Driven: 2014 BMW 428i M-Sport

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Despite getting a bit of flak from the motoring press regarding a perceived decline in driving dynamics and engagement, the F30 generation of 3-series has nevertheless been quite a success for BMW. In November alone, the 3 (and technically the 4, though examples of it have only started showing up on dealer lots) sold nearly double the units of its next closest challenger, the C-class – at 13,148 to 7,878. Say what you will about its electric steering and lack of a naturally-aspirated straight six engine – the 3-series remains for BMW the goose that laid the golden egg.

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Still, after a brief drive in a 328i Luxury Line, it was apparent that there were some aspects of the driving experience that could be improved when the 4-series came to light. Stiffened and lowered over that of the sedan, the coupe’s chassis serves as a much more solid-handling piece – turn-in and roll stability are noticeably improved, and while the electric power steering is still devoid of much feedback, it is at least nicely weighted and accurate. Our car featured the Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000), which includes adaptive dampers and variable-effort steering, both of which come alive when the chassis is switched into Sport or Sport+ modes. Personally, I found it beneficial to delve into the iDrive menus to de-couple the Sport and Sport+ mode chassis settings (stiffened dampers, heavier steering) from the drivetrain settings (touchier throttle mapping and transmission settings), allowing you to have the sportiest handling settings without the mileage-hogging transmission calibration.

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The 2.0-liter turbocharged powerplant from the 328i made the leap to the 4-series unchanged, not that it needed any. It still provides a swell of torque along with a deep growl that belies its four cylinders. If anything, it sounds more like an offbeat inline five under duress than a plebian turbo four. In any case, while I’d still love to get my hands on the excellent 3.0-liter turbocharged straight six in the 435i, the 2.0 makes a convincing case for itself as a not-so-base “base” engine option. The same quick-witted eight-speed ZF automatic is standard equipment for both the 428i and 435i, while a six-speed stick remains available on both as a no-cost option. The eight-speed is great, especially with the standard-issue paddle shifters, but I’d still probably tick the option box for the manual. You know, “purity”, “soul” and all that.

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In terms of design, the 4-series manages to differentiate itself enough visually from the 3-series to almost justify the change in nomenclature. In photos, the 4’s wider, lower stature doesn’t come across as much as it does in the metal – it looks more 6-series than 3-series in person: no bad thing. The M-Sport aero kit further complements the coupe’s lines, and along with this package’s meaner-looking 18-inch wheels and our car’s optional M Sport multi-piston brakes, the look is quite convincing indeed. Inside, the 4 is more or less the same as the 3 it’s based on; that’s OK, because the interior is one of the F30’s stronger aspects. Featuring a clean design and strong materials, the 428i carries on the 3-series’ reputation as being a business-like, but classy and comfortable, place in which to cover miles. The only disappointment, at least in my eyes, is the lack of the last-gen 3-series coupe’s flowing, full-length rear center console with integral air vents and storage compartments. A minor gripe, perhaps, but I loved how that long console emulated the feel of the E24 6-series and its four-place grand touring vibe.

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Nevertheless, the 4-series carries on the 3er coupe’s tradition of being a sublime compact grand tourer, if stopping a bit short of being a true sports car. It’ll be up to the M4 to carry on that tradition, and if the 428i M Sport is anything to judge by, that car should be very good indeed.

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2014 BMW 428i Coupe

Base price: $41,425

Price as tested: $47,125

Options on test car: M Sport Package ($3,500), Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000), M Sport Brakes ($650), Melbourne Red Metallic paint ($550)

Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission – 240 hp / 255 lb-ft torque

S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.2 mpg

BMW provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.

 

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