Eight years ago BMW redefined its 3-series by splitting it into two separate model lines to the bafflement of many. Basically the four door including the wagon remained the 3-series, but removing two of the doors to make coupes and convertibles resulted in the 4-series, kind of odd as the original 3-series and the 2002 before that were only available in two door form. If you’re keeping track, four (doors) now equaled 3(-series) while two (doors) equaled 4(-series). So far, so good. But then they almost immediately confused the plot by adding a four door with a hatchback and naming that a 4 as well, albeit with a “Gran Coupe” modifier while also offering a different four door with a hatchback and naming that a 3, but with a “Gran Turismo” modifier. Two formulas, same basic ingredients, different results, and all of the cars looked pretty much the same to the uninitiated as well as many of the fans and followers of the BMW brand.
Now we are on to the second generation of this scheme, and the above is meant as an attempt to explain where this new 4-series coupe that we drove last week fits. If, like many of our readers, you grew up with BMWs of the ’70s, ’80s, and 90s, this is the descendant of the 2002 of the ’70s, 320i of the ’70s/’80s, 318i/325i of the ’80s/’90s, 323i/328i of the ’90s etc., always the two door, and as the awd “x” version when available. In slightly simpler terms, essentially the distillation of the brand into one of the most iconic, revered, and targeted by others model lines they’ve ever offered.
With, of course, one difference that’s hard to go unnoticed. For this new generation of the 4-series, there’s been a rather notable change to the famous and instantly identifiable twin kidney grille: It’s now recognizable from significantly greater distances. Because it’s larger, much larger. BMW themselves love and defend it, anecdotal perusing of commentary across the internet demonstrates a wider range of opinion, albeit much of it likely generated without seeing it in person.
The grille is big, larger than in my opinion it needs to be, but that’s alright, nobody asked me. Adding a license plate to it significantly reduces the initial effect by covering a lot of it and I will say that in person it somehow works better than it does in pictures. I’ll note that this is one of the very few test cars I’ve received to date with a front license plate mounted in place, make of that what you will. My own experiences with the car and neighbors walking by my house demonstrated not the shock noted across much of the internet but rather an appreciation of a new BMW. Some other markets across the globe apparently prefer a comparatively large grille which may well have something to do with this design change.
Getting beyond the front (or approaching from a different angle) displays a shape that’s strong, sinewy, and rather sleek. The term “shark-like” came to mind more than once. This particular car, painted in a very fetching hue named Portimao Blue Metallic, had the standard Shadowline exterior trim package which with the exception of the grille perimeter and badging renders all other potential brightwork black.
This can look sporty and modern, but in some lighting from certain angles at times also results in making it look, frankly, a bit plain. Not helping are juxtapositions like the interesting-looking rear diffuser under the rear bumper that certainly imbues the correct performance look but then the vents behind the rear wheels are as fake as the ones on a Camry. Still, it’s low, the hood is long, and the decklid short with a fast roofline flowing into it.
Opening the door reveals an interior upholstered in black leather with silver metal accents and, due to the MSport package, various little BMW Motorsport blue/purple/red accents. Watch that door though, it’s extremely long and easy to bounce off the car in the next spot over. There are so few coupes on the market anymore that I fear as a society we are now much less used to handling long doors. First world problems and all that, I suppose.
Settling into the front sport seats reveals them to be, well, a revelation. Very comfortable and highly adjustable not just in any direction that might be desired as well as the lumbar allowing for four-way adjustment, but also the headrests can move up and down as well as fore and aft on a horizontal axis, not just in an arc. There’s also a separate button for bolster control, yes the upper side bolsters can squeeze you as tight as you’d like them to or be made to do less so if you’ve perhaps just imbibed a little too much Wurst mit Kraut. Oh, and has long been tradition in BMW’s sport seats, the thigh bolster can be pulled forward for all the support anyone might want, pulling out far enough to actually hit just behind the knee.
What’s less revelatory is the lack of headroom with the sunroof, I found myself having to bend my neck a bit when seated which made for less than ideal comfort. I did in this case actually use and enjoy the sunroof repeatedly, it was a combination of the placement, amount of air entering, and visibility through it, as well as something I can’t describe, but I enjoyed having it wide open more than in any other car I’ve enjoyed in a very long time, even (or more accurately, especially) at high speeds.
The steering wheel may be a little too fatly rimmed if that’s possible but is otherwise superbly shaped, the buttons controlling various functions on it make sense and are easy to learn, and there’s a centrally located steering wheel heat button below the central pad that itself is perhaps one of the most nicely finished in the business, with a leather (or good simile thereof) covered piece with stitching and of course the roundel in the middle.
