- Hunkered-down stance
- Wide range of trims and appearances
- Easy to get a manual gearbox
- All-wheel drive, even on a convertible
- Front-end look is over-the-top
- Interior a bit conservative for a coupe
- Confusing four-door 4-Series (Gran Coupe)
- No manual transmission with AWD
The 2016 BMW 4-Series Coupe and Convertible break away from the 3-Series sedans with a little more flamboyance.
The 2016 BMW 4-Series is a relatively new name in the BMW stable, but it's not a new concept. The 4-Series has taken up residence where the 3-Series Coupes left off. Somewhat longer, lower, and leaner than the 3-Series sedans on which they're based, the 4-Series occupies the same space in the market that the BMW 3-Series Coupe used to, but it leaves room for its own styling cues, features, and tuning. The 2016 BMW 4-Series is handsome, that's for sure; and it's even more flamboyant than the 3-Series sedans on which it's based. Yet a lot of shoppers are going to be conflicted about whether it's that much more daring, or different, to be its own model.
With the 4-Series, BMW has tweaked the design of the 3-Series in ways that wouldn't quite work in the sedan—to bring out some of the same proportions of the long-ago 8-Series, as well as some of the styling cues of former generations of 3-Series coupes. The 4-Series has a somewhat wider, broadened look and some bolder cues, with a lot more "negative" space in front. Despite it all, the 4-Series actually works extraordinarily well in profile. It has a perfect balance of glass to metal, a decathlete stance (especially from the rear quarters), and some spot-on details, like its sharply creased shoulder line. And the cabin's definitely more adventurous, with some sweeping arcs and trim packages that lift its basic-black wardrobe into something a little more couture.
The 2016 BMW 4-Series lineup is definitely simpler than that of the 3-Series. There's no diesel, no hybrid, and no base-model 420i. Altogether, this slightly lower, slightly more aggressive-looking Coupe or Convertible doesn't actually go through the paces much differently than the 3-Series. And that's fine; it fires up sweetly engineered in-line engines, shifts with ease, and bear-hugs the road—while plotting a clear trajectory into M territory with performance upgrades, and with the new M4.
The engine lineup isn't all that much different than in the 3-Series. The 428i uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder to generate 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque. It can get to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds with either the manual or automatic transmission, and to a 155-mph electronically limited top speed. And grippy summer tires give its performance all the backing it needs. You get the familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 engine in the 435i models. It's rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft, and it's realistically just as quick as the last-gen M3, with the 435i sprinting to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds with the manual transmission, or five seconds flat with the automatic.
With either engine, you can get rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive; and yes, you can even get all-wheel drive on the Convertible. A 6-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option on rear-drive coupes, although there is no manual 428i xDrive. We think if you have any affinity for manual transmissions you should get it here; it's an inspiring thing, with clean shifts and lovely clutch uptake. Yet the automatic does really well in handling either of these engines and their wide torque spread, and paddle-shifters and a sport mode handle a range of driving styles. Steering is hardly a boast-worthy point in the latest 3-Series sedans; and now in the 4-Series it's been tuned for better weighting and feel, but it's still not handing out enough feedback with some of the larger wheel-and-tire combinations.
At the top of the lineup there's the M4, and its hugely upgraded power ratings (now 425 horsepower and 406 lb-ft). You can choose between 6-speed manual and 7-speed M Double Clutch gearboxes, while an Active M limited-slip differential helps get the power to the pavement and an available Adaptive M suspension keeps contact and aids traction. The M4 takes after the larger M6 in ride and sophistication, yet it keeps its weight down, to enable a supercar-league 0-60 mph time of just 4.2 seconds (in DCT form).
All this sounds promising, yet we've ended up with two very different impressions of the M4. On the track, we've found it an extraordinary athlete and an absolute thrill to drive. Yet on the road, the M4's limits are high and it lacks the sort of feedback most drivers seek on back roads and over imperfect pavement—especially in a car with these power levels. Electronics reel you in and keep you stable, but there's a feeling that the car's not filling you in on all that happens at the tires. Ultimately it's a track hound and a car for high-speed sweepers, far more than one for canyon-carving.
The entire 4-Series lineup does make good on many counts, and one of them is ride comfort. There's also a relatively hushed cockpit. It gets seriously charming with its more ritzy interior trim packages (although perhaps too splashy in others that attempt to be sporty or modern), and its sports seats give grip just where it's called for in sporty driving. But the backseat is somewhere we'd stay out of.
And don't forget about the 4-Series Convertible. With a folding hardtop that can lower or raise itself in 20 seconds, at speeds of up to 11 mph. BMW says it's fitted the folded top more effectively into the trunk this time, retaining up to 7.8 cubic feet of storage space when the top is down (or 13 cubic feet when it's up). A fold-down rear seat extends the usefulness of the trunk—and on the less practical side, BMW also fits a standard windblock, three-setting neck warmers, and more sound-deadening materials for a longer driving season and for a quieter ride than in the former 3-Series Convertible.
There's also a 4-Series Gran Coupe, an odd niche model that essentially packs in the low-set four-door layout of the 3-Series, but with the more aggressive front-end treatment of the 4-Series plus a fastback/hatchback rear-end design.
Crash-test ratings are still an open question, although standard safety equipment includes a full suite of airbags, stability and traction control, adaptive brake lights, and anti-lock brakes, plus optional add-ons like the Driver Assistance Plus package, with its speed-limit info, side- and top-view cameras, and electronic driver aids; a rearview camera and park distance sensors; and automatic high beam headlights. Between Coupe and Convertible styles, rear- or all-wheel drive, manual or automatic transmissions, and 4- or 6-cylinder engines—plus the high-performance M4—there's a lot of variance within the 4-Series lineup.
Just as it does on the 3-Series sedans and wagons and hatchbacks, BMW groups the 4-Series into trim lines also, giving buyers a choice of M Sport, Sport, and Luxury themes. All come with the usual Bluetooth connectivity, power windows/locks/mirrors, and automatic climate control.
The Sport line replaces the Luxury line's chrome with high-gloss black exterior cues, red-stitched leather in the interior, and red highlights in the instrument cluster, among other upgrades. And the M Sport line gets a unique M aerodynamic kit, an optional exclusive Estoril blue exterior color, Shadowline exterior accents, an anthracite headliner, sport seats, and an M-themed appearance.
Last year BMW added Bluetooth audio streaming as standard, while the so-called Enhanced Bluetooth (with a USB port) is now a standalone $500 option. Sport Line trim is now standard across all models, with the sport seats, Anthracite headliner, sport leather steering wheel, and chrono-scaled instrument cluster. Keyless entry is now standard on all 435i Convertible models, and an anti-theft alarm system are also now standard on all 4-Series models. Also, Harman Kardon surround sound is included in 435i models, along with a year of satellite radio.
Fuel economy is generally good in the 4-Series, but a lack of powertrain options like the related 3-Series hamstrings the coupe here. At best, the 4-Series manages 27 mpg on the highway in base, 428i guise. The high-performance M4 is predictably the guzzler of the group, but even it manages 24 mpg on the highway.