Picture a BMW 3 Series in your head. Now tell me the number of doors it’s got. I’m no psychic, but I’d bet my last sen with a considerable degree of confidence that your answer would be four.
And why wouldn’t it, when the sedan has largely been the most prevalent bodystyle offered throughout the vehicle’s history, and when it has so often been referred to as the benchmark sports ‘sedan’?
It’s easy to forget, therefore, that the BMW 3 Series only ever had two doors for the first 13 years of its life. The genesis that was the very pretty E21 of 1975 was conceived to spiritually succeed the legendary 2002 coupe, you see.
It wasn’t until six years into the succeeding E30 generation that the first 3 Series sedan appeared, and the rest is history. Still, the coupe remains the only bodystyle to be available on each and every 3 Series generation.
Not only, then, is the elegant two-door shape very much in the blood that courses through the definitive compact exec’s veins – it is the very origin of the species. Yet, like it or not, the world has a short memory.
We hopped over to sunny Portugal recently to join the global press drive event for the new BMW 4 Series Coupe. We even had the chance to explore its limits on the famed Estoril circuit.
The Concept 4 Series Coupe emerged in December 2012 like a breath of fresh air – its looks were enough to pacify many a traditionalist who lamented the “end” of the 3 Series Coupe‘s unbroken five-generation run. The production car surfaced in June this year, thankfully staying pretty true to the concept’s lines, with M4, Convertible and Gran Coupe versions now on the way.
It’s a visually-arresting machine, the coupe. Although it doesn’t shout its presence through a loudhailer, it has the sort of looks that would stop you dead in your tracks, as you take in the various elements and think about how they complement the vehicle’s well-balanced proportions.
Aggression, connoted via the deep body creases, angry-looking LED headlamps and those optional 19-inch alloys wrapped in 225/40 rubber, is offset by demureness, expressed by the front apron’s flowing lines, a slender and softer-edged kidney grille and an unsullied roof curvature that sweeps up in a lip at the boot lid. Imagine a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Miranda Kerr and you wouldn’t be far off.
Obviously, the creation of a new ‘4 Series’ identity implies greater differentiation from the 3er – so, two fewer doors aside, how different is it? Let’s get some numbers in, because like hips, they don’t lie.
Breaking out the tape measure reveals that the 2,810 mm wheelbase is common to both, but the 4 Series Coupe is 14 mm longer, 14 mm wider and a significant 67 mm lower than the F30 sedan, while front and rear tracks are wider by 14 mm and 22 mm respectively. For the first time, the rear wheels (which are actually outside the wheel arches) mark the car’s broadest point.
Even greater disparity is to be had when you consider its direct predecessor – you only have to look at the old car to fully appreciate how much tauter, more purposeful and hunkered-down the compact exec coupe has become.
The 4 Series is 26 mm longer, 43 mm wider and 13 mm lower than the E92 3 Series Coupe it replaces, with a 50 mm-longer wheelbase. Front and rear tracks have respectively grown by 45 mm and 80 mm, while overhangs have been cut by 13 mm up front and 11 mm out back. Further structural reinforcements mean torsional stiffness is up by a significant 60% over the outgoing coupe.
There’s 445 litres of luggage space – about the same as the E92 and 35 litres down from the F30 sedan. The rear bench is split 40:20:40 though, so don’t fret if this is the only car you have to move house with.
Now let’s get the bathroom scales in – the 4 Series is up to 25 kg lighter across the range than the E92. The 435i weighs 1,600 kg – 15 kg short of its similarly-engined four-door counterpart.
It also cuts through the air more cleanly – 0.28 is the drag coefficient; a marginal improvement from the F30’s 0.29 and E92’s 0.30. Contributing to this are what BMW calls Air Curtains and Air Breathers.
First seen on the BMW 1 Series M, the Air Curtains are slits on the furthest ends of the front apron. They shape the incoming air into a thin high-pressure veil that covers the outside of the front wheels like a curtain to reduce turbulence in the wheel arches. This curtain of air then escapes through the side gills known as the Air Breathers, further cutting resistance.
Set for a market launch next month are the 420d, 428i and 435i – all carrying force-inducted and Euro 6-compliant mills. The familiar Sport, Luxury, Modern and M Sport trims are on the menu, and the petrol-engined variants will be specifiable with xDrive soon after the initial launch. The 420i, 430d and 435d will surface by autumn, followed closely by xDrive versions of the 420d and 420i.
