When is the new BMW 3-series coupe not a BMW 3-series? When it is a 4-series instead. David Thomson explains, after a week behind the wheel of the company's new 435i.
BMW is usually a trendsetter rather than a follower, but if you are looking for the rationale for the company's new 4-series range you will find it in the design studios of archrival Audi.
Seven years ago now, the Ingolstadt-based luxury arm of Volkswagen introduced the A5 as a sporting coupe variation on its A4 saloon; completely restyled (rather than being a three-door rehash of the A4) it has garnered praise and awards, along with considerable market success.
In response, BMW, whose 3-series coupe has traditionally been very similar in look to its 3-series sedan, has reviewed its presence in this niche segment of the market. The result of this rethink is the 4-series, which replaces the old 3-series coupe as the three-door option associated with the latest 3-series range.
The 4-series remains closely based on the 3-series in a technical sense, right down to the core of its underlying platform and wheelbase. However, it is also different in several crucial ways.
Most obviously, that plunging roofline and lowered suspension result in a car that is appreciably lower (by some 60mm) than a 3-series saloon. It is a little wider, too, and its squat, purposeful stance is further established by the narrowing rear side windows and air vents - with associated bodywork scalloping - aft of the front wheels.
The flagship $126,900 435i, as tested, also picks up the special M Sport enhancement pack as standard. This adds a raft of features including double-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels, M-Sport brakes, adaptive suspension and a subtle aerodynamic pack and M-Sport badging. M-Sport door sills greet you as you enter the cabin.
The chic of a coupe look brings inevitable consequences in terms of rear passenger access and space, but not to the point at which travelling in the back is an unrealistic option for average-sized adults.
Up front, one sits slightly lower, but the 435i interior is largely indistinguishable from that of the equivalent 3-series sedan. In one sense that's no bad thing, since's there's nothing wrong with the look and layout of the standard 3-series cabin. The quality of switchgear and instrumentation, and the overall driver ergonomics, are also superb.
The test car did get a visual lift inside thanks to its M-Sport steering wheel and metallic trim highlights, but those who expect a premium coupe to come with a bold dose of interior pizazz to clearly distinguish it from a four-door equivalent may feel a trifle let down.
There's no cause for complaint in the 435i's standard equipment count. Adaptive LED headlights with high-pressure washers, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive M-Sport suspension, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated and power-adjusting front seats, cruise control with an emergency braking override system, keyless entry and start, a tyre-pressure warning system, and a reversing camera are all included.
The standard entertainment, communication and information systems centre on a centrally-mounted 8.8-inch colour display screen and iDrive Touch Controller. A 16-speaker surround-sound audio system, Bluetooth and internet connectivity, 20GB hard drive and BMW professional satellite
navigation are all provided. The 435i also comes with BMW's Driving Experience Control system, which adjusts drivetrain and suspension settings in for different modes: Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.
The test car also featured several welcome extras, including BMW's surround-view camera system, head-up display and speed limit information.
The surround-view camera system was perhaps the most welcome of these additions as it made the coupe, which has notably poorer rearward visibility, easy to manoeuvre with confidence in confined urban spaces. The ease and efficiency of Bluetooth connectivity to audio devices also impressed on test.
Ease of use is, though, secondary to the experience a coupe such as this provides on the open road.
Mechanically, the 435i is impossible to fault in this respect: mated seamlessly to BMW's slick eight-speed automatic transmission, its 225kW/400Nm 3-litre, six-cylinder twin-turbo engine is an absolute stunner. The motor's distinctive burble provides aural pleasure, even at idle. There is ample torque from lowdown, and when the motor is worked hard it delivers storming performance with distinctive, free-revving character. Driven more modestly (ideally with the car's adaptive settings in Comfort or Eco Pro modes) it is refined and relatively frugal.
For those keen on facts to back up these impressions, the 435i will sprint from 0-100kmh in just 5.1sec, and is artificially limited to a 250kmh top speed. Its standard cycle fuel consumption is rated at 7.3l/100km.
Achieving these figures does require a diet of 98 octane fuel, although the 435i will run on 91 or 95 octane petrol.
Running in Eco Pro or Comfort modes, it is a refined and easy-going highway cruiser, albeit with more underlying firmness to its ride than I remember from the 3-series saloon.
When it comes to traversing twists and turns at pace, the 435i should count its wider track and a lower centre of gravity as two key dynamic advantages over its equivalent saloon sibling.
Both cars exhibit a high degree of handling prowess. My impressions are that the 4-series steers a little more sweetly, turns in more crisply and grips a little more tightly. Pushing overly hard into a tight bend generates very mild understeer, while powering out too aggressively (with the traction control systems off) generates progressive and controllable oversteer. From what I remember, though, the equivalent 3-series is a trifle less incisive, but more adept at soaking up sharp mid-corner bumps without losing composure.
To be honest, though, you would need to drive the 4-series coupe and 3-series saloon back to back on a closed road to fully establish the differences.
This brings me back to my one major reservation in what is, in almost all key respects, a fine and highly engaging coupe.
Ideally, a coupe should match sporting looks with a much edgier dynamic demeanour. But dynamically the 435i is just a little too close to the 3-series saloon to exhibit that feel. This, in turn, leads me to question again whether it really is different enough in anything other than looks to justify a 4-series, as opposed to 3-series coupe name tag.
Bookmark/Search this post with: