It might be only be an M Sport version, but this 4-Series is so good that our man worries for the full-fat M4’s future
BMWs: time was when I could quote you any E-number you cared to choose, and would bore poor souls senseless with the evolution of a particular model series. However, in recent years I must admit to losing track of what’s going on in Munich. The problem is, the company has gone off exploring every niche it can think of, which has given us some questionable models such as the 5-Series GT, X1 and X6.
This, though, is classic BMW heartland – a straight-six coupé driving the rear wheels alone. But this isn’t the 3-Series. Marketing types have determined we’re too dense to try and decipher a potential sixth-generation 3-Series range that could include Saloon, Touring, GT, Coupé, Convertible and M versions. So the Saloon/Touring/GT have been separated from the Coupé/Convertibles, leaving us with old 3-Series and new 4-Series badging. Sigh… I think I could have coped, but what’s done is done. So, the badge is fresh, but the principal of the car trades on Munich’s enviable dynamic heritage. Can it deliver in 435i M Sport guise? Let’s find out.
On the styling front, there’s a big thumbs-up here, and this is a first for me. I actually was one of the perverse souls who found the Chris Bangle era of cars superb aesthetically; I will state till I’m blue in the face that a Sport-kitted E61 5-Series Touring is possibly the best-looking four-door-based BMW ever built. But since Mr B left the building in a cloud of shame, and Adrian van Hooydonk took up the chief designer’s pen, I’ve found all F-code BMWs bulbous and awkward to behold, just fatter versions of their crisp, flame-surfaced predecessors.
The 4-Series, though, is clearly van Hooydonk’s finest hour. There really isn’t a bad angle to it, no matter how many times you circle the Four, squinting at it in hope of being able to grumble about a quirky swage line or somesuch. Furthermore, this one is clothed in Estoril Blue, a colour which should please BM aficionados as it was the signature finish of the E36 M3. On £670 optional 19s, this thing is truly beautiful. Inside is good too, but while ergonomically it is perfect and there are no real complaints, it’s not that exciting in here. It’s about the only area where BMW still lags behind Audi.
However, glance down to your left and you’ll see a gearlever wearing strange H-pattern markings. Further confusion arrives when you look in the footwell and see three pedals, not two, and also take in a steering wheel bereft of a paddleshift system. Yes, thank the Lord, this 435i was fitted with that most archaic of mechanical devices, a manual gearbox. This is clearly A Very Good Thing.
That six-speeder is linked to an engine which comes from the preceding-model E92 335i, and the knowledgeable types out there will have noticed its headline performance figures have moved on not one jot from the old car’s. Hmmm. However, there was never any complaint about the motive power this unit developed while it was fitted to the 335i, and that remains the case in the new coupé. Although it’s twin-turbo, you’ll be hard pressed to notice the forced induction, as the throttle is sharp and the engine responds to hoofing the right pedal almost instantly, with turbo lag noticeable only by its absence. The best bit is that the 435i emits a proper BMW straight-six induction snarl, which seems unimpeded by the air having to negotiate the two blowers.
This means the 435i is properly quick. In-gear acceleration is superb and the engine remains creamy smooth from tickover to 6500rpm redline. Even better than that, the 435i can utilise all of that power, never feeling like it is struggling to convert the engine’s muscle into forward motion. It’s remarkably surefooted, the 435i, which makes me question why you’d need one of the 4WD xDrive versions listed in the brochure.
But the real delights come from all the other major controls – this isn’t a car dominated by its drivetrain. The steering, for a start, is sensational, easily one of the best EPAS systems I’ve encountered and going toe-to-toe with the set-up from the Fiesta ST (also driven on the same day) for the title of ultimate champion. The brakes, albeit optional uprated items on this car, are also beyond reproach, while the car’s balance between sweet ride and exemplary body control is spot-on. The manual gearbox is one of those lovely old knuckly BMW affairs; it’s a shift action so particular to the Munich marque, and it’s a pleasant thing to stir about. More importantly, the ratios in the ‘box are well matched to the 3-litre’s power and torque delivery.
