When they’re unveiling a brand new model like this, manufacturers usually spark up their word-processors and churn out a standard fluff-piece, using the handy search-and-replace function to insert the name of the model in question. Out goes “BMW 3 Series Coupe,” plonk in “new BMW 4 Series Coupe.” Done.
You know the usual: “Don’t assume this is just a coupe version of the 3 Series sedan… yadda yadda… No, it’s a brand new model that’s integral to BMW’s sporting heritage… yadda yadda… conceived and engineered separately… yadda yadda… long-term separate model-line strategy… yadda yadda… new and exciting beginning…”
And in essence, that’s exactly what BMW has done with the new F30 3 Series sedan-based F32 4 Series Coupe. Just that this time, the marketing speak isn’t mere words that can’t be backed up, as the newborn walks the talk too. Well, sort of.
This is, in most respects, a car that promises to be all things to all men. It’s the great BMW 3 Series but more. Sexier, more emotionally appealing, better to drive, the whole lot. So, is it really?
In theory, the BMW 4 Series Coupe has the potential to be the best in the business, to re-work the rulebook, to rubbish its rivals, like past 3 Series Coupes always have. But there’s a lot of quality out there now, and this car simply has to perform. This is BMW feeling the heat.
Its biggest threat comes, of all places, from Land Rover. The Victoria Beckham-approved Range Rover Evoque, to be precise. Forget the standard range of premium-brand coupes such as the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, the previous two-door 3 Series handled them easily enough.
The internal debate BMW had over this model was whether to continue with a product which has an immediate genetic link to the sedan, or create a radical even-numbered alter ego, like it has done with the mildly-successful 5 Series-based 6 Series. Higher powers (quite literally) mandated that we say hello to the F32 BMW 4 Series.
Part of the new model line makeover involves making it appear special, funky and visually vastly different from the sedan that spawned it. So it’s less of a cut-and-thrust 3 Series and more of a bespoke creation with attitude etched across it. It’s a sharp slice of strategic product re-think frothed with proven visual stimuli.
Where the outgoing 3 Series Coupe was merely a chopped and channelled, nip and tucked, massaged and fettled version of the sedan, this new 4 Series is more ambitious, bold, sharp, and crucially, unmissable. In the test car’s M Sport guise, angles and sheer planes collide to create 50 shades of grey. In short, it’s more sexed up.
Rarely has so little visual effort been expended for such a drastic return. Its 3 Series roots are obvious, sure, but collectively, as a whole, it’s so much more. Only the door handles, wing mirrors and BMW badges are carried over. The body dimensions don’t match up either – the coupe is longer and wider by 14 mm, and best of all, 67 mm lower.
It’s all new here. The headlights are slittier, taillights elongated, sub-nasal air intakes enlarged. The effect is of forms which are tailored, artfully draped sheetmetal pouring down to poutier wheelarches.
No longer do the kidney grilles resemble the imprint of two baked bean cans dropped in fresh snow. The chrome edges of each kidley are asymmetric, flushed to the headlamps, as if the time-served BMW corporate face has been smeared by the wind. Understated this is not.
In fact, the design feels so confident in poise, stance and sheer muscularity that it could not have been named the 3 Series. It’s a suit the 4 Series can call its own. In the flesh, this F32 BMW 428i M Sport sits so assured, so discreetly muscular – think Chris Hemsworth in Rush, not Thor – that it appears wonderfully special, not stolid.
Inside the frameless doors, BMW talks up the elongated door cards and Line-specific colour-coded trim pieces (Estoril Blue in this M Sport guise), because the cabin is otherwise pure 3 Series. The insanely thick but magnificent M Sport steering wheel is present in the 328i M Sport too, and the hip-hugging seats are standard even on the 320i Sport Line.
This car at least eschews the sedan and base car’s dubious fingerprint-magnet piano black inserts for M Sport-specific Aluminium Hexagonal appliqué. There are some beautiful details, sure – touch-sensitive customisable face buttons on the dash face, high-resolution widescreen display – but you have seen this all before. In the 3 Series sedan.
Brilliant, in ergonomics and execution, but just far too familiar to user-choosers in their base 316i Japanese D-segment-alternative four-doors. Sitting lower compared to a 3er sedan does not make for a notably special driving environment, when the overwhelming ambience of sculpting and soft-feel plastics is simply far too familiar.
This 428i M Sport – the middle child in BMW Malaysia’s three-strong 4 Series family – is motivated by the familiar 2.0 litre twin-scroll turbo-equipped direct-injection engine that’s good for 245 hp and 350 Nm of torque. Its 0 to 100 km/h time dips under six seconds (5.8 seconds, to be exact), so Golf GTIs and the like, don’t even bother trying to ‘smoke’ one of these.
Traffic light grands prix can be easily won by utilising the pre-programmed Launch Control feature, which is readily accessible by scrolling the Driver Experience Control to SPORT+ and flicking the gear knob from D to S. Then, all you have to do to get perfect getaways is to hold the car hard on the brakes, mash your right foot down to trigger the kickdown button, and jump off the stop pedal.
In reality, though, you’ll only ever use the function maybe once or twice – the first time to see if it works (it does), the second to impress your mates (which it will) – and no more. It’s just another one of those nice-to-have-but-utterly-useless features that all car buyers apparently crave after. You know, like a sunroof.
A much more useful addition – all part of BMW’s mid-2013 wide-scale model upgrades – is the transmission’s sailing function under the ECO PRO mode. At speeds between 50 and 160 km/h, the drivetrain is disconnected as soon as the accelerator pedal is lifted to achieve optimum fuel efficiency.
