First Drive: BMW 428i xDrive

Four. It’s a new number for BMW. Back when I first drove the new BMW 328i, the questions was: “Is it a still a proper 3 Series?” Earlier this week, our friends at Capital Cities BMW called and said they had gotten their first 4 Series. Sitting in the 2014 428i xDrive Sport Line, it was time for a new question. This question was easy to formulate and, as it turns out, it was fairly easy to answer. So, here it is: “What is a 4 Series?”

BMW 428i 2

For you to understand where I’m coming from, a bit of disclosure is required. When I first reviewed the F30 328i, I owned an E46 325xi. You’ll notice that I switched from model year to BMW chassis code, as all BMW fanatics can. Part of the reason why I was so interested in whether or not the F30 was “…a proper 3 Series” is because I owned a proper 3 Series. While I generally disagree, many of the BMW faithful saw the E90 generation as something other than a true 3 Series. It had gotten too big and too heavy to be worthy of mention in the same breath as E30, E36, or E46. The real worry from everyone, including myself, was that the new F30 was even bigger and even more disconnected. I walked away feeling fairly confident that the F30 was still a 3 Series.  Confident enough that, just over a year later, I took delivery of a F30 335i xDrive. So I have quite a bit of history with the 3 Series.

Four. The fact that the F32 gets a new model designation means it should be at least visually distinct from the 3 Series. After all, that’s how the 5 Series/6 Series relationship works. Underneath, most of the powertrain and chassis parts are the same, but each have bespoke design cues both inside and out. That theory doesn’t hold up. Visually, the 4 Series is a 3 Series coupe. Yes, the roof is lower and the car is slightly wider and it has a different front fascia, but the entire package doesn’t differentiate itself very far from the 3 Series. One of the biggest comments about the F30 3 Series is that it looks like a small 5 Series. Well, by that logic, then the new 4 Series should look like a small 6 Series. That would have been great! But it doesn’t. It looks like a 3 Series Coupe. Even behind the wheel, the 428i Sport Line looks and feels identical to the 328i Sport Line. I know, I parked them right next to each other.

BMW 4 Series vs 3 Series 1

There’s something else that needs to be disclosed. I have a Finance degree. If you know anything about business school, the Finance students develop some level of distaste for Marketing majors. Marketers add value from the perspective of the customer rather than intrinsic value to the product. To us bean-counters, they are expenses. I don’t want to sound overly negative towards my Marketing friends, a good Marketing team is valuable to increase sales. But a bad Marketing team is a whole different story.

Four. Hey everybody, look! A new number! It’s a different car! BMW’s current product portfolio is full of product differentiation. Let’s tally the potential models to come from the 3/4 Series: 3 Series sedan, 3 Series Sport Wagon, 3 Series GT, 4 Series coupe, 4 Series convertible, 4 Series Gran Coupe. 6 different vehicles from 2 models. That doesn’t even factor the different engine options.  Is this a case of a bad Marketing team? No, but they have been given a lot of leeway. At least enough to discount the history of the company’s most successful model.

BMW 428i 3

The 428i drives much like a 3 Series. The only two noticeable changes are the suspension and engine note. The wider track and re-tuned suspension make the 428i feel slightly more connected than its four-door brother. While the 3 Series seems to float, the 4 Series communicates the road surface. The decreased uncertainty adds confidence to the road feel of the car. This is where I find the most disappointment in the ride of the 3 Series, but the 4 Series fixes much of that. The steering feel remains identical, so not every problem has been solved. Interestingly, the exhaust note of the N20 TwinPower turbo four-cylinder in the 428i differs from the identical 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque unit in the 328i. It is louder and throatier at idle, but I was unable to pinpoint any specific reason as to why.

What is the BMW 4 Series? The honest answer is a 3 Series Coupe. At first, I found that rather disappointing. Why go through all the pomp and circumstance of rolling out a “new” model if it fulfills the same roll of a previous model? Admittedly, the idea that the 4 Series should be a small 6 Series could never be a reality. The difference between the base price of a 535i and a 640i is $19,800. Nobody in their right mind would pay that kind of markup on a 4 Series, and BMW knew that. I’ve been a bit hard on the new 4, and most of that has had to do with my personal bias. In the grand scheme of things the 4 Series is a very good car. It started with a good platform, the 3 Series, and made some needed improvements. The new questions: “Is it good enough?” The competition is closer than ever. Will the new 4 Series have what it takes to fill the shoes of the 3 Series coupe it replaces? We can’t wait to find out.

For more 4 Series action, check out our short drive of the BMW M4.

-Christopher Little


Short Drive: 2015 BMW M4

2012 BMW 328i Review

Fresh Faces: BMW 328i vs. Audi A4

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