M Sport is the top trim level of five (which includes, confusingly, a lower spec called simply ‘Sport’) but all 4-Series Coupes have what is known as a Driving Experience Control switch. This is basically one of those settings adjuster buttons that all manner of moderns have these days – switches which toughen up the steering and make the dampers stiffer, and so on and so on ad infinitum. However, while in some other cars you’d be hard pressed to notice the difference between one setting and the next, in the 435i there is a discernible difference between ECO PRO (the ‘softest’ of everything, for cruising and fuel economy), Comfort (sort of the standard 4-Series set-up) and Sport modes (for the discerning hoon on a country lane).
But the M Sport gets an extra mode, Sport+, which takes the traction control back to its least intrusive setting without turning it off, firms up the dampers to maximum, sharpens the already excellent throttle mapping and weights the steering up. And it is in Sport+ that the 435i – no wallowy mess in any of the ‘lesser’ settings – dazzles you. It is fabulous, finding immense traction, dancing into corners with a rear end that fizzes with interactivity, and offering up its rortiest sounds. When it is charging along in this maximum attack mode, it is hard to imagine why you would need any more power. In fact, this has to be one of the most harmonious marriages of power-to-chassis-ability I’ve had the pleasure of driving. I loved every minute in the 435i M Sport – it’s a dyed-in-the-wool BMW classic already, in my eyes.
As ever, the thorny issue revolves around the showroom sticker price. Even without options, this 435i M Sport is £41,435. As this one is a press car, it is stuffed with £6725 of extras, taking the overall figure dangerously close to fifty grand. All right, some of these fripperies could be left out (like £360 for Adaptive Headlights and £325 for Online Entertainment, which sounds worryingly like a euphemism for questionable internet content), but I’d want the Adaptive M Sport suspension (£515), the Head-up Display (£825), the £1,000 Media Package which loads in Professional sat-nav and probably the M Sport braking system (£570) and Harman Kardon loudspeakers (£675). All of which would take ‘my’ M Sport 435i to twenty notes over £45,000. I’d have to stick with standard 18s for that, as well, sacrificing the 442M 19in rims mentioned earlier.
Is that a lot of money for a coupé 3-Series… sorry, I mean 4-Series? Well, yes, as around £5000 will get you a pretty tidy E46 Coupé with low miles and a decent six-pot engine, and that’ll feel a modern, entertaining car to drive. But that’s an unfair comparison to draw for the 435i, because – if you have the money to buy a new motor – this 4-Series is way ahead of any of its contemporaries. If you put any measure on driving pleasure at all, the 435i should be top of your list.
There’s a bigger problem with it, though, and that’s the forthcoming M4. It too will be a six-cylinder twin-turbo, albeit a different engine entirely to the 435’s lump, but I fail to see how it will offer a substantially better driving experience than this for a price that makes any sense whatsoever. Figuring on the base M4 being around the £60,000 mark, I feel it’s going to need a lot more than the 424bhp it will pack to push it clear of the 435i M Sport. I think this F32 BMW is all the M-badged, RWD coupé you could wish for – it’s exceptional.
Tech Spec BMW 435i M Sport
- Body Front-engined two-door coupé
- Engine 2979cc 24v twin-turbocharged straight-six
- Transmission RWD, six-speed manual
- 0-62mph 5.4 seconds
- Top speed 155mph (limited)
- Max power 302bhp at 4500rpm
- Max torque 295lbf.ft from 1200rpm to 5000rpm
- Fuel consumption 35.8mpg (claimed combined)
- CO2 emissions 185g/km
- Price from 4-Series range starts from £28,280; 435i M Sport starts from £41,435 (car as tested £48,160)
The Truth & Nothing But…
BMW 435i M Sport
+ Sublime package overall, with great looks inside and out coupling with a drivetrain that’s nothing short of exemplary. A fine driver’s car.
– How do you make an M4 – which will also use a twin-turbo six – different enough to compete?
∴ A great BMW, a great car outright, and pretty much all the performance coupé you’d ever need.