published Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Test Drive: 'Coupe' de Jour: New BMW 4 series

The BMW 4 Series coupe shares the mechanicals of the 3 series, with two fewer doors and an extra helping of style. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The BMW 4 Series coupe shares the mechanicals of the 3 series, with two fewer doors and an extra helping of style. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 BMW 435i Coupe

* Exterior color: Jet Black

* Interior color: Black Dakota Leather

* Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder

* Horsepower: 302

* Transmission: eight-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 32 mpg highway, 22 mpg city.

* Dealer: BMW of Chattanooga (6806 E. Brainerd Rd.)

* Price (as tested): $51,775 (before discount)

For years, the nomenclature of the most popular BMW sedans was like counting by odd numbers in kindergarten: 1-3-5-7.

Enter the new BMW 4 Series. The coupe version of the venerable 3 Series now has its own number -- 4. If you're a fan of Bimmers, this makes sense and pulls the sporty coupe out of the shadows of the popular four-door 3 Series sedans.

(Remember, even numbers for coupes. There are also 2 Series and 6 Series coupes in the BMW lineup now.)

The 4 Series cars share the superb 4- and 6-cylinder turbocharged engines in the 3 Series

sedans, but add a extra dash of panache for those who don't need the utility of four doors. For those who want a pure sporting experience, the Z4 roadster beckons.

We sampled a 435i Sedan, the turbo-charged inline-six-cylinder variant, last week from BMW of Chattanooga. Our test car came in glimmering Jet Black paint. The effect of factory-new black paint without a single swirl mark in the clear-coat is stunning; as is the growl of the 302-horsepower engine as those turbochargers kick in under hard acceleration.

Base pricing starts at $41,425 for the four-cylinder 428i and tops out at $62,000 for a heavily equipped 435xi. Our mid-trim test car carries an MSRP of $51,775 before discounts.

STYLING AND COMFORT

If you spot at 4 Series in your rear-view mirror, the facial resemblance to a 3 Series may throw you off. Step to one side though and you'll immediately notice some sexy new fender vents that release air collected around the front wheels -- not to mention the obvious two-door setup instead of four.

Overall, the 4 Series cuts a lower, more aggressive profile that's accented by handsome six-spoke 18-inch alloys. The roof line teardrops into an elongated trunk lid and a shapely rear.

The nose has BMW's signature double-kidney grille, and the Xenon headlamps have LED accents -- a feature that has become the price of admission in the luxury class these days.

Inside, the cabin is typically BMW Spartan except for some tasteful dark burl walnut door pulls and dash inserts. A 6.5 inch flat-screen display sits prominently in the middle of the dash and serves as the face of the iDrive suite of functions including climate control, audio, navigation and communications.

The back seat in the 4 Series is snug, but cutouts in the front seat-backs and a relatively tall roof line give adult passengers inches where they count, expanding head and knee room.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

I was three-quarters of the way through a 30-minute test drive before I asked the 435i for some help merging into an I-75 off-ramp. With a throaty growl, the mighty turbos spun up and catapulted the car from 40 mph to 60 mph in the blink of an eye. One imagines the four-cylinder turbo 428i might have slightly slower reflexes, but my sense from an earlier 3-Series test drive is is not by much.

Like all BMW compacts, the 4 Series hugs you like an old friend. From the short throws of the gear shifter to the familiar palm rests at the 10-and-2 points on the steering wheel, the 4 Series coupe feels just right, like you've climbed into a comfortable running shoe.

Steering is firmly weighted and responsive. The suspension provides plenty of feedback, making even your daily commute a hoot. Weight distribution, aided by the rear-wheel drive set-up, is nearly perfect for precise handling.

BOTTOM LINE

With a $20,000 spread between the top and bottom trim 4 Series models, there is plenty of room to economize. For example, while the navigation system on our tester is nice, using your smartphone instead could result in shaving about $2,000 off the bottom line.

The 4 Series is a well executed blend of high-design and high-performance. If those two boxes are at the top of your checklist, you owe it to yourself to give one a spin.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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