Like most people, we’re occasionally skeptical of change. Often it can be refreshing, but sometimes you wonder why they didn’t simply leave it well alone. And so we approached the new BMW 4 Series with a degree of trepidation, mourning the division of one of the greatest family of cars ever built.
We were concerned there wouldn’t be sufficient differentiation between the 3 and 4 Series to justify the new nomenclature, but first sight of the attractive new 2014 BMW 435i Coupe put our minds at ease. A BMW representative also explained that with extra models scheduled, it would be easier to identify the workhorses from the racehorses – the F30 sedan would be joined by an F31 wagon and (F34) Gran Turismo model, while the F32 coupe would spawn an F33 convertible and even a (F35) Gran Coupe, and who knows if there’ll be an X4 SUV to follow?
On first acquaintance, the 2014 BMW 435i we’d be driving had elements of the 6 Series design, with its sharper nose and swage lines creating a more defined wedge shape. There’s also a dose of 3 Series familiarity to preserve the family heritage, but overall the F32 looks pleasingly distinctive.
Its unique elements include a lower roofline and wider track than the 3 Series. The BMW 4 Series gets a different front-end, using new headlights (full LED option), slightly forward raked grille and a front valance that ducts air around the wheels to smooth the airflow. They work in conjunction with the “boomerang” Air Breather gills on the side to contribute to the car’s low 0.28 Cd figure that helps with efficiency and stability.
With its typical long hood and rearward cabin structure, the prominent swage lines along the flanks draw attention to the rear fenders. And for the first time on a BMW (we find this hard to believe), those rear fenders are wider than the door handles. This emphasizes the car’s sporting nature, making the 4 Series appear more purposeful from the rear.
Being a BMW, it’s not all window dressing. The F32 gets the obligatory 50/50 weight distribution that made it so balanced on the Estoril racetrack where we sampled the car. The 4 Series also sits 10mm lower than the equivalent 3 Series, and the center of gravity is below 20" – making it the lowest of any BMW and further contributing to its stability and cornering ability.
The suspension underpinning the BMW 4 Series is different to the F30, having additional front bracing, different pivot points and the lower ride height. We spoke to Sebastian Sauerbrei, head of 3 and 4 Series vehicle dynamics testing, who explained: “The most important thing for chassis tuning is the body… We have a good relationship with the designers, which is useful because it’s easier to change a sketch than the body in white.”
Sebastian then outlined how the F32 has different control arm mounting points on new axle hubs, giving it a 19mm lower roll center than the F30. The new bracing reinforces the front subframe to the sill rails, creating a stiffer platform and allowing more precise reaction to steering inputs.
Similarly at the rear, the wider track required new components to mount the five-link axle, repositioning the pivot points and altering the car’s characteristics in comparison to the existing sedan version.
The 4 Series coupe gets electric power steering with Servotronic speed-sensitivity. There’s also a variable ratio rack option, which lessens input at low speed or in sudden maneuvers. The 435i has four-piston front brakes and the cars were equipped with the excellent eight-speed ZF automatic with paddle shifters. However, a no-charge six-speed manual is available on the 428i, 435i and 435i xDrive, the only exception being the 428ix.
Starting at $40500 for the 428i and rising to $48000 for the 435ix, the BMW 4 Series coupe is priced considerably higher than the equivalent sedan, but will be better equipped. It comes in the usual Modern, Luxury, Sport and M Sport Lines that bring their own equipment and trim levels to reflect the theme, with the sporting models getting black window surrounds, boomerang, intakes, mirrors, valances, etc.
This was also our first chance to sample the new iDrive Touch controller that allows you to input finger movements onto its upper surface, spelling out a location, for example.
The coupe gets automatic seatbelt feeders to save you reaching back for the belt after entry. There’s also an interesting optional two-tone door and side panel trim that makes the interior feel more cosseting. The red trim on our Sport models ran across the dash, as it does on the F30, and onto the doors to create more flow. While the rear bench was sculpted to create two individual seats – which is unfortunate for a fifth person, who would have to sit on the center divider…
As with the exterior, the changes have created a different look and feel for the interior, all of which benefit the occupants and differentiate the coupe from the sedan.
You may have seen us driving the 2014 BMW 435i on the famous Estoril racetrack in Portugal in a video on Roundel magazine’s website. The surprisingly small but technical circuit gave the 435i a chance to shine, with long straights where it could get into its stride, and tight hairpins to demonstrate the remarkable lack of body roll, as well as the punch from the engine. With traction control off, the coupe would light up its tires without too much provocation, leading to some very predictable drifts that merely added to the overall entertainment.
The powerful brakes and precise steering gave you total confidence to keep pushing for the limits, with the stability control stepping in at the last minute to avoid any embarrassment.
The six-cylinder’s rich engine note and its abundance of torque allied to the wonderful eight-speed auto meant the engine was constantly in its sweet spot, able to power out of any turn, no matter how tight.
We heard some complaints about lack of steering feel, which is inevitable with low-energy electric systems, but crucially the car went exactly where you pointed it. With its natural balance, the 2014 BMW 435i is utterly predictable. This means you know what the car is going to do and can instinctively correct any situation.
For larger, heavier cars such as a BMW 4 Series, the notion of racecar steering feedback is redundant. And while we mourn its passing, the alternative we have here is an excellent replacement in what is a truly excellent car for both the road and track. We don’t know how they do it every time, but BMW has scored another perfect ten.
2014 BMW 435i
Layout front engine, rear-wheel drive
Engine 2979cc i-6 DOHC 24v N55B30MO, twin-scroll turbo, direct injection, Valvetronic variable valve control, Vanos
Drivetrain eight-speed 8HP45 ZF automatic with manual shifting
Brakes four-piston calipers, 13.4" rotors f, single-piston, 13" r
Suspension aluminum double-joint strut f, five-link axle r
Wheels & Tires 18x8" wheels, 225/45 R18 tires
Power 302hp at 5000-6000rpm
Torque 295 lb-ft at 1200-5000rpm
Top speed 155mph
Curb weight 3610 lb
Economy 23/33/26mpg (city/highway/combined, EPA est)