First Drive Review: 2014 BMW 435i Coupé Sport Line

 

The new BMW 4-Series is something that scares us true enthusiasts, but “Snap” suddenly makes me feel more comfortable about the all-new 2014 BMW 435i.

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Before my skeptical eyes, this new coupe kinda nails it

At least BMW is being utterly transparent about the roots of this new 4 Series coupe I just drove hither and yon in sunny, humble Portugal. It is exactly what BMW would have wanted a new 3 Series coupe to be had marketing and product planning never had the idea to fill the gap between the numbers 3 and 5 with it. But, given that the decision was made to do this, Munich has actually taken the ball and run with it admirably, making the 4 Series convincingly separate enough from the 3 Series.

The E92 third-generation 3 Series coupe is a pretty timeless and sexy design and this was the styling challenge: do not make the fourth-generation mid-size coupe any less sexy even while making it grow a bit. I’d have to term the exercise of this F32 4 Series coupe a success in that way. It is a sexy thing and not only; this car is screamingly ready to become an M model.

Somewhat sadly, I have to admit, BMW chose to have everyone drive only the 435i in optional Sport Line trim with the more fuel-efficient optional eight-speed automatic transmission, and rolling on optional 19-inch wheels. In my experience with this N55 in-line 302-bhp six-cylinder with single twin-scroll turbocharger and 295 pound-feet of torque starting from 1,200 rpm, it oddly tends to lack a really progressive mid-revs pull that inspires me as I pilot around the 3,527-pound rear-wheel-drive coupe. From lower revs, the N55 is quite pleasant, then also from its highest revs as well.

BMW let me experience the fullest range of driving styles for the 435i because the first part of my testing was on a variety of Portuguese surface roads and autovia toll highways. After that, they had me head to one of my favorite testing tracks on Earth, Estoril. More colors to the rainbow of the 4 Series experience I could not hope for and the 435i overall availed itself very sweetly as a sporting stylish set of wheels par excellence.

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While the E92 3 Series coupe has been the finest looking Bimmer of this past generation of designs, it was tastefully understated. I personally always wanted the rear half to get bolder in so far as its track width and wheel arches are concerned and the M3 version of the coupe body somewhat satisfied that. But whereas the widest point of any of the preceding 3 Series models has always been the side mirror housings, on the 4 Series coupe this point sits at the rear wheel arches and the effect is really good on the eyes. Versus the E92 coupe, the F32 is 3.1 inches wider at the rear track and arches, while it is 0.9 of an inch wider back there than the new F30 3 Series saloon. Couple this width with overall height that is 0.6” lower than on the last coupe and 2.6”s lower than the current 3 sedan, and the effect hits me like the current Z4 roadster does when compared to its much smaller looking predecessor. The front track is also 1.8” wider than on the previous coupe, so this new coupe just hunkers down nicely into a purely handsome stance that tells you, “Ready, boss.”

A prime desire on the part of the development team for the F32 coupe was to engineer a much more dynamic feeling – not just looking – car. To this end, the wider front axle has incorporated a whole new anti-roll bracing beneath the axle itself with left and right cross braces extending further back to the outside edge of the chassis. In back, the five-link suspension architecture is of a whole new design to likewise minimise the body roll in curves and weight transfer moments. As I learned the sweeter rev range above 5,000 rpms out on some fun public roads, the very even fore:aft weight distribution, new axles, and a very much improved electro-dynamic steering program, all showed the 435i to be more natural at doing these gymnastics than the civilian E92 ever was, and that’s really saying something.

But it was at the track, of course, where the 435i coupe showed me most of what it likes and does not like doing. First, the steering again out here at highest-rev shift points and brusque directional changes is really quite nice now with plenty of faithful directional feedback. Where the civilian everyday nature of this 35i Sport Line treatment showed its true limitations was in how much I could ask the chassis to do in lateral forces through the many known curves and rising or descending hairpins. The 19-inch Bridgestone Potenzas via the optional adaptive sport suspension setup were needing me to feather the throttle a lot and be extremely consistent throughout. The tire squeal was somewhat constant though neither unexpected nor detrimental to my holding the proper line out on the heated tarmac. I just wish I could have carried a little more speed through a few 180-degree sweepers. The optional sport seats (in flash red here) were excellent thrones and side support is fine.

Just like the 3 Series coupes, the 4 series hardtop is extremely smooth and, let us say, learn-able to the driver wanting to occasionally hit a favorite track at weekends. I would wait to do this until the full M Sport Line comes available soon after launch of deliveries worldwide on 05 October. Then, of course, there will be every other good performance package coming available, too, like the predictable Competition Pack for the future M4 which will undoubtedly take this slinky and quick coupe body to the dynamic limits of near perfection.

 

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I do miss not being able to at least try a 428i with the fantastic N20 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and maybe even the standard six-speed manual shifter. Whereas the N55 in this tune for the 35i models can lack mid-range guts to what I would normally expect from a turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder, the 28i’s cutting-edge turbo four outperforms what is shown on paper and gives all its heart in that meaty mid-range. Plus, it’s just a few tenths of a second off the 60-mph acceleration time of the bigger N55 (which is estimated here conservatively by BMW at 5.0 seconds with 8-spd automated transmission).

Granted, the 435i can dance and be flung into forced oversteer, tires spinning all over the pavement while in Sport+ mode, traction and stability controls off, and wearing these lower-profile Bridgestones, but for an everyday non-M 4 Series, I’d most likely go for the 428i with an 18-inch set of wheels.

This day with the niche-filling 4 Series was time extremely well spent. It reinstilled my faith in BMW’s priorities as lately they have been trying to be everything to everybody across the wide spectrum of the premium market. The 4 Series is faithful to the ‘ultimate driving machine’ promise in a way that the larger volume versions of the 5- and 6-series, Z4, and others no longer are, and which the hugely fat SAVs and new i3 threaten to obscure beyond repair. All good products perhaps, just not terribly ultimate in any clear positive way.

I cannot wait for the M4 with full-on Competition Pack. This will be a famous car, mark my words.

2014 BMW 435i VITAL STATS

Engine: 3.0L turbo i6

Power: 302 bhp / 295 lb-ft

Transmission: 8-Speed auto

0-60 mph Time: 5.0 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 130 mph

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,527 LBS

Seating: 2+2

Cargo: 15.7 – 33.5 cu ft

Fuel mpg: 18 City,  HWY27

Base Price: $46,000

Price as tested: $56,000 (est.)

[BMW 435i text – Snap; BMW on-site photo help]

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