Some mood music, if we may:
Everyone who stopped by Leith BMW on Friday knows that the Un4gettable Test Drive made good on its name. We turned up bright and early on what was a beautiful morning to snag one of the first test-drives of the day. The event staff from BMW USA was well organized with a registration table set up inside and a tent outside with waiting lists arranged for each car available.
The Bimmers were lined up in front of the center, one after the other. They had a full range of the 4 Series available, including two Coupes, a Convertible, and the newly-released Gran Coupe. Some of you might wonder why this event was held so long after the release of the 4 Series, and based on what the staff said, it seems like they wanted to wait until the Gran Coupe was available. A mixture of logistics and wanting to wait until the summer – ideal driving season – also contributed to the delayed schedule.
Fourm and Function
We were first in line, so we didn’t have to wait any time at all for a turn in our choice, the BMW 435i Coupe. The staff had a treat for us, too, as this particular 4 Series Coupe was from the M Sport Line and thus came decked out in M Brand Accessories, including a M Performance exhaust tips, an M Performance steering wheel, and special black accents on the grille and doors to complement the Alpine White paint.
What most people want to know about the 4 Series is how it differs from the 3 Series. It was only in this model year that BMW decided to give these particular models a separate number designation. As a refresher, even numbers have two doors, odd numbers have four, although the 4 Series Gran Coupe belies that rule. If you don’t like the numbering system, you’ll have to take it up with someone else. We’re just here to enjoy the car. Back on track, the 4 Series Coupe is both incrementally wider and lower than the 3 Series Sedan, giving it a more stable base and a lower center of gravity – one of the lowest on the market, to boot. BMW is deadly serious about all of their cars, but those design decisions should make it clear that the 4 Series is every inch a car that is meant to be driven.
Sitting down in the cockpit, we adjusted our seat, steering wheel, and mirrors to preference. The interior styling is similar to the other BMWs we’ve driven, but we also notice that this car has a more bare-bones attitude. The instrument cluster is very simple, with the two main gauges positioned prominently on the dash. They’re actual needles, too, no sign of digital speedometers or anything like that. The center stack is also very clean, and we were reminded again how useful BMW’s iDrive interface is for ridding the driver of cluttered touchscreen controls and putting all of the control at their fingertips. The 4 Series is equipped with iDrive 4.2, the latest iteration which puts a touchpad on top of the scroll-wheel. The driver’s seat of our 4 Series had us feeling totally at ease and totally in control of the vehicle all before we had even put it in gear.
We kept the car in Normal Drive mode for the duration of our test-drive because we knew enough about the test route beforehand. Lest you think we might be sipping too much of our own Koolaid, we will be the first to admit that the established test route did not do this vehicle justice. If the traffic and stop lights were kind to you, you could finish the lap in under ten minutes. There weren’t any curves to test out the Sport settings, nor was there a highway portion to cut loose. We asked about the route afterward and were told that it was intentionally short due to the high turnout at the event. Our center just wanted to make sure everyone who signed up would be able to have their turn. Nevertheless, we pushed the 435i Coupe – and the cars around us – to see what it had to offer.
Pulling off the lot, the first thing we noticed was the Brake Energy Regeneration system. We had the familiar double-take as we eased off the accelerating and immediately felt the catch, making us wonder if the parking break was still engaged. The charging meter beneath the speedometer confirmed out second instinct, though. You might be similarly surprised to find regenerative brakes on a non-hybrid vehicle, but BMW knows that there’s a benefit to reclaiming energy, even when it isn’t used for propulsion. There’s also an Eco Pro driving mode that you can switch to for additional fuel and energy-conservation. As a car-owner, we like to know the option for Eco-Pro is there. As a test-driver, we couldn’t care less.
