TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW 430i xDrive Coupe — Exceeds Expectations

BMW 430i has more than enough power to be a proper GT car

BMW 430i xDrive 1

“Perhaps I treated you too harshly,” Thanos said to his daughter, moments before he was decapitated. I shared the same overall sentiment after testing the 2021 BMW 430i Coupe, and, just like purple supervillain, felt as if I’d be decapitated by the enthusiast fanbase for admitting it. Just like the rest of the car enthusiast world, I nearly lost my lunch upon first seeing the new 4 Series. Its shocking grille was just too much for me to take, as it seemingly ruined the rest of the car’s design. How do I feel abut its design now, after living with it up close for a week? I still don’t like it. However, the everything else about the  BMW 430i far exceeded my expectations.

BMW 430i xDrive 5 830x467

Looks Only a Mother Could Love

Let’s get the design talk out of the way. Design is subjective and one man’s Pontiac Aztek is another man’s Lamborghini Miura. I know this. However, since it’s my review, I must give my personal subjective opinion of its design and, to be blunt, it’s not good. To be fair, 80-percent of the 4 Series’ design is great. From the front wheels back, the 4er is a sleek, smooth and handsome coupe. It’s not particularly sporty but it’s sophisticated and sharp in a sort of premium grand touring car way.

The grille just ruins it all, though. I’m genuinely not trying to pile on and kick the 4 Series while it’s down but there’s no getting around the fact that its grille looks entirely out of place, lacks any sort of cohesiveness with the rest of the car’s design and absolutely distracts from car’s overall handsome design.

BMW 430i xDrive 3
A Massive Kidney Grille

I genuinely wish the grille was different because, from the side, the 4 Series looks like a car that most enthusiasts would be proud to own. It has a lovely silhouette, great proportions and a subtle shoulder line that hints at its athleticism. Walking out to it everyday genuinely felt special, especially with my test car’s Portimao Blue paint, and, so long as I never saw the grille, I was happy to be driving it. That face, though? Woof.

Familiar Interior Isn’t a Bad Thing

Thankfully, you can’t see the grille from the inside. In fact, the inside is about as familiar and comfortable as the your favorite old sweater. It’s essentially the same cabin as you’ll find in a 3 Series but that’s no bad thing. The design is simple but elegant, ergonomics are great and materials are as good as they come in this segment. In fact, if BMW put this very interior in a car costing $20,000 more, no one would bat an eye.

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW 430i xDrive Coupe — Exceeds Expectations
Elegant and Sporty

It’s also the perfect balance of sporty and premium. My test car wore an M Sport package, which added blue stitching and aluminum trim. There are some things I don’t like about modern BMW interiors, such as the Live Cockpit Professional, which seems to lack the configurability advantages of digital gauges, while also having an unintuitive design. Also, BMW’s Siri-like voice assist is infuriating, constantly coming after hearing the word “BMW” and failing to understand basic commands. Maybe my New Jersey accent is just that bad. That said, the rest of the cabin is great and is a lovely place to spend a ton of time.

Nothing Wrong with Being a GT

Back when I first drove this new 4 Series, a BMW M440i xDrive, I claimed that it felt more like a GT car than a sports car. Its big, torquey engine and silky smooth driving dynamics gave me a mini-8 Series vibe that, no matter how hard I pushed it, never seemed to give way and reveal a sports car underneath. I thought the 430i might be different, thanks to its more modest power and lighter engine. It wasn’t but that’s not an insult.

The BMW 4 Series is a small grand touring car; something for you and your better half to take a long weekend trip with, in comfort, speed and style*. Its engine — a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder, making 258 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque — punches above its weight class and will surprise many enthusiasts with not only how hard it pulls but how enjoyable it is to use. Throttle response is excellent, turbo-lag is virtually nonexistent and it pulls hard at any rpm, in any gear. Easily one of the best four-pots on the market.

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW 430i xDrive Coupe — Exceeds Expectations
Sleek Three Quarter View

So despite being the entry-level 4 Series, the BMW 430i has more than enough power to be a proper GT car and get you to your holiday destination in good time. More importantly, should a twisty road appear along your travels, it has the punch to entertain.

That said, the rest of the car would prefer long, sweeping curves rather than tight, sharp corners. As with many modern BMWs, the 430i’s steering is sharp and accurate but entirely lifeless. We’ve all come to accept the fact that modern sports cars lack communicative steering. Electric power steering and an increasing customer demand for refinement have all but ruined the steering feel in any sports car without a “Porsche” badge on the back. That’s not the problem with modern BMW steering. The problem is the lack of any noticeable weight change off-center.

