What It Is
The BMW 4 Series is a two-door version of the company's excellent 3 Series sedan.
Great looks, strong performance.
Just call it a 3 Series coupe, BMW.
In looks and attitude, the BMW 4 Series is like the company's 6 Series for a smaller budget.
Saying that the 2014 BMW 4 Series is a 6 Series for people on a budget sounds ridiculous on the face of it. After all, we're still talking BMWs here, and it's not like either of these cars qualify on the average person's "cheap" list. Then again, if you're already in the market for a BMW, "cheap" has a different definition. And, that's what it really boils down to with the newest two-door BMW: If you like the 6 Series, but can't swing the $76,000 or so it'll cost you to get behind the wheel, then the 4 Series is your car.
The 4 Series is a new model designation for BMW, but not a new model; it's basically a re-naming of the 3 Series Coupe, and mechanically, aesthetically, and functionally, that's pretty much what it is. Like the 3 Series Coupe before it, the 4 Series is for people like the 3 Series but not four doors; the 4 Series gets the same engine choices--2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6--the same transmissions, the same interior design, and so on.
But with the new badge comes a bit of new styling--fender vents!--and while it's still obvious which branch of the BMW family tree the 4 Series fell from, the new styling and even-number badge brings it a bit closer to the big 6 Series coupe. While not exactly cheap, the starting price of about $42,000 is considerably less than the 6 Series, and for some, a sexy BMW coupe in the mid-$40,000 price range could be considered a bargain.
WalkaroundSide by side, the 2014 BMW 4 Series doesn't look like a 6 Series; there are notable differences around the headlights, fenders, and so on. However, without the side-by-side, the differences get harder to spot. From the rear, especially, the new 4 Series looks a lot closer to the big BMW coupe than the 3 Series sedan on which it's based. From the front, it's a different story, with the same 3 Series headlights, a slightly restyled bumper that's still pretty familiar...pretty much the whole front end really. Of course, there's the matter of only two doors, and the 4 Series has fender vents, which BMW swears up and down help route air around the front wheels, making them functional. Of course, it could be that their function is just to look nifty, because they're pretty good at that, too. And, for the record: a convertible version has already been announced, and the iconic M3 coupe will become the M4 before you know it.
Sitting DownHave you sat in the new 3 Series? Then you'll be right at home here. The roof is a little lower to add some coupe-like flair, so there isn't quite as much headroom. Being a coupe, the emphasis is on the front two passengers; rear seaters should be lucky they have a pad to sit on, and anything after that is gravy. The gravy's pretty good here, with decent--for a coupe--legroom and headroom, but don't plan on a journey longer than a too-long lunch back there.
The driver and front passenger are coddled though, with soft leather, easy to see and use controls, tons of space, and BMW's iDrive system, which gets progressively less difficult to use with each iteration, although there's still a lot of scrolling and clicking of the wheel. Being a BMW, there's plenty of luxury, and more is available depending on your budget and willingness to lard up your 4 Series with options.
DrivingWe spent our time driving the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder model around the wilds of northern Washington state, and southern British Columbia. We have enough experience with the six-cylinder engine in other BMW models to know that 4 Series models with that engine will be a little quieter, and a lot faster. Both four- and six-cylinder models are available with all-wheel drive as well, but we stuck with rear-drive, too; our most recent experience with the 3 Series had the four-cylinder engine and rear-drive, and we wanted to compare.
First off, the engine sound is more refined than we remember. At the lower end it still sounds more like an econo-car, but the mid- and high-end sound wonderful. BMW also seems to have improved its idle-stop feature; when the four-cylinder powers back up, it's not quite as jarring, although we're still glad there's an easily-found "off" switch. Power's good too, although it doesn't pull all the way to redline like the similarly sized engine in the Cadillac ATS. Still, there's enough power here to make you question the need for the high-horsepower six-cylinder, and the added cost and reduced fuel economy that comes with it. Our car came equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission, one that seamlessly transitions from a smooth cruiser to sharp-shifting sport with the click of a steering-wheel mounted paddle. Flip the various switches to put the 4 Series into Sport+, and you're rewarded with sharp handling, very good steering, and a drivetrain that's ready and willing to play hard enough to back up the car's good looks. This is a fun car.
It's also an efficient car. Put it in Eco+, and you have a much lazier engine, but also one that saves a lot more fuel. We managed in the high 20-mpg range in our drive, and that included the more exuberant stretches of driving. When in cruising mode, it's quiet and comfortable, a great place to spend time behind the wheel. BMW's iDrive works better than ever, although we're not totally in love with the way BMW's now mounting the screens on the dash. Still, it's bright and easy to use. The Harman Kardon sound system was excellent as well.