The 4 Series gives you a real sense of immediacy. Just sitting in it, you get this feeling from the closeness of the steering wheel and the shortness of the windshield. It really comes into play when you put your foot on the gas, though. We didn’t even appreciate it until we were leaving the event later. When you’re leaving Leith BMW and you pull onto Capital Boulevard, there’s a hill right there where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour. As we hit that incline in our personal vehicle, it slowly catches up to speed, no doubt burning extra fuel the whole way. In the 4 Series, we pull out onto the hill and are rushing uphill, up to and beyond the speed limit in the blink of an eye. That sense of immediacy comes courtesy of the 3.0-liter TwinPower Turbocharged 6-cylinder engine under the hood, generating 300 horsepower and paired with a Sport 8-speed automatic transmission. Combine that with BMW’s intelligent lightweight construction and it’s no wonder the 4 Series is in such a hurry.
We found ourselves always wanting to be at the front of the line at each stoplight so we could gun it again. The 435i Coupe has an exhaust note that makes you feel like you’re going to go supersonic. Driving on those city roads made us feel like we were constantly pulling back on the reigns of a thoroughbred that just wanted to run. Luckily, there were ventilated disc-brakes on each wheel to help us stop the beast before every light.
Part of what made this particular driving event so special was the competitive aspect. Along with the 4 Series spread, BMW USA brought along a stable of rival cars. Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Audi were represented in the parking spaces across the way, and the staff had a particular car in mind to go head-to-head with each 4 Series model. To compare, they asked us to drive the Audi S5.
Again, so you know that we aren’t drinking the Koolaid, we will level with you: We can’t say anything bad about this car. In fact, in terms of performance, the S5 might just be a match for the 435i Coupe. The sense of immediacy is there, it has a nice, throaty bark when you floor it, and the car is in no way sluggish when it comes to acceleration or braking. We did not notice any regenerative braking, and the 4 Series we drove had an auto-stop start feature for additional efficiency whereas the S5 did not.
For us, it comes down to the little things and personal preferences. We like the looks of the 4 Series far more than the S5 – it’s our little joke that the folks in Ingolstadt spend so much time varying their headlights so that they can actually distinguish one Audi from another. We also prefer the way BMW orients their cockpit to the driver. The scroll-wheel on Audi’s infotainment system is much smaller than the iDrive’s, which is hard for someone with big hands like us. The only real edge we would give the S5 is its steering wheel – we’re suckers for those flat-bottomed wheels.
If you’re already an Audi fan, you’ll probably stick with the S5. If you’re a BMW diehard, we know where you’re setting up camp. If you’re still on the fence, keep reading. We aren’t quite done talking about the 4 Series.
Something about driving a car like the 435i Coupe unaccompanied makes us feel self-conscious. We’re so used to having one of our sales associates riding shotgun, so this was a new experience for us. On the one hand, no one was there to disapprove as we weaved through traffic, but no one was there to egg us on, either. We had no one to teach us the limits of the car we were driving, no one to let us know when we were pushing too far. We began to wonder if the 4 Series even had any limits.
In the end, the only limit was the finish line. We pulled up in front of the center and stepped out of the car while a staffer traded places with us. They parked it while we walked over to the registration desk to fill out a survey.
Back inside, we spoke with one of the staff members, Michael Rengel. He’s from Oregon originally, and was excited to work with this event and tour a new part of the country. We learned that he and the rest of the staff drive all of the cars from event site to event site, near or far, traveling around the Southeast in a big caravan.
Like the i3 event back in April, this was a young staff, all of them probably in their twenties. We like to imagine that the youthful enthusiasm they brought to this event translates to unbridled vim out on the open road. So while we had our worries that the 4 Series wasn’t really getting tested today, we knew that the real labor of love happened in the liminal moments between events. That’s why the Un4gettable Driving Event is unforgettable to everyone involved.
We hope that everyone who attended the event last Friday enjoyed themselves and had fun driving the BMW 4 Series. If you want to know about the many features we did not get a chance to touch on or if you wish for a longer stay of time behind the wheel, we highly recommend you schedule a test-drive with us at Leith BMW. You’ll have as much time as you want and our sales staff will make sure that test-drive is unforgettable, too.