To the left and below is a bank of buttons controlling all of the various lighting settings, I verified that it is possible to turn the fog lights off, easiest as in most cars is to just leave the setting in “Auto”, the biggest button in the middle. Wanting a different selection though does require actually looking very low in the car to decipher all of the options, far less useful than a simple visible dial in the name of looking more tech-y.
Visible through and not at all obscured by the wheel is the instrument panel with the now not unfamiliar digital gauge cluster that includes BMW’s new(ish) interpretation of gauges with the tach and speedo sort of represented as opposing claw shapes that run around the edges of the display with a backdrop that is actually a navigation screen and thus constantly shifting with a shaded representation of the roads being traversed.
This sounds perhaps kind of weird but is interesting and actually useful as the location of upcoming cross streets and general geography can be intuited subconsciously while glancing at the cluster for the routine informational glances as we’ve all been taught in driving school. Of course a toggle on the turn signal stalk also cycles through other relevant information as desired such as fuel economy, trip meters, g-force gauges, and a few other items.
The screen mounted in the center of the dashboard, neither fully integrated into a surround nor remotely looking tacked on is in a wider format and normally controlled by the iDrive controller wheel between the seats. Somehow this iDrive seems less intuitive than it used to be but the screen can also be controlled by touch, which seems easier to use without perhaps some significant practice and continued use of the controller.
There are so many different systems on the market now that while iDrive is not bad at all, most of the systems with a remote controller device simply aren’t as easy to use as with them as just touching the screen directly or using voice commands, at least not to the occasional user.
Simply a fail though is when attempting to be disciplined about using the iDrive wheel and thus keeping a hand near it, when dialing through radio stations there is no volume knob near it. So the hand needs to either be raised to adjust the one on the vertical part of the console or returned to the wheel for the buttons as the controls are on the right side of the wheel. The volume knob would be better next to the controller or the steering wheel volume buttons should be moved to the left side.
Below the center screen which controls all the usual suspects along with all manner of vehicle personalization and “individual” performance parameters per the user’s preferences is a small module for controlling HVAC aspects, below that the volume knob and eight “whatever” presets – they can be used to preset or quick connect to all manner of things, not just radio stations (a novel and welcome concept), and below that a lidded compartment that contains two cupholders, a USB as well as a 12V outlet and the (optional) wireless phone charging pad.
Moving on to the horizontal plane of the console there is the monostatic shifter that’s better than it used to be but still requires acquiring the muscle memory to always engage the correct function without a verification glance. To the left of it is a button bank with the selectors controlling the stability control, park assist, auto start/stop, engine starter, and the drive mode selectors. Those consist of Sport, Comfort, Eco Pro, and Adaptive settings.
Adaptive is interesting in that it can vary the mode parameters itself based on how the car is driven and what it predicts a driver will want based on that. To the right of the shifter is the iDrive controller console with menu buttons and the wheel itself. Behind all of that the console bin with padded lid and more connectivity options within.
Fit and finish inside were impeccable, the surfaces were mostly all soft with marvelous contrasting blue stitching throughout. BMWs have gotten very tech-heavy in recent decades and visually this is so as well; while some makers focusing on technology go for the very minimalist and simple look, others such as BMW have gone the other way, serving up a cornucopia of different materials, textures, shapes, and accents. Different users will react differently to all of this, suffice to say there is a lot going on visually.
The back seat is finished just as nicely as the front area, there is room for smaller people but not at all for someone of my size (6’1″ with 32″ inseam). Getting back there involves folding the seatback by pulling a handle on the back of the front seatback (not visible when outside of the car), then waiting for the seat to slowly move forward via power assist, then clambering back there and settling in.
I had two of my kids back there and neither particularly enjoyed it, both got themselves tangled in the front seatbelts when exiting the car and didn’t appreciate the wait for the seat both to move forward as well as return to its position on a rainy day. On the plus side there are separate HVAC controls, vents, as well as two USB-C outlets back here and cupholders in the armrest.
The trunk is easy to access with a low liftover height but no spare tire (in fact, nothing) under the fixed floor. The back seats do fold down to carry longer items if needed. Overall trunk volume measures 12 cubic feet and is well shaped to make maximum advantage of it.
Getting back to numbers, this model was the 430i (xDrive). Back in the day a “30” as the last two digits on the trunklid of a smaller BMW would ensure that you’re driving the most powerful variant of the line. No longer. The 430i with either RWD or AWD is now the entry level 4-series coupe (below the M440i and M4 variants) and while the numbers have long had more to do with relative power levels rather than with the actual engine displacement, this car is equipped with a turbocharged and direct injected 2.0liter four cylinder engine. It produces 255hp @ 5,000rpm and 295lb-ft of torque @ 1,550 to 4,400rpm.
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