BMWBLOG heads to Seattle and Vancouver to test drive the all-new 2014 BMW 428i M Sport.
At first glance, I found myself disappointed with the overall aesthetic of the production version of the BMW 4 Series. Coming from the strong, aggressive stance of the 4 Series Concept Coupe, the bar was set quite high. I particularly enjoyed the front and rear lower valences as it pulled something different into the design not previously found on BMWs with the integration of the air dam at the front and subtly hidden exhaust at the rear.
The production version left me feeling a bit deflated with something that fell very clearly from the 4 Series Concept but much closer to a two-door version of the F30 3 Series Sedan. The BMW 4 Series Coupe isn’t a disappointment on a standalone basis but its a tough battle to fight when it stands in comparison to the well-received 4 Series Concept.
This, the F32 chassis, and I suppose the 1st generation BMW 4 Series Coupe isn’t a displeasing car to look at, not in the least. On the morning of my arrival to Seattle, upon reaching the Four Seasons I saw a sole Alpine White BMW 435i M Sport parked just beyond the valet’s stand. As soon as I unpacked I rushed back down to with my camera to huddle with the rest of the onlookers to admire the handsome two door and snap some shots. Alas, it was gone, cast back into the pits of the parking deck beneath the hotel and not to be seen until the following morning during our departure for Vancouver – its angular, masculine looks unjustly held from the world to see for another evening.
Skipping to the next afternoon, I was able to get only a little seat time in the 2014 BMW 428i M Sport and most of it was spent crawling afternoon traffic trying to clammer into northern Vancouver to reach our hotel for the next few days. Despite a handful of hours spent jammed into the passenger side of a 428i, I found the car to be comfortable overall and most surprising, I wasn’t feeling the fatigue of having already been in a car for nearly 8 hours prior. My small exposure to the 4 Series did little to illuminate what, in my mind, what BMW declare as a clearly discernible upgrades against the 3 Series.
Skipping ahead again to our last driving day, we arrived at our lunch destination back on the waterfront in Bellingham,WA with the new 2014 BMW M5 Competition Package to unload – and who wouldn’t want it in gorgeous Monte Carlo Blue? We ended up with an M Sport-equipped Mineral Gray BMW 428i with light options – notably, the (gasp!) 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox without a manual F32 to be found for miles! At first this was a bit off-putting as I slipped into the Black Sensatec interior and, at 6″4, had to crank my seat forward to comfortably reach the pedals – my fears began to wash away. The ample front seat space afforded a welcome but far cry from my old E46 BMW 3 Series Coupe.
Departing Bellingham, we began to head south again with Seattle as our final spot. BMW picked a particularly good route for this leg of the trip.
Despite heading south, we climbed up along a ridge line that skirted another inlet branching off the from the Pacific Ocean on Route 11. Our view off passenger side rewarded with spectacular sights of the inlet as it was flanked on two sides by distant green peaks seemingly emerging from the horizon. Our ascent also rewarded with a notably circuitous path leading upward under a patchwork canopy of green with blots of sunlight attempting to creep through, splashing light across the long hood in front of us.
It was on these roads that BMW quickly sold me on what was so good about the 4 Series – what puts it a cut above the 3 Series.
Aside from being 1.7 inches wider than the outgoing E92 3 Series Coupe the rear track has been expanded by a massive 3.1 inches – wider than the soon-to-be-replaced E9X M3 – the 4 Series sits just a bit lower too for center of gravity. It’s astounding how BMW has progressed the overall performance of the F32 juxtaposed to the E92. Pouring the coupe into corner after corner the rear just grips and thanks to a communicative chassis, the whole car just exudes confidence never feeling as though it could put a wheel wrong. After a bit of time and familiarity the 2014 BMW 428i felt easy to balance and place just where I wanted it, perhaps alluding to a bit more feedback and poise compared to its somewhat more conservative 3 Series counterpart.
As we left the many switchbacks of Route 11 and again descended into a valley floor I found that while everything seemed to be gripping way out back of the coupe, everything was singing up front. The pairing of the N20 four-cylinder engine and 4 Series chassis is a potent one. We found that between 2nd and 3rd gear and about 30mph to 60mph the little 2.0 liter turbo would just hurtle the luxo-two door down backroads.
Paired with the lightning-sharp accurate 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox and things got better and better. The ZF managed to never get in the way of what I was trying to do – whether it be to hold a gear to the last RPM or to simply slip into a more comfortable pace and slink through traffic – the gearbox just felt right.
The BMW 4 Series Coupe felt very competent in that it could easily be peeled into a corner before, thanks to the peaky N20, be thrust down the road only to have the throttle once more pull us out of a corner – all while rapidly firing off gear changes via the steering wheel-mounted paddles (which thankfully now reflect upshifts via the right paddle with downshifts on the left paddle ala M cars). We certainly put the cobalt blue M Sport brakes to the test that day. Brake feel overall was strong and, not unlike the chassis, proved confident whenever put to the test though it is difficult to comment on any massive improvements over the standard brakes at $650 less than our optional, blue-calipered brakes.
Stopping at the last rally spot and getting late in the day, the sun began to slip behind the mountains around Seattle and a warm, orange glow surrounded us we loaded up and hit the road again heading for I5 to take the fastest route back to the hotel. After a few minutes of great progress, I found myself hurling expletives as a sea of deep red brake lights began to play out ahead of us. We spent the next 45+ minutes snaking through Seattle-bound traffic with the car set to ECO PRO mode. This locked our throttle response into a dulled sense while reeling in the 8-speed gearbox to execute shifts at much lower RPM. During this little jaunt we reflected fuel economy of just a hair over 29 miles per gallon. Impressive to say the least.
Arriving back at the hotel, I came to the realization that the 4 Series might just be the best car BMW currently has on sale. While I didn’t get a chance to try the 435i, I can honestly say that the 428i coupled with the absolutely killer 8-speed automatic will provide more smiles than you’ll know what to do with for most people. It’s rewarding in its communicative chassis, the diminutive yet punchy powertrain and it is just fun enough at low speeds to not get you arrested unlike faster, more expensive coupes such as the 650i.
Should I Buy One?
Interestingly, I came away for the first time ever thinking that I could see myself buying an automatic BMW and being entirely happy with it. I enjoyed N20 and 8-speed gearbox combo that much. The 4 Series feels like a car that is more than the sum of its parts – something that felt a bit lacking in the previous generation of the midsize BMW coupes.
Call it a 4 Series, call it a 3 Series, call it the 4 sDrive28i, call it the 420i M Sport – I don’t care what you name it – but BMW, please keep building cars like this.