There are two things you need to know about the 2014 BMW 4 Series: The first is that it's a new model but not a new concept. The second is that if you opt for the less-expensive version, you're hardly getting less of a car.
Regarding the first point, the 4 Series is essentially the 2-door version of BMW's popular 3 Series. With the 3 Series now including a sedan, a wagon and the new Gran Turismo hatchback, the 4 Series nomenclature helps set the 4-passenger, 2-door model apart from the growing list of 3 Series variants. For now the 4 Series is offered only as a coupe, but a convertible model is expected to debut soon to take the place of the 3 Series convertible.
The 3 Series sedan itself was all-new just two years ago, and now it's the coupe's turn for 2014. Like the sixth-gen 3 Series, the 2014 4 Series features sleeker sheetmetal, a more sophisticated and tech-saturated interior, and a lower curb weight than the outgoing 3 Series coupe.
The models also are similar when it comes to what's under the hood. And here's where we get to the second point, which we ourselves arrived at after recently driving the new 4 Series from Seattle north to Canada. The 3 Series has long been linked to BMW's excellent 6-cylinder inline engine, and that remains the case for it and the new 4 Series. In a word, it's a great engine. With 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque, it's a mover and a shaker that's also extra smooth. BMW says its venerable turbocharged 6-cylinder can push the new 435i from 0 to 60 in as low as 5 seconds flat for rear-drive models and just 4.7 ticks for the grippier xDrive all-wheel-drive versions. For drivers seeking the quickest thrills and most power from the new 4 Series, this is their ticket to ride (at least until an M-badged version rears its head.)
But the 4 Series also offers a smaller, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that provides just as much driving satisfaction and better fuel economy for less cost. By now it shouldn't surprise you to learn that this smaller, base engine employed in the 428i coupe is the same one used in the BMW 328i sedan. When introduced last year, it marked the first time since 1999 that a U.S.-spec BMW 3 Series employed a 4-cylinder instead of its venerable inline-6. The wait was worth it then in the 4-door, and that's the case now in BMW's sleek new coupe.
With its almost perfect 50/50 weight balance and the lowest center of gravity of any current BMW, the 428i that we tested is an absolute joy. The biggest surprise about this engine isn't its impressive power -- 240 ponies, 255 lb-ft of torque -- but how well it delivers the goods. Press the accelerator pedal and this puppy feels like it downed a triple espresso. There just isn't any turbo lag, even in Comfort mode. Switch the Driving Dynamics Control to Sport, and off to the races you'll go with a 0-60 mph sprint in as little as 5.7 seconds and sharper steering response. Our test models were fitted with BMW's seamless 8-speed automatic transmission, but for driving enthusiasts craving complete control, all versions of the 4 Series (except the 4-cylinder AWD model) can be had with BMW's heralded 6-speed manual.
If there are any disagreeable aspects to this powertrain, they are in the fuel-saving arena, and thankfully both can be mitigated with the touch of a button. The Eco Pro mode, in our opinion, tames throttle response too much. It robs much of the joy of driving a BMW for the sake of saving fuel. The same goes for the engine start/stop functionality that shuts down the engine instead of having it just idle at stoplights. The fly in that ointment is that when the engine does start back up, it's quite jarring. In stop-and-go traffic where the engine itself was stopping and going too often, we simply disabled the feature.
The good news is that the 4 Series with our preferred engine is surprisingly fuel efficient in general. Automatic, rear-drive versions of the 428i achieve highway mileage of 35 mpg, while AWD xDrive models return up to 33 mpg. Six-cylinder models, meanwhile, return up to an impressive 32 mpg in rear-drive form and 30 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Along with being more fuel-efficient than and almost as fast as 6-cylinder variants, BMW's 428i models cost several thousand less than the more potent 435i. At over $41,000, the starting price of a 428i is hardly chump change, but it's in line with rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz C250 coupe and Audi A5, and $5,500 below a base 435i.
After our time behind the wheel of the new 4 Series, we can easily vouch for the BMW 428i. It's one of those happy but relatively rare instances in which the "lesser" version of a car proves it ultimately has much more to give.
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