Now that it's been spun off from the 3-Series lineup of sedans, wagons, and hatchbacks, you might think the 4-Series would develop a much different personality--maybe more brash, more cocky? It's just not the case, as the slightly lower, slightly more sporty 4er doesn't do much differently than the latest 3-Series. It fires up sweetly engineered in-line engines, shifts with ease, bear-hugs the road--and plots a clear trajectory into M territory with performance suspension and braking upgrades.
Build a better Supra, and they will come, in other words.
Two powerplants are on the order sheet, with displacement that no longer has any numeric relationship with the badge. The 428i uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to generate 240 horsepower and 255 pound-feet of torque, which puts it within reach of 60 mph in 5.7 seconds with either the manual or automatic transmission and with grippy summer tires. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
Under the hood of 435i models, there's a familiar 3.0-liter turbocharged in-line six-cylinder engine rated at 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Performance is last-gen M3-brisk, with the 435i sprinting to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds with the manual transmission, or 5.0 seconds with the automatic.
Power delivery with either engine is lump-free, a gravy train of torque from just over idle to about 5000 rpm--and quieter and smoother at its mission than, say, the turbo four in the Cadillac ATS. The six-cylinder still pulls with the in-line smoothness that quantifies the value of BMW engineering; it accounts for most of its perceptual superiority to the Caddy and, say, the Mercedes C-Class.
Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is available with either engine.
BMW makes an eight-speed automatic transmission standard on the 4-Series, but a six-speed manual transmission is a no-cost option on rear-drive coupes. The manual shifter's an inspiring thing, with clean gearchanges and lovely clutch uptake, but it's bound to be a rare thing. The automatic's that good: its eight gears are spaced especially well to handle the six's torque spread, and paddle shifters and sport driving modes dial in faster gear swaps than any human can manage.
Of all the changes that have been wrought on the latest 3-Series and now in turn, the 4-Series, the electric power steering system has probably done the most to shake the foundations of the BMW faithful. The standard flavor weights up evenly but quickly, and with the larger wheel/tire combinations offered (up to 19 inches), the 4er's steering just feels heavier than it needs to, and follows the crown on the road more than it should. Feedback? That's something you get on microphones, right? There's a premium Variable Sports steering setup that changes the rack's ratio; we haven't tried it yet, but it's bound to be a popular feature on the future M4.
The path to that highly evolved 4-Series is clearly defined, from the way its suspension has been altered with more aluminum components and more structural stiffness than before. It still wants to be, and can be, a smooth grand tourer. The Driving Dynamics Control programming lets drivers tune shift points, throttle mapping, and steering response from a base level into an efficiency profile, and in either, it loafs along with rational, responsible moves.
But the 4-Series really feels most alive in the hands when it's spun into Sport or Sport+. The steering pounces into turns, the automatic snaps off almost instantaneous shifts, the throttle zips up and down the powerband. The stability control unlocks its chastity belt.
The next step toward utopia: the M Sport package, with its lower ride height, firmer springs and dampers, 18- or 19-inch wheels, available summer tires, and the option for electronically controlled dampers. With smart concessions to ride smoothness in the form of near-zero body lean, it's as close to a track-ready effort as the 4-Series comes--that is, until that M4 arrives, sometime in mid-2014.