If there’s one thing BMW has been good at lately, it’s consistency. Just about any BMW you hop into will share the following characteristics: brilliant engine and transmission, capable chassis, anesthetized steering and a by-the-book interior. Most recently, it has added controversial styling, and all of that applies to the new BMW 4 Series. In the case of the 430i we tested, it has a good, if not wildly powerful engine, and capable, though unengaging driving experience, as well as pricing that starts at the high end for the segment and can skyrocket with options.
Of course, the first thing that 4 Series buyers will have to get past is that controversial nose. It’s definitely as big as it looks in photos. It does look a little better in person, since you can see more of the shape, specifically in the way it leans forward similar to old BMWs. But it’s still jarring, and part of that is because the rest of the car is restrained and elegant. The over-the-top grille looks out of place. This 430i benefits from the $3,800 M Sport package that adds 19-inch wheels, black trim and large outboard grilles that help to balance out the dominating kidneys.
The 430i interior is what you would expect from most any modern BMW. The instrument display, infotainment system and various buttons all feature a mixture of orange-red and white graphics/lettering. The infotainment screen is canted toward the driver. The aluminum and leather scattered about are of the expected quality, components fit tightly, and the buttons have crisp, hefty action. The $1,450 black leather seats with blue stitching are a nice highlight on this blue coupe, though maybe a bit pricey for something so subtle. It’s just a solid, quality cabin, if lacking in the wow factor of the ultra-modernist Audi or lavish and flashy Mercedes interiors. It’s not flawless, though. The iDrive 7.0 infotainment system, which we reviewed here, is awfully complex with layers of menus that can overwhelm. We do like the redundant control capability of touchscreen and control wheel, though. Also, the M Sport package’s steering wheel has an absurdly thick rim that quickly becomes uncomfortable to hold over time.
The driving experience is a similar blend of good, mediocre and frustrating. As the entry point to the 4 Series coupe, the 430i comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It may not sound like much (the Audi A5 and Infiniti Q60 each have more potent base models), but the engine is plenty of fun to play around with. It’s extremely smooth, the turbo spools up almost instantly, and the power band is fat and low, so you can make good use of it in most driving. The eight-speed automatic transmission delivers seamless and snappy shifts. That transmission sends power to the rear wheels in the 430i or to all four wheels in the case of our 430i xDrive. Impressively, the xDrive model doesn’t feel like an all-wheel-drive car, with light oversteer and a light nose eager to zip into corners. Combined with the stiff, balanced chassis, playful hint of oversteer, and limited body roll, the 430i is not a bad drive. Perhaps this isn’t that surprising since our 430i featured a number of performance enhancements. It had the aforementioned M Sport Package with variable assist steering, and the Dynamic Handling Package with an electronically controlled rear differential, upgraded brakes and M Sport suspension.
The problem is that it’s not a great drive, either. Certainly not to the extent of past BMW 3/4 Series coupes that were consistently a step above its competitors. The prime offender is the steering. You don’t feel a thing through the fat wheel, and the weight feels artificial. It’s frustrating that a car with such a good powertrain and chassis is so disconnected and uninvolving. The brakes feel soft until you really dig into the pedal travel, at which point they bite pretty hard, so modulation isn’t as easy as we’d like. As for the ride quality, it’s on the stiff side, and while tolerable, isn’t as smooth and supple as some competitors’. We would expect that a 4 Series without the M Sport suspension would be noticeably more comfortable for commuting or cruising.
The BMW’s pricing doesn’t help its case. At $46,595, the 430i is more expensive than both the Audi A5 and the Infiniti Q60, while being slightly cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz C 300. The price hierarchy continues with the 430i xDrive and its starting cost of $48,595. All of those competitors have far more attractive exteriors, and the Audi and the Infiniti make more power to boot. Even in the BMW line-up, you can get basically the same engine in the smaller, lighter, much cheaper 230i. For that matter, similar money buys an M240i with the far more powerful twin-turbo 3.0-liter straight-six.
Start adding some options, as on our test car, and it quickly becomes exorbitant. As tested, our 430i xDrive cost $60,520. That’s just a smidgen more expensive than the six-cylinder M440i xDrive. At that price, the M440i would have our 430i’s Premium Package with navigation, head-up display, heated steering wheel and seats, ambient lighting, fancy leather nor the M Sport suspension and brakes. But you would have an extra 127 horsepower to play with, an even more melodious engine and that fancy rear differential. At least if you’re performance-minded, the six-cylinder car makes more sense.
The BMW 430i isn’t a bad car. It does plenty of things well. But a lot of other choices are more attractive, more fun and less expensive. There’s not much of a case for this car unless you just have to have this size BMW coupe.