2014 BMW 435i
The sixth generation of the venerable BMW 3-series debuted for the 2012 model year to widespread acclaim from mommy bloggers, hypermilers, and the tech press alike, each group enthralled with the Ultimate Driving Machine’s new features. Or at least we imagine they were. Truthfully, we have no idea what these people thought and we don’t much care. But who else is going to get excited by a car that parks itself, helps you drive like Wayne Gerdes, and allows posting to Facebook while carving corners?
Apparently, us. Looking past BMW’s fascination with features that have little to do with the company’s core virtues, we found them mostly intact: good controls, dynamic handling, and excellent all-around performance. Despite a drop-off in the level of engagement in this newest 3-series, we have continued to enjoy the F30 sedan well enough to keep the model on our 10Best list, all the while hoping improvements might show up in subsequent variants. With the F32 4-series, that’s exactly what we’re getting.
Forensic Anthropology of a 3-series
The car formerly known as the 3-series coupe has been broken off into its own model line, a consequence of taxonomy being as important to Germans as punctuality and pretzels, but also because the 4-series is meant to diverge from its sedan sibling more than in the past. Outward suggestions are subtle: Bulging rear fender arches make the taper of the roof seem more extreme than it really is, and functional vents aft of the front wheels add bright work as they channel air more efficiently through the wheel wells. The 4’s LED headlights are exclusive–or at least until the mid-cycle refresh of its sibling sedan.
BMW will offer the 4-series in four familiar configurations: 428i, 435i, 428i xDrive, and 435i xDrive. (No, we are not getting the detuned 420i or diesel 420d models sold in other markets.) Pricing starts at $41,425 for the 428i and $46,925 for the 435i, with all-wheel-drive versions tacking on an extra $2000. As in the 3-series, Luxury, Sport, and M Sport trim lines will be offered. The standard transmission is an eight-speed automatic, with a six-speed manual available as a no-cost option on all models save the 428i xDrive.
If the F30 is BMW expanding its tent, the F32 is the corner where enthusiasts are expected to take shelter. Although the basic structure and mechanicals carry over, including the 240-hp turbocharged four in the 428i and the 300-horse turbo inline-six in the 435i, a reworked chassis makes the coupe noticeably sportier. The 4-series is lower and wider, and its suspension is stiffer, too. A roofline two inches shorter than the sedan’s and a ride height 0.4 inch lower give the coupe a center of gravity BMW says measures 19.6 inches high, which would put it 0.1 inch above what we’ve measured for the Porsche Cayman. The front track of the sedan has been extended by 0.3 inch to 60.8 inches in the 4-series, and the rear track is an additional two inches wider. BMW added two braces between the front subframe and the body, similar to what would be used on a convertible, as well as firmer bushings and springs.
Less Formal, More Formidable
Nobody would tell us how much starch this adds to the recipe, but the 435i we drove felt more stable than an F30 sedan, with less fore-and-aft pitching and no deterioration in ride quality. Our car was a European Sport model with the Dynamic Handling package ($1000), which includes adaptive dampers and variable-ratio steering, and 19-inch wheels wrapped in performance rubber ($900). It also had the latest iDrive 4.2, which sees the infamous control knob return to its larger size, providing a suitable surface on the top of the knob for touch writing, a feature cribbed from Audi.