Convertible or coupe? That’s probably a question all car enthusiasts would have contemplated at least once in their lives. The dilemma is a hard one because choosing the former means you might have to sacrifice on driving dynamics. On the other hand, if you chose a coupe, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the proverbial “wind in your hair” sensation.
But with BMW’s new 4-Series convertible, you won’t have anymore sleepless nights deciding which way to go. That’s because this convertible is as close as it gets to a coupe – not just in the way it looks, but also how it performs on the roads.
The 4-Series is basically a two-door version of the 3-Series, offered as a coupe or convertible. It’s part of BMW’s renaming exercise to further differentiate its products. Further down the product line, we’ve also seen the introduction of the 2-Series badge, which is the coupe version of the 1-Series.
At first glance, the 4-Series convertible looks almost like a coupe – thanks to its retractable hard top. Convertibles often suffer from high levels of noise in the cabin, especially with soft, canvas roofs. The three- part roof has been improved to further reduce noise intrusion from the preceding 3-Series convertible. In fact, the difference with its coupe sibling is indiscernible.
Another bugbear of drop-tops is the weaker body structure that gives rise to what engineers call body flex. The lack of rigidity means that ride and handling suffer because the suspension system cannot do its work as well as it should. Well, the engineers came up with a solution to that problem: by adding body-stiffening bits to the car. But it also came with a weight penalty, which meant slower performance.
So the Munich carmaker has reduced this problem by the clever use of specially designed steel structure that has increased rigidity by 40 per cent from its predecessor. And the difference is clear: scuttle shake is kept to a minimum, if noticeable at all. What’s more, its engineers have managed to keep the weight low, trimming 20kg off the previous version.
￼￼￼This is despite the car being larger than the outgoing 3-Series convertible. It is 26mm longer and its wheelbase has been stretched by 50mm. This makes for a roomier cabin. To balance things off, the front track has been widened by 45mm, while the rear is now a whopping 81mm wider. The 435i also sits some 8mm closer to the tarmac, bringing down the centre of gravity.
On the go, the 435i, powered by a twin- turbocharged three-litre engine, pulls eagerly. For those who are so inclined, it hits the 100kmh mark in a mere 5.5 seconds. But where it really shines is in its handling. Feed it the long sweeps or switchbacks, and it laps them up quickly and cleanly. The steering is crisp, and braking always feels sure. The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth for the cruise, but rapidly quick when you want to drive like a wild child.
The fun factor is upped a notch when you flick the roof switch. In 20 seconds, the metal roof stows away to reveal the sky. As a bonus, you now have a front-row seat to the bassy exhaust note.
The cabin (or tub, when the roof is down) looks elegant with a touch of sportiness. The controls are all angled towards the driver in a clear sign that this is a “driver’s car”. It is a great place to be in, as it is to be spotted in. The increased wheelbase is immediately felt, especially in the rear quarters where legroom has been substantially increased from earlier models. If you closed your eyes, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine yourself being in the larger and more exquisite 6-Series convertible.
BMW has proven time and again that it’s at the forefront of its game, producing some of the best driving cars. They have mastered the art. It is hardly surprising that the 4-Series is such an able car. But truth be told, the 435i lacks a certain panache, or X-factor, if you will.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the car – it does what it’s supposed to with aplomb – but the improvements have become rather predictable and clinical. There were simply no surprises to give it that extra edge, other than the fact that this convertible is the closest thing you can get to a coupe without the sacrifices.