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.
The transmission's Sport mode shifted more aggressively in concert with my driving style, holding low gears through the turns to keep the power on tap.
Although using the same suspension architecture as the 3 Series, BMW notes that it retuned front control arms to lessen roll, and added struts for even more stiffness. The weight distribution of the 428i comes out to a 50/50 rear to front, contributing to the excellent handling. The more powerful 435i is slightly more nose-heavy, according to the specs, putting 52 percent of its weight up front.
As much fun as I had in the 428i, it had another trick up its sleeve. Pushing the rocker switch up once more engaged Sport Plus mode, swapping normal traction control for BMW's Dynamic Traction Control. On dry roads this was my preferred mode.
Dynamic Traction Control let the tail swing out substantially, but in a way that I could control and use. The handling remained very predictable, once I went through the exercise a few times. An alert on the dashboard warned that normal traction control was off, but that should only be of concern on particularly slippery roads. The Dynamic setting was good enough to reel the car back in from the limits.
Making less of a contribution to the 428i's performance was the $3,500 M Sport package included on this car. It brought in 18-inch alloy wheels, sport seats, and some cosmetic M insignia. I could have done without this package, but it also made a $650 brake upgrade possible.
What this 428i lacked was either the optional navigation system, at $2,150, or the $3,150 Technology package. The navigation option by itself would have brought in BMW's latest iDrive interface, including a touch pad, voice command, app support, Bluetooth audio streaming, and, of course, a really good navigation system with live traffic. The Technology package includes all that plus a head-up display.
Without either of those options, the 428i looks pretty sad compared with cars at even half of its price, and reveals BMW's nickel-and-diming.
The base electronic does include an LCD and a limited iDrive controller. A Bluetooth hands-free phone system and a USB port in the console round out the tech. There is a voice-command button on the steering wheel, but it does nothing except taunt you for not optioning up the technology.
Audio sources include HD Radio, USB drives, and iOS integration, but no Bluetooth audio streaming. Sorry, Android users. To make it possible to use an iOS device in the car, BMW includes an adapter cable with a (pre-iPhone 5) 30-pin connector. The only way to connect a modern iOS device to the car is with Apple's Lightning adapter, but I wouldn't recommend it. The audio quality through that adapter is atrocious.
As for the music library interface when using either an iOS device or USB drive, BMW has never gotten it right over far too many years. The music library screen looks like it was built by a software engineer rather than an interface designer. The screen shows a series of fields for artist, album, genre, and song title. Choosing one essentially sets a filter, so if you chose an artist, going to the album field would only show albums by the selected artist. While that may sound convenient, it is far too distracting to use while bombing down the road at 65 mph.
The only good thing I found about the base cabin tech in the 428i was the audio system. Although unbranded, its eight speakers included a center channel and a subwoofer. The sound output was strong, with deep bass, and reasonably detailed. This system far outpaces the base systems in most cars.
One other tech option included in this car was the Driver Assistance package, which is basically a backup camera costing $950.
Other good technologies left unchecked on the option sheet for the 428i I tested were adaptive cruise control, automated parking, surround-view cameras, and LED headlights. My rating for the 428i reflects the fact that you can get a boatload of good technologies, most of which I've used in other BMW models.
Fully equipped, the 2014 BMW 428i can be an extraordinary tech car, satisfying the engaged driver on weekend jaunts and during the daily commute. However, ticking off a majority of the options also brings the cost up to $60,000 from the car's $40,000 base. Despite lacking any cabin tech options, the example I drove stickered at just under $50,000.
Here's how I would option the 428i for maximum features and minimum cost. Start with the 428i, base price $40,500, and skip the M Sport, Sport, or Luxury trim packages. At $1,000, the Dynamic Handling package is a bargain, so add that. Skip the Technology package and go for the navigation option. It seems pricey at $2,150, but it includes many features, such as voice command, app support, and more audio sources. To get a color other than white or black you will have to spend an extra $500, for a total of $45,125 with destination.
|Model||2014 BMW 428i|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 8-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||23 mpg city/35 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||26.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional, with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Eight-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$48,075|