The sole variant present at the drive event was the 435i Sport – this one hides a 3.0 litre straight-six under that long bonnet. Equipped with direct injection, Valvetronic and a twin-scroll turbocharger, the engine pumps out a significant 306 hp between 5,800 and 6,000 rpm.
Even more impressive is the torque – all 400 Nm of it is yours from as low as 1,200 rpm, all the way up to 5,000 rpm. So it’s quick. It’ll hit the century from rest in 5.4 seconds, and the electronic buffers at 250 km/h. With an eight-speed gearbox and Auto Start Stop, BMW claims an average fuel consumption of around 7.4 litres per 100 km, and CO2 emissions of between 169 and 172 grams per km.
Inside, the dashboard is pure F30, save for the inclusion of a bigger iDrive knob with handwriting input and character recognition. It works pretty well – I tried to beat it by tracing my letters as haphazardly as I could, but it got every single one right, with minimal delay between their entries. Obviously, right-hand drive cars would benefit lefties most, as the knob would then be to the driver’s left.
The familiar low and snug seating position (made all the more so by the tall transmission tunnel) and the driver-oriented centre stack continue to hint at performance, with a sea of red and leather sports seats, brought to you by the Sport trim, topping it all off.
Mounted on the B-pillars are automatic seat belt handlers, and at the back you’ll find two individual seats (making it a strict 2+2), separated by a central cubbyhole and a two-cupholder armrest.
BMW’s Driving Experience Control offers the usual Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes that change powertrain (throttle response included), steering and suspension characteristics as the driver desires.
The Eco Pro mode gets a new coasting feature – back off the accelerator pedal between 50 and 160 km/h and the engine is uncoupled from the gearbox, allowing fuel savings, BMW says, of up to 20%. Sport+ is only available on Sport and M Sport trims.
Also new to the 4 Series is Proactive Driving Assistant – using GPS data, this tells the driver when to ease off the accelerator when approaching corners, speed-restricted zones, built-up areas and roundabouts.
With the sun showing absolutely no mercy throughout, we drove from Lisbon airport to the beautiful coastal town of Cascais via a long route that took us through an eclectic mix of sprawling motorways, scenic carriageways, challenging mountain roads, busy towns and sleepy villages.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the BMW 4 Series retains the dynamic hallmarks of its sedan sister almost to a tee. You are very involved in the drive – even at low speeds – due to the well-weighted steering making you feel you’re doing most of the work.
The responsiveness and precision catch up with every additional ounce of effort you dial in and as you pick up speed, giving you crisp and sharp turn-in every time. The steering actually feels connected to the front wheels, which really is more than can be said for many of today’s EPS systems.
Because it is lower than the 3er, directional changes are, if anything, even more lateral. In fact, the 4 Series’ centre of gravity sits less than half a metre off the ground (roughly at the level of the lower body crease) – a figure unmatched by any other current Beemer.
Its suspension has been modified from the 3 Series’ setup for added agility – besides firmer springs and dampers, plus a revised camber angle, the swivel bearing control arms have been adjusted to yield a 19 mm lower roll centre, and a strut brace has been added between the front axle subframe and body sill.
On the motorway, the effects of these are somewhat unflattering, especially when compared to the 3er – the ride is on the firm side, and surface undulations can cause a bit of body hop at higher speeds. I’d point a finger at those optional low-profile 19s – the Sport’s standard shoes are 18s, while 225/50 R17s are the smallest on the entire menu.
Making up for this is overall refinement. The 4 Series seems to let in a tad less wind noise than its four-door counterpart – which could be a truth, since it’s lower and more aerodynamic. At 110 km/h in eighth gear, the straight-six spins at just under 2,000 rpm, and is barely audible.
But sometimes you want it to make some noise. Sadly, the powerplant’s glorious song is rather well isolated from the cabin. Make pedal meet metal and what you hear is a deep, meaty but somewhat muffled baritone crescendo, all the way to the redline.
However, hear it take off at full pelt while you’re standing on the pavement and it becomes an alto (the vocal range, not the three-cylinder city car), joined by a dollop of volume and menace you never knew was there. The barks from those twin tailpipes, punctuating the gearchanges, provide a positively carnal percussion.