Turn the wheel in the BMW 430i and the front end responds quickly enough but there’s no indication through your hand that anything is happening. The weight of the steering either stays the same or doesn’t change enough until you’re at at 90-degrees of steering lock and even after that there’s little wheel resistance to signal what the front wheels are doing, so it feels very video game-like. That’s fine for a GT car, where long, sweeping curves and highway blasts reward a more comfortable, relaxed steering setup. But during sporty driving, that sort of steering is disconcerting and, because of that, I never felt the need to push it hard.

Don’t mistake that for thinking I didn’t like driving the 4 Series because I did. Just in a different way than I’d drive a sports car. It’s a pleasant car to drive, one that I preferred to just cruise down the highway in at high speed. There’s nothing wrong with a grand touring car and that’s what the 4 Series is, even the entry-level 430i.

Powertrain Wizardry

BMW might be the best in the world at calibrating engines to the ubiquitous ZF eight-speed automatic. While I would have preferred a manual in the 430i, the ZF eight-speed is perfectly matched to the scrappy B48 engine.

Left to its own devices, there was never a situation where I felt it was in the wrong gear or it did something I wouldn’t have done myself. It’s pure telepathy. If it weren’t some sort of magic — powertrain calibration wizardry — other brands would be able to benchmark BMW and match it. So far, I’ve yet to drive another car with the ZF8 that can match any BMW for not only perfect tuning but also for silky smoothness.

Sure, you can use the paddles and shift gears yourself but I rarely did. It’s so good at picking the right gear, in any situation, that I never felt the need to take over and shift myself. Admittedly, that’s sort of a bummer, as it takes some of the fun away, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive it is.

Sports Car Looks, Luxury Car Comfort

My test car had an M Sport package equipped — it’s the only way to get the stunning Portimao Blue paint — and 18″ wheels with performance tires. Yet, it rode like a 5 Series. BMW nailed the suspension tuning for the entire 4 Series lineup, as it rides well over even the sharpest of bumps and yet it always feels composed and snug to the road. BMW may not have steering like the good old days but its suspension tuning is still bang-on.

TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW 430i xDrive Coupe — Exceeds Expectations
Luxury and Sportiness In A Single Package

It was also surprisingly quiet in my 4 Series tester. I drove it immediately after a BMW M550i and there was no significant drop-off in interior NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness). That’s not a knock on the M550i, which is nearly double the price of the 430i, but praise for the 4 Series’ refinement. You could easily drive the 430i for hundreds of miles and feel every bit as relaxed at the end of the journey as you were before you started.

Exceeded Expectations

I’ll admit, my expectations weren’t high leading up to my week-long test drive of the 4 Series. From what I’d heard, and experienced during my short time with the M440i, I thought the BMW 430i would be a comfy but boring coupe. While the former was true, the latter ended up being mostly false.

Sure, there are better (much better) driver’s cars than the 430i in its segment. My test car came in at just under $54,000 and the sorts of sports cars you can get for that money will dynamically shame a 4 Series. A V8-powered Mustang GT with a manual is under $50,000, the entry-level Porsche 718 Cayman with a manual starts at $59,000, and a C8 Corvette Z51 — a 500 horsepower mid-engine supercar — is $65,000. So, if you want a sports car, there are much better ways to spend that sort of money.

However, the BMW 430i isn’t a proper sports car. It’s a premium grand touring car; something that’s a bit sporty, quick enough in a straight line, effortlessly comfortable and stylish (if you’re into that grille); and when you look at it that way, the 4 Series as a whole starts to make more sense. It’s also just really enjoyable to drive at around six tenths.

I’m personally not the customer for a BMW 430i but I can understand who the customer is and their motivation for wanting one. The 430i customer is someone who wants a car that they can use both everyday and as a cruiser for weekend getaways and either doesn’t have children or their children are old enough that shuttling them around is no longer a priority. For that customer, so long as they don’t need the extra power of the M440i, the BMW 430i makes a ton of sense.

2020 BMW 430i Coupe

Exterior Appeal - 7
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 7
Performance - 8
Handling - 8
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 7
Price Point - 7

7.6

After having driven the new 2020 BMW 430i, we can honestly say that the entry-level 4 Series has exceed our expectations.