No stranger to convertibles, BMW has chopped the top off of its latest compact coupe to create the first-ever 4-Series droptoptop.
The name might be all new, but, since 4 is the new 3 for BMW, the concept is hardly original. BMW has realigned its lineup to give more lifestyle-oriented vehicles like coupes and low-roof four-doors even nomenclature, while traditional sedans and wagons generally use odd numbers. That means that the 4-Series technically replaces the 3-Series, which, BMW says, allows it to have a little more fun with this model.
It's not a major departure from the outgoing 3-Series convertible, but the new 4 droptop is decidedly more elegant with its top down or raised.
The 4-Series is significantly more stylish than the 3-Series that preceded it. In particular, integration of its folding metal hardtop - a feature carried over from the outgoing 3 - has been vastly improved. No longer does the convertible look rather awkward with its top raised; instead, it could easily be mistaken for a 4-Series coupe, albeit a pillar-less one.
And it is the 4-Series coupe that donates its hardware to the droptop. Both share the same standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain in the 428i and 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder in the 435i tested here. And they offer either a standard six-speed manual gearbox or, optionally, an eight-speed automatic. Tellingly, BMW fitted all of the test cars we had the opportunity to sample recently with both the Luxury trim grade and the automatic. Enthusiasts, it seems, are not the 4-Series convertible's primary market.
Similarly, the 4-Series' interior is lifted directly from the coupe, which is, in turn, heavily derived from the sedan. But there are some improvements worth noting. For one, the convertible's pop-up air deflector - which works brilliantly to create a draft-free cabin even at triple digit speeds - removes easily and now stows behind the newly folding rear seat back. Another innovation, admittedly copied from BMW's cross-Germany rival Mercedes-Benz, is a system integrated just below the front headrests that pumps warm air to the driver and passenger's necks in an effort to slightly extend the driving season. Though the fans are louder here than in Mercedes' E-Class convertible, they are effective.
Otherwise, the 4-Series remains solidly BMW-like, which means its interior is more stylish but composed of slightly lower-end materials than before. Particularly egregious is the cheap plastic that adorns much of the center console. Still, the 4 is easy to dress up - for a price.
Stickering at $48,750 for a no-option 428i, the numbers climb to $54,900 for the 435i. Our test car, with the Luxury Line design theme ($1,400) and a host of other add-ons easily topped $60,000. That's double the price of BMW's entry-level 320i, but, for the most part, the 435i feels like twice the car.
Removing a top usually results in negative consequences for vehicle rigidity, but we found much to like about the 435i. Stiffened significantly over its predecessor, it exhibited nary a hint of cowl shake over rough pavement.
In fact, with its more thickly-insulated top erected, the 435i is as serene at highway speeds as an equivalent 4-Series coupe. Drop the top, which can now be done at speeds up to 11 mph in 20 seconds, and things become only marginally louder and windier. We would argue that the 4-Series is less drafty and noisy with its top down than any other four-place convertible on the market.
That roof folds into the trunk, taking up most of the available space. However, a new feature raises the folded hardtop about 12 inches to allow for easier small item stowage at the press of a button. Previously, drivers were left jamming their soft bags under the folded top.
Like the 3 and 4-Series hardtops, the convertible's 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder provides robust power from any speed. Rated at 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft. in this application, BMW's smooth turbocharged engine remains one of our favorites. And it mates especially well to its ZF-developed eight-speed automatic transmission.
Tossed into the twisties, the 4-Series convertible reveals that it shares its direct, if slightly electric power numb steering with its siblings. We're not a big fan of this setup, at least up against BMW's prior hydraulic systems, but it is accurate and well-weighted with only a hint of vagueness on center. Careful tuning has given the 4-Series a more refined suspension than the 3-Series sedan, even when accounting for its missing roof. Then again, the plump nearly 4,100 lbs. curb weight does its part to mask bumps - even if the 4-Series is more nimble and planted in the twisties than its tonnage might suggest.
Yet the 435i felt more like a cruiser than a sports car, a shift that seems to fit with BMW's intention to market it as more of a little brother to the company's stylish 6-Series ragtop than as an M-inspired rocketship. Yes, a Sport package with firmer suspension settings is offered, but, tellingly, BMW didn't have one for us to sample during our test drives in Las Vegas.
This one's more suited to the open road than your favorite winding blacktop.
Leftlane's bottom line
By most accounts the best BMW four-seat convertible ever, the new 4-Series stands at the ready to escort its passengers in comfort and refinement across the country. Only when its top is dropped does it reveal the fact that it's a convertible - and even then, a raised wind blocker makes it feel more like a coupe with a gigantic sunroof.
As a polished cruiser with distinct but not overwhelming sporting pretensions, the 435i scores a solid home run.
2014 BMW 435i Convertible base price, 54,900.
Photos by Andrew Ganz.