So lift off between those speeds and the engine revs drop to a scarcely believable 700 rpm, as the car glides along with the momentum, seemingly free of any friction at all. Feed the throttle or step on the brakes, and it jumps back into gear, seamlessly. It’s an eerie phenomenon at first glance, but one which you’ll quickly adapt to.
No doubts of its claimed fuel economy figure of 15.6 km per litre, then. Over 600 km or mixed driving (around town, traffic jams, highway cruise, back road blasts, the lot), the test car averaged 12.8 km/l – a very respectable figure considering the performance at hand. Drive it like you own it, and the claimed number is a realistic target.
At RM388,800, the 428i M Sport is RM79,000 dearer than the equivalent sedan, the 328i M Sport. This, then, is nouvelle cuisine; pay more for less – doors, rear space (though still big enough for four adults), front headroom – and hope that what BMW serves up remains suitably nutritious.
Vital signs are good. Lighter mass and better weight distribution (its low centre of gravity betters even the carbon-fibre-roofed E92 M3 Coupe) mean that it beats the same-engined sedan to 100 km/h by 0.3 seconds, and its Adaptive M Suspension has a stiffer base-line than its four-door stablemate.
The latter is a standard-fit item on the 428i M Sport and 435i M Sport (read Jonathan’s take on the range-topper here), while the base 428i Sport Line rides on passive M Sport suspension (a softer set up is available in international markets). You’d want the more advanced springs and dampers, obviously.
Let’s be practical here. The M Sport package for the 428i, even with its daunting RM30,000 premium, is an absolute must-have. Don’t even bother with the base model; it’s most probably just there to lower the range’s starting price – meant to attract you to the showrooms, where they’d sell you the 428i M Sport. Plus, you’d want the glorious M Sport-specific Estoril Blue paintjob anyway.
To drive, the BMW 4 Series is sweet. Predictably, it’s like the 3 Series sedan, but better. It has a portfolio of moves that range from impressive to enthralling, and is just that bit more dynamically able than the car on which it’s based. Sadly, the difference between the two here is smaller than the clear jump in the looks department.
Don’t be deterred, though. From a throttle action that is as lubricious as a good old-fashioned foot massage, to a finely-weighted steering with an appealing gumminess about the straight-ahead – the better to judge turn-in – the F32 is a crisp, balanced drive.
The BMW TwinPower Turbo engine works energetically yet discreetly from 2,000 rpm to its redline at 6,500 rpm, with a yowly burble making you grin from 4,000 rpm up. Flexible, torquey in the mid-range, this blown four offers terrific second and third gear hooligan urge disguised by wonderful table manners. It will also pootle along discreetly at just over 1,000 rpm in top gear, or down to 700 rpm with your foot off the gas.
Affixed to the latest ZF eight-speed Sport AT gearbox, the 428i becomes a fine long-distance proposition. This is arguably the best automatic transmission currently available (at least until Mercedes-Benz’s 9G-TRONIC comes around), with utterly smooth and jolt-free gear changes.
Immediate, alive and adaptable to silly cajoling on roads which punt and point, it’s the perfect electronic massaging of driver ineptitude. It is almost like having your gateau and munching it, because the automatic gearbox, when left as such, does the left-lane mooch-stuff perfectly too.
To back up the mechanicals, the chassis is so damn amenable, with fine bump-thump suppression, malleable damping and an overriding aplomb which is never less than competent and more often thrillingly confident. Moreover, there’s a fitting vaguely-analogue feel to the helm that somewhat compensates for the sheer digitally-controlled perfection of the drivetrain package.
Yet, the driving experience lacks that distinct immediacy of a thoroughbred coupe; something that is beyond the sedan. This is a sports coupe, dammit. You’d expect it to dance around a corner like Ayrton Senna would, not trod on it with the calmness and boring efficiency of Sebastian Vettel. There’s no questioning the speed, but where’s the drama? The character?
Yes, it’s a little bit more engaging to drive than the 3 Series near the limits, and the steering is noticeably sharper everywhere, but the end result is still of a sedan with slightly raised sporting aspirations. A real coupe’s poise, manner and affability are all missing here.
Throw it down at a set of twisties, and you end up relying on the electronics to pull you through, while a German software-engineer pre-decides the amount of fun and control you’re allowed to have. There are some jollies to be had, but only to a certain extent, past which it all feels a little anaesthetised on your end.
There’s another weak point too; a big one. Unlike the sedan, wind noise is very well suppressed here (big thumbs up!), but that exposes yet another downfall of the F30/F32 family: unnervingly loud in-cabin tyre noise. That everything else is so quiet just makes the invading roar worse.
Okay now, that’s enough nitpicking, for the rest of the 4 Series really deserves a thorough commendation. This is a grown-up sports car, and seen as such, it very nearly aces what truly matters.
Beyond all, as a coupe, it certainly looks the part. It’s sexy enough to stir those you want to impress, and in M Sport guise, suggestive enough to spark knowing nods from the enthusiast quarter too. Past the all-important aesthetic values, it’s both sufficiently comfortable and engaging (just) to please both boulevardiers and back road stormers alike.
That it’s missing the magic fizz when the going gets really tough means very little, almost irrelevant, in fact, to its real target market. Hopefully the M4 Coupe can address that issue. And the staid interior? Well, it’s a good thing, then, that BMW had set the bar high with the standard 3 Series sedan. In any case, the more expensive 6 Series doesn’t feel all that special inside anyway, so it’s not like there’s much to be missed in the first place.
So back to the initial question, then. Is the F32 BMW 428i M Sport all things to all men? Well, if only it’s just a little bit sharper around the corners, then yes, it is. As is, it bloody nearly is. The Range Rover what, now?