Rear visibility is above par for a coupe, although thick A-pillars can make it difficult to watch out for traffic at a junction. Apart from the comfort of individual seats, back seat passengers enjoy rear air vents and considerable legroom. Headroom isn’t bad, too – measured parallel to the backrest, the roofline is 917 mm away from the rear seat base. And yes, non-contortionists can get in and out of the back pretty easily.
On to power delivery – acceleration is very linear in the mid-range, with an urgent shove to be had early on as the turbo opens up. It goes without saying that the less frequently-explored rev zone calls for some delicate footwork to tame the beast that lies within.
The anchors delete speed with confident ease and nary a fade, the pedal action being sensitive but progressive in feel. Besides being regenerative, they feature active safety aids such as Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Brake Control, Dry Braking and Fade Compensation.
Add to this the eight-speeder’s swift, accurate and closely-spaced shifts and you can appreciate how vivacious and athletic a vehicle this is.
Nowhere is this more evident than on the track. A little over four kilometres in length, the Estoril circuit is one of the all-time motorsport greats. Built in 1972, the venue hosted Formula One from 1984 to 1996, and is somewhat similar in layout to Barcelona’s Catalunya circuit.
With the Driving Experience Control set to Sport, the 435i is an animal you grab by the scruff of the neck. The steering reduces its assistance, and becomes even more direct. Manhandle it into the twisties hard and fast and the machine just complies with an abundance of grip, darting towards apexes like a predator would its prey.
Gearchange points are altered for more spirited driving, as are the shifts themselves, which are noticeably more ferocious, although they stop just short of being jerk-back brutal.
One of the first real waker-uppers you encounter is the uphill double hairpin from Curva 3 to Curva VIP. Novice drivers like me getting a bit too inspired by the 435i’s dynamic prowess would sooner or later go in too fast, forgetting how steeply-cambered both U-curves are. ‘U’ stands for ‘understeer,’ presumably.
Of course, DSC gets there in the nick of time. On inclined corners like these, you can really feel the system working hard against the comparatively higher levels of centrifugal force. Power is reined in and the relevant wheels are braked accordingly, in a bid to pull the car back into the turn.
This obviously spoils your exit speed, but on flatter bends (like Parabolica Interior after the back straight) its operation is felt much less, and is seldom intrusive. Speaking of the back straight, one can more or less power through the whole section – including the abrupt right-hand kink in the middle – without drama.
Come wide out of Parabolica Interior and a short downhill straight leads to Orelha. Scrub off speed hard – the 50:50 weight distribution keeps nose dive to a minimum – and take the sharp right-hander. Then a gentler right brings us to our second waker-upper: the Variante chicane.
A lot of pace would’ve been left behind at Orelha, so you address the first half of the chicane at a sensible speed – the fact that you’re going uphill also helps. Stab the brakes and swing in, then the other way to exit. Here, if you’re still in Sport mode, the Curva situation is repeated; DSC keeps things safe and controlled.
Engage Sport+ and DSC backs off a little to let DTC take the stage. This electronically-controlled limited-slip diff then allows some degree of wheelspin and tail-out action, and it is at Variante’s exit where it most easily happens. Get on the throttle hastily in an attempt to recover lost momentum and the back steps out – be ready to catch it!
Two fast, sweeping curves to go. Esses and Parabolica Ayrton Senna demonstrate the coupe’s high-speed cornering stability, before you slow down to enter the pit lane. All things considered, if it’s fun you’re after, the BMW 4 Series certainly doesn’t disappoint.
What about the gizmos? In addition to those already mentioned, our cars were equipped with navigation, reverse camera, a full-colour head-up display, Attentiveness Assistant, Lane Change Warning and Lane Departure Warning, amongst others. Dual front, side and head airbags are standard fitment.
For now, the 435i is the variant Malaysia will get. Although we can only guess what’ll be on its spec sheet, the coupe could possibly be offered in Luxury, Modern and Sport trims when it arrives, we’re told to expect, towards the end of this year.
And if you, by any chance, still aren’t bought by the decision to spin off the two-door 3 Series range into a new and separate 4 Series family, try this: picture a BMW 4 Series in your head. Now tell me the number of doors it’s got. Quickly – before the 4 Series Gran Coupe arrives to confuse us all!