where BMW deserves a pat on the back is for pairing the 428i with a fantastic eight-speed automatic transmission. While it's obviously not as quick as a dual-clutch 'box, it's easily one of the quickest shifting and "smart" transmissions I've driven. That's because unlike what you'll find from a lot of these seven-, eight- and nine-speed automatics is that they are constantly hunting for the right gear. It's excruciatingly annoying but this isn't a problem with the 4-Series.
Our 435i tester featured the much loved inline six-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 300 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. Though this engine is an award-winning mill for a variety of reasons, in this particular instance it seems as though BMW has tweaked it to be a bit more mature. In a conversation with a vendor, he convinced me that is the best way to put it — and he's right. That's because the motor isn't intrusive like the days of my E46 330Ci. Personally, I don't like this as it sounds a bit too quiet like an Audi. I want the car to make a bit of noise; however, I can understand why your Average Joe would want a more insulated experience.
The same thing — more or less — happened with the G37, which buyers complained about the burbly VQ six-cylinder. Now with the Q50, the formerly great sounding engine sounds neutered.
That's not all though. Perhaps I've been spoiled with far too many vehicles with over 500 horsepower but to me, my manual transmission 435i felt sort of winded and not all that fast when compared to the automatic 428i. This is due to the automatic being that good and the margin of power separating the two products closing.
After a week worth of driving, I chalked up about 21 mpg with a healthy mix of commuting to my office via the highway and around town motoring.
Although this is something Agent 001 and I have discussed before, I am starting to think it's become more relevant in this generation product — folks, you can skip the 435i. The smart buyer will look at the 428i and M4 only.
One of the biggest elements about buying a BMW is the steering. If you were hoping for a return to the good 'ol days, just punch out right now. While the steering is nicely weighted — it's a touch on the heavier side — and direct with your inputs, it is noticeably numbed out. This is the thing though, folks: ALL cars' steering racks have been given a shot of novocain.
Realistically, if you were to ask me how it would fair out against the likes of the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, I'd tell you it was the best. The next best steering set up is in the Infiniti G37 but that coupe is a relic when compared to the top players today. I heard they're giving buyers free sundials when you pick one up at your local dealer.
Another area where it's very apparent the 4-Series matured compared to the last-gen car is with its suspension. It seems that the tire companies sorted out the run-flat issue, which was a BIG problem in the E9x. And there is a much more perceptible difference when toggling between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus via the rocker switch on the center console. This is a HUGE win when compared to the E46 and E92 because with the E46 I drove I found myself AVOIDING roads during my daily driving, that's how painful the ride became after a bit. Depending how you optioned your E9x — and if it came with run flats — you could say the same thing.
After spending some time working the all-new 4-Series through the switchbacks, it becomes very clear that all of this maturation has added up to a simple end result: The 4-Series is not a sports car like the older 3-Series coupes. It's a grand tourer. Gone are the days of a smaller and more chuckable vehicle.
To me, that essentially sums up the 4-Series. It's climbed a number in the nomenclature and that wasn't necessarily by accident. The character of the vehicle has also become wiser with age.
The Good:- The perfect design of the E46 was a tough act to follow, which is why I find the E9x generation so hateful — now the 4-Series design has come into its own and I think it looks like a baby 6-Series
- Excellent motor/transmission combination in the 428i
- If I were helping a friend, I'd tell them this was the best-in-class option
- On both the 428i and 435i, the sound from the motor/exhaust could use some tuning and dial UP the volume
- Lacking drama when really driving the 4-Series hard — more of a GT feel, less of a sports car feel
- If I were buying a car myself, I wouldn't pick up a 3/4-Series because it's a move that shows you're lacking imagination
- In previous generation 3-Series coupes, you were buying a sports car that was nimble, chuckable and was full of drama. These days the 4-Series coupe has matured as it has gotten bigger, more comfortable and less driver oriented. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just be aware. If you're looking for the 3-Series coupe experience, the 4-Series will not provide that. Look to the all-new 2-Series and upcoming M2. If you're in-market for a baby 6-Series though, the 4'er is exactly what you need.
**Please note: all vehicles photographed below are 428i models equipped with the M Sport Package.
2014 BMW 4-Series