BMW 4 Series picks up where the 3 left off

In recent years, some of the performance shine has come off the BMW 3 Series. Fortunately, the 4 Series is here to pick up the slack.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
3 min read
Watch this: BMW 4 Series

FRANKFURT -- The BMW 3 Series may not be gone, but it might be best forgotten. There's a new ultimate driving machine in town, and it's called the BMW 4 Series. This new even-numbered BMW series takes up the performance mantle formerly worn by the 3 Series.

BMW shifted its body styles around to accommodate the new model, canceling the coupe version of the 3 Series and dedicating it to the new 4. Later, a convertible version of the 4 Series will be available.

BMW's svelte 4 Series coupe (pictures)

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The 4 Series shows different proportions from the 3 Series, with a longer nose and a roofline reminiscent of the old 8 Series. BMW says the 4 has the lowest center of gravity in its current lineup, along with a 50:50 weight balance between front and rear axles.

Being a BMW, it's not hard to figure out what drivetrains the new model will get. The 435i comes with a 3-liter straight six-cylinder engine, using direct injection and a twin-scroll turbo, plus BMW's Valvetronic and Double VANOS technologies to make 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. BMW gives a zero-to-62 mph time of 4.9 seconds.

Alternatively, the 428i will be available. Like other 28i-designated models, the 428i uses BMW's direct-injection 2-liter four-cylinder, also with a turbocharger, making 240 horsepower.

BMW 435i

BMW's 3-liter six-cylinder engine, with a twin-scroll turbo, is a great choice for the 4 Series.

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Along with engine choice, the 4 Series can be had with a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. BMW's six-speed manual shifts nicely, with an easy action through the gate. And its eight-speed automatic delivers good performance, with fast shifts and an aggressive sport program. The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) doesn't appear in the lineup, but will likely come out in a future M4 model.

The steering rack comes with an electric power-steering system, technology BMW has been deploying throughout its lineup. In other BMW models, we've noticed some inconsistency in the steering feel, with the X1, for example, being remarkably heavy. We will have to put the 4 Series on the road before we can tell how its steering has been tuned.

One area where BMW makes steady progress on an almost yearly basis is its cabin tech. The new 4 Series gets the latest iteration of the iDrive system, its central control dial inset with a touch pad, letting drivers enter alphanumeric characters by tracing them, much more convenient than the old rotary selection system.

As in recent BMW model updates, the center LCD sits on the dashboard as a discrete module, emphasizing its slim dimensions. Along with the usual navigation, phone system, and stereo, the screen shows BMW's latest connected features.

At the same time, BMW continues to use analog gauges in the instrument cluster, instead of the virtual gauges rapidly gaining ground in the industry. The four gauges have a simple, flat design, making them easy to read at a glance. Complementing the instrument cluster is a head-up display, projecting vehicle speed, turn-by-turn directions, and other useful information on the windshield.

Despite the sport character of the 4 Series, BMW will also make a number of driver assistance features available, including adaptive cruise control, which can bring the car to a complete stop in traffic. As another advanced tech feature, LED headlights will be available.

The 4 Series can be had with high-tech LED headlights, which will last longer than incandescents, use less energy, and throw a more defined pattern.

Josh Miller/CNET

Although a base 3 Series may lack the performance characteristics for which BMW has become known, the company never really forgot how to build a sports car. The new 4 Series, especially the 435i model, should be the thrill ride of choice for driving enthusiasts.

This new 4 Series coupe also leads a small pack, as BMW promises a convertible version in the near future. But most BMW fans will be waiting on the M4, the successor to the legendary M3.