With tires screeching, the 2014 BMW 428i danced through a set of turns and put a big smile on my face. Yes, I thought, this is exactly what I expect from BMW, what many others learned to love about the German automaker, and how BMW became synonymous with performance.
The all-new 4 Series exhibited exquisite balance at the turn apexes and, pushed closer to the limits, the rear walked out in a nicely controlled slide, just enough to help rotate the car through the corners. This is the kind of driving I live for.
If you haven't been following the recent turns and twists in BMW model naming nomenclature, the existence of a BMW 428i may come as a surprise. This new model comes from BMW's decision to discontinue the 3 Series coupe and create a whole new series. In the new BMW world order, sedans are designated as odd series while coupes are all even series. Could BMW really be taking a page or two from Audi's playbook?
Far more than simply a 3 Series coupe, the new 4 Series is a darned good-looking car. In good coupe style, a long nose stretches out in front of the windshield, suggesting plenty of room for power under the hood. Black vent openings on the front fenders make for a perfect accent. The rear roofline drops back dramatically, a design cue that can only be found on a coupe.
The design reminds me of BMW's original 6 Series, the Shark, from the '70s and '80s. Of course, it also looks something like the 2015 Mustang, something neither Ford nor BMW can be happy about.
Coupes make rear-seat access a little more difficult, not that you want to frequently load up this car with a lot of people-weight. In the 4 Series, BMW splits the rear seat with a plastic tray, making it suitable only for two. Taller folks won't enjoy sitting back there -- I'm only 5' 8" and my head brushed the ceiling when I leant forward. As a nice touch for front-seat passengers, extenders automatically push the seat belts within reach.
If you look under the skin, there isn't much that's actually new about the 4 Series. With BMW's efficient manufacturing, drivetrain components and cabin electronics are shared across models.
The 428i's engine has been in play with BMW for a couple of years now. This 2-liter four-cylinder engine uses direct injection, a twin-scroll turbo, and BMW's Valvetronic and VANOS valve actuation technologies, to produce 240 horsepower and an impressive 258 pound-feet of torque. This same engine finds its way into the new 228i (video), the 328i, the 528i, the X1 xDrive28i, and the X3 xDrive28i. That is an impressive collection of coupes, sedans, convertibles, and SUVs.
This engine marks just one aspect of BMW's new focus on fuel economy. For the 428i, that means 23 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. I turned in an average of 26.5 mpg in a mix of freeway and city driving, and the aforementioned dancing through the turns in full-on sport mode.
Contributing to fuel economy is the standard eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW also offers a no-cost six-speed manual transmission option for dedicated three-pedal fans. In terms of performance, I found the automatic to be truly excellent for both sport driving and cruising through the city. Its manual mode snaps off gear changes almost as quickly as a dual-clutch transmission.
For maximum fuel economy in everyday, boring driving tasks, the 428i comes with an Eco Pro mode, activated with a rocker switch on the console. This mode severely detunes the throttle, engages the idle-stop feature, and sets climate control on minimum efficacy. I spent quite a bit of time driving in this mode around San Francisco and on the nearby freeways, and found no difficulties keeping up with traffic or executing any other maneuvers requiring throttle. In fact, when I floored it to make a pass, the engine was ready to give me its all, after a little turbo lag.
Idle-stop, which shuts down the engine at stop lights, works a little more noticeably than I've found in some other cars. In the 428i, the engine started up with a cough and a shiver when I lifted my foot from the brake, but it was fast enough to keep up with other drivers.
The reduced climate control proved difficult to set comfortably, even with outside temperatures in the high 60s. It also occasionally let the windows steam over, which hampered visibility. A menu option let me set climate control to run normally in Eco Pro mode, but that takes away most of the energy savings.
A push up on the rocker switch put the car into Comfort mode, with suspension and steering tuned the same as in Eco Pro. The throttle became a little more active and the climate control ran normally. I could also turn idle-stop on or off with a switch near the engine start button. In either of these two modes, the 428i is an easy and comfortable driver with a premium feel.
Things took an exciting turn when I pushed the rocker up again, putting the 428i into Sport mode, then dragged the shifter over into its Sport position. The throttle mapping instantly changed, leading to a power surge, and the steering tightened up, becoming more responsive.
And because this 428i came with the Dynamic Handling package, the dampers also tightened up, making the suspension a bit more rigid. It's not a dramatic change and the ride never becomes harsh, but this adaptive suspension is an essential part of what makes the 428i so fun in the turns.
In fact, I think it would be foolish not to get the Dynamic Handling package, which also includes BMW's Variable Sport Steering. That system actually changes the steering ratio for high-speed driving, so that less input is required to turn the wheels.
In Sport mode, the engine made a surprisingly satisfying growl under power, considering its small displacement. The steering reacted with precision to my input, easily holding a line through a turn, while gaining enough heft so it never felt twitchy. With the engine speed up, I could easily modulate the power with the gas pedal. That 240 horsepower may not sound like a lot, but it was plenty for a good time on a public road.