The all-new 4-Series coupe is decidedly sporty by way of its spec sheet but it misses out on delivering the advertised ultimate driving experience and instead delivers an impressively luxurious ride and a controversial design.
Despite the polarizing and dominating design of the front grille, the overall styling of the 4-Series is rather sedate. Its body bears the fundamental styling queues of an athletic coupe with unbroken horizontal body lines, a long dash-to-axle distance, prominent rear fenders, and a sharply sloping roofline while foregoing the theatrics of faux air scoops and large garnishes or abruptly mated panel gaps that have defined recent BMW designs.
Whether or not this 4-Series styling will weather the test of time will likely be dependent on the grille which, even after a week with the car, still feels like it disrupts the car’s overall styling instead of complimenting it. It feels brutish, not sleek, and dramatic, not purposeful. Even the front license plate feels like it wasn’t fully considered during the styling phase as it visually bridges the BMW “kidneys” together although they are clearly intended to be separated. Future models might better integrate the bold design but, in this example, it feels forced and slapped on after the rest of the body had already been sculpted.
The interior delivers a much more harmonious environment. Heavily bolstered and widely adjustable seats, a soft and thick steering wheel, and a low dash solidify the sporting intentions of this BMW. The driver receives information through a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster, however, the speedometer and tachometer have been relegated to the very edges of the display and there are no alternate display themes as are offered with its competitors. A digitized version of BMW’s classic layout from yesteryear would look entirely fitting here.
BMW’s latest, seventh-generation iDrive is fast and easy to use with extensive customization and dynamic display graphics. The shortcut controls, however, are somewhat hidden by the main controller (which also serves as a touchpad) and require more than a quick glance to locate.
Overall, the interior doesn’t look as fresh or high-tech as its competitors, however, the details prove that this car belongs in the premium crowd. Every surface feels solid, the materials are high quality, and the controls are precise.
Firing up the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gives the car a bit of an uncharacteristic shake but once underway it’s incredibly balanced. The same can’t be said for the power delivery of the engine which has a decidedly on-off nature. Any attempt to match BMW’s quoted mid-5-second run from 0-60 mph will require a heavy brake pedal overlap. The transmission also has two faces. It struggles off the line to seamlessly accelerate from a stop as the torque converter searches for the right balance of lock-up but once at speed, it feels perfectly calibrated for the engine’s power curve and wait-wait nature of its turbocharger. Keeping the revs above 2,000 rpm helps to minimize the turbo-lag but most upshifts are met with a forward lurch – a result of the engine trying to stay on boost.
The xDrive all-wheel-drive system ensures all of the power transfers to the ground without drama while the variable locking rear differential helps the car feel more balanced when attacking the winding roads. Ironically, it’s BMW’s hallmark that is now the letdown when it comes to enthusiastic driving. The sport variable steering system is a part of the $3,800 M-Sport package and promises to deliver a more engaging experience but it is painfully numb and never inspires the confidence to explore the handling potential on a public road.
That same steering system that fails to ignite a spark of fun becomes a virtue in everyday commuting. Small corrections come naturally and its adjustable steering ratio enables quick low-speed maneuvers without sawing at the steering wheel. The same goes for the powertrain, which is incredibly fuel-efficient and offers plenty of power in reserve for stress-free overtaking.
The ultra-rigid chassis and adaptive suspension contribute to an impressively controlled ride, albeit one that is slightly on the stiff side. The body feels exceptionally rigid and the adaptive dampers admirably absorb sharp impacts and large dips in the road.
The interior is also very quiet which makes enjoying the optional Harman-Kardon sound system, with its punchy bass and crisp notes, that much easier. Outward visibility is very good, aided by those long doors and right-sized door mirrors.
There’s always an unspoken asterisk that follows BMW’s “the ultimate driving machine” statement. For some models, it’s “for enthusiasts” but in the case of the 430i xDrive, that asterisk would read “during your regular commute”. This all-new BMW has sporty looks and delivers a serene ride but it lacks the engaging feel to authenticate its sporting spec sheet.