Cooley On Cars
On the road: 2014 BMW 428iCNET's Brian Cooley explains why BMW's new 4 Series represents the most major surgery performed on the 3 Series line in a long time.
As BMW is reworking the bottom half of their lineup, there's been a lot of changes and the most interesting outcome, I think, is this guy -- the new 4 Series. Let's drive this 428i and check the tech. The 50/50 weight balance, that's a wonderful thing in this car. You don't need to push it really hard to feel it. Compared to the 3 Coupe that it replaces, this car is longer, lower, wider, and pushes the wheels out to the ends of the car. The biggest difference is that wheelbase, a full 2-inch difference, but also the height, losing three quarters of an inch, that's dramatic in automotive design terms. In spite of that roof coming down, though, headroom in the front went up almost an inch and a half. Spotting a 4 is easy. Just look for what you think is a 3 Coupe driving behind and realize it looks like it's been melted and pulled from end to end, front to back. You've also got much more of a gentle fastback than a 3 Coupe ever had, and this little filigree up here is unique to more modern BMWs. 3s don't have this. Now, inside the 4, it looks a lot like a 3, no dramatic re-architecture going on here. This is kind of the fashion these days, this kind of toaster slot screen where the LCD sticks up. I think they're doing it 'cause it kind of says, "I'm like a tablet," but it also does free up a lot of area here that would, otherwise, be taken up by the head unit, gives just some nice vent registers. And in this case, we have a more basic sort of a radio audio layout right here with our optical disc quite below it. Even though we don't have nav, though, this LCD is part of it. It's what they call a display radio in auto jargon which gets you to most of your basic infotainment and communication functions. Now, it's not a touchscreen, of course. It's a German car, don't touch. So, instead, they use the iDrive even for this basic head unit, but this is the simpler version of the iDrive controller. If you already get the nav head unit, you get iDrive 4.2, which includes a bigger controller with a touchpad on the top of the knob for finger input. Now, in typical BMW fashion, lots of stuff is optional. You do have Bluetooth base, thank you, but enhanced Bluetooth is an extra cost option. Rearview camera is an extra cost option, as I believe are the all-around sensors. Surround sound is ala carte, and you can get a head-up display which BMW is just about the best at, the best in terms of color, information, presentation, and good tight resolution. Now, controls that relate to actual drivetrain, well, our car has got the eight-speed automatic. Top two gears are overdrive by the way. This is how most of these guys are gonna ship, but you still can get a six-speed manual. If you want to, I would do so quickly. I don't know how much longer they'll be offering that. Alongside are some drive mode profiles. You have this Eco Pro and Sport and Sport Plus. Sport Plus cancels the stability control. You're not gonna use that too often, but I find Sport as a good mode. We'll get on the road with it momentarily. Paddle shifters go with the automatic, obviously not on the manual. And over here at the start/stop button, you've got the auto start/stop defeat. Hit that once and the car will not down itself when you come to a red light. We'll see how smoothly it operates when we get on the road. And unlike a lot of its competition, BMW doesn't put any augmented LCD screen between the gauges. And unfortunately, instead of that, they offer what I think is kind of a dumb MPG gauge, a swinging needle that kind of flies in the wind as you drive around and doesn't tell you much of anything. It's a BMW thing. I don't know why they still have it. Now, because we have a 428i, that means we have the turbo four-cylinder. This is kind of a new thing for BMW. They've got rid of the non-turbo 6 in this class of car. It's a 2-liter, so it's not even a big 4 and it's very compact and almost sits entirely behind the front axle line that makes the great weight distribution. In fact, this car is almost exactly 50/50 weight thread and that's really quite an achievement. How about some numbers? 240 horsepower out of this guy, 255 foot-pounds of torque, 0 to 60 with this 3,470-pound beast comes up in 5.7 seconds. Your MPG will be 22/35 unless you get the six-speed manual and then you give up 1 MPG on the highway. It's basically a pick. And of course, rear-wheel drive is your base configuration. All-wheel drive is available. All the modern tech is here -- direct injection; a two-stage, twin-scroll, single turbocharger is not much missing from the sheet. Let's go for a ride. There's one thing that remains a truism in automotive technology and that is a 4 with a turbo feels different than let's see a bigger 6 without one. It has a lot of power. It just doesn't come on the way a bigger engine would, not in my recollection. The outgoing inline non-turbo 6 that this replaced had less power, and yet, somehow, I recall it feeling a little more satisfying. Nonetheless, this is the smart motor to go with. It's higher technology, better efficiency, lighter weight, smaller packaging. It's a very neutral-handling car. You never feel like you're plowing a big heavy nose around in turns. It's a little doughy on the road. You can-- You can hot up the suspension more. We've noticed that in 3 Series lately that they've lost a certain road going edge in favor of more ride quality. Some people like that. Some people don't. I suspect the majority do that's why BMW did it. They wanna sell more cars, not necessarily more cars to the buffs. Okay, let's price our 428i, starting off just a little below $41,500, 2-liter turbo 4, rear wheel drive. If you want all-wheel drive, you gotta add 2 grand on top of that. Adaptive LED front headlights with automatic high beams, nearly 2 grand more. Tech package with apps, real-time traffic, navigation, the touchpad and head-up display, it's chunky at $3,150. If you want the park sonar and rear cam like we have, 950 more. Add surround cameras, lane departure, adaptive cruise, and stop-and-go control and that's gonna be almost 2 grand more. Semi-self-parking is a surprisingly cheap, 500 bucks, that's one little bone they throw us. All in, CNET style, this car is pushing $53,000. You buy one because a 2 Series is just too little and a 6 Series is biting off too much for your paycheck. It fits nicely and is very distinct in the BMW line and I bet they're gonna sell as many as they can make very quickly.