Is it just my impression, or is the BMW blip fading a little bit from the luxury marque radar screen? Younger buyers are choosing Audis in greater numbers, and Mercedes is clearly asserting its authority at both the lower and upper ends of the luxury car spectrum. Lexus, too, remains a powerhouse with buyers who simply want something cushy and reliable to drive, while simultaneously increasing its appeal to people who also want something fun to drive.
After a decade of delivering unconventional design and controversial technology, BMW is moving a little closer to center with its latest models while at the same time installing electronic gee-wizardry to improve efficiency and to provide dynamic custom-tailoring for a greater variety of customers.
Depending on your viewpoint, this is either a smart move to ensure continued viability competing against bigger companies benefiting from greater economies of scale, or it is a confusing move that alienates BMW’s core, fanatical buyer base while making the brand’s cars and SUVs more like the ones sold by every other company.
Clearly, this is a treacherous time for BMW, the second best-selling luxury marque in the U.S., and it must tread carefully between serving loyal enthusiasts and building products with mass-market appeal. Is that possible? I spent a week with a 2014 BMW 435i in order to answer that question.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
For this test, BMW supplied me with a 435i that was clearly specified for an enthusiast driver rather than a luxury buyer. The price started at $46,925, including a $925 destination charge, which amounts to a $2,600 premium over a BMW 335i sedan.
To this, my test car added a Premium Package ($2,200 – leather seats with power lumbar support, Comfort Access passive entry system, satellite radio), an M Sport Line Package ($3,100 – sport seats, M steering wheel design, aerodynamics kit, Adaptive M Suspension, 19-inch M Sport aluminum wheels, Shadowline exterior trim, Pearl interior highlight trim, Anthracite headliner), a Dynamic Handling Package ($1,000 – Variable Sport Steering), and M Sport brakes ($625). The car pictured here is painted Melbourne Red Metallic ($550), included Dark Burl Walnut interior trim, and wore a window sticker of $55,325.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
Thanks to the upgraded paint, the appealing 19-inch aluminum wheels, and genuinely attractive design and proportions, my BMW 435i test car was good-looking. Still, as I was driving up Interstate 5 between San Diego and Orange County, a gray Audi S5 sped