More accurately, it's a "plus-one" model range for BMW, because it will spawn a cabriolet, a four-door coupe and, of course, an M4. Until that M4 arrives, though, the 2014 BMW 435i will be the strongest and fastest of the two 4 Series models headed here.
New Name, Familiar Engines
While Europeans get a range of diesel-powered coupes, the U.S. market will have a choice between the 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder 428i and the 300-hp turbocharged inline six-cylinder 435i.
BMW will tie those engines to a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive an option on both models.
When equipped with the eight-speed, BMW claims the 435i will go from zero to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and on to a top speed of 155 mph. The 428i offers nearly the same performance with a lot less weight over the front axle and far better economy. It hits 60 mph in 5.7 seconds and has the same top speed.
Can't See the Big Changes
It isn't sheer power that makes the 2014 BMW 435i the car it is, but the chassis engineering inside it. BMW worked on creating a body-in-white that was about the same weight as its predecessor but had 60 percent more torsional rigidity and a 50:50 weight distribution. Total weight is a claimed 3,527 pounds for a 435i with the eight-speed automatic, but that's an unloaded European-spec figure so U.S. models will likely weigh in slightly higher.
Perhaps more critically, the 435i has had its center of gravity lowered by nearly an inch. That helps the driver to feel more like part of the car rather than a rider on top of it, and gives the 435i a more planted feel in corners.
The steel body gets an additional link between it and the front subframe to make the suspension more accurate than it is in the sedan, while the rear end gets a five-link suspension setup, but critically, no mechanical limited-slip differential.
The brakes are single-piston units all around and the car officially rides on 17-inch wheels that nobody is going to order. Every test car on our drive rode on 19-inch rims with Bridgestone Potenza S001 rubber sized to 225/40R19 up front and 255/35R19 at the back.
So Close to Perfection
It all comes together to create a driving package that's nearly perfect in its abilities and comfort. Our only complaint? The broad gap between the Comfort and Sport modes of the adjustable dampers.
There are five modes: EcoPro+, EcoPro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+. The first three of the modes use the Comfort setting on the dampers, while the top two use the Sport setting.
In Sport, the 435i is extremely firm and tends to jiggle over short, sharp bumps while it wallows too much in Comfort. Sport might work well on a track, but as one of the BMW chassis engineers told me, it's a marketing setting: intentionally stiff to remind people that they're in the Sport mode they paid for.
That may be the public's perception of how the most "sporty" setting should feel, but it's not the most efficient way to get around in the real world. We found Sport way too skittish throughout our test route in Portugal.
So Easily Likable, Lovable Even
The shame of it is that the rest of the car is all there. It's an easy car to be immediately comfortable in, especially sitting so low in the chassis that you feel almost as if your butt is below the propshaft. The steering feels even better sorted than the suspension, the electric system finally delivering the sort of intuitive tacking that BMW lost in the switch from hydraulics.
But it's the chassis that stars, with its wider front track biting hard into corners, flitting out the other side in a marvelous example of chassis balance and suspension geometry. It feels faithfully, progressively lovely.
That feeling of loveliness is helped by a tried-and-trusted powertrain that feels similarly progressive, sophisticated and composed. It's as sweet and free a revver as anything that crunches a limiter in the sixes and it feels as though it's got plenty of urge left in it, should BMW choose to jailbreak its own software.
It has a strong midrange, particularly in its lower three gears, and can transform comfortably from roaring with enthusiasm when you're pressing on or silently watching as you poke along on cruise control. Its automatic gearbox is nearly invisible and only draws attention when it delivers big blips on downshifts in Sport or Sport+ mode.
A Little More Room To Work
All 2014 BMW 4 Series models will be available with the option of Luxury, Sport and Modern lines, with BMW clumsily explaining that while the first two are self-explanatory, the Modern line makes the brand-spanking-new 4 Series look more, umm, modern.
The cabin is very similar to that in the 3 Series, with the direct controls and dials trained on the driver and everything in front dominated by the speedo and the tach. As in every BMW, the multimedia screen is a permanent feature atop the dashboard, while the iDrive controller now has a touchscreen-style function on the top, though it's not an immediately intuitive system to use, even for regular smartphone users.
And it all works. Coming from 3 Series architecture, everything in the cabin is familiar and comfortable and easy to use. Its shortage of interior cubby holes is a touch frustrating, as is BMW's inability to provide a firm holding spot for the remote key.
It hasn't hurt the design team that it was given a longer wheelbase (an additional 1.6 inches) than the old 3 Series Coupe and shorter overhangs at both ends. The cabin delivers more head-, leg-, shoulder and knee room in all four seats than its predecessor.
The seats are comfortable, the steering wheel feels fabulous and the controls are all accurate. Even the iDrive works well, but you might want a back-up map should you ever use the navigation system in Portugal.
No Surprises Here
This is an easy car to like. It looks great, goes well, handles progressively and it's comfortable. Sure, much the same could be said about the old 3 Series coupe, yet the 2014 BMW 435i manages to tweak all the parameters without giving up anything along the way.
Maybe when the 4 Series lands Stateside in a couple months, it will have slightly updated tuning that will bridge the gap that we found so obvious. Even without such a change, few will find the 4 Series objectionable. It's just too pretty, too fast and too well-sorted everywhere else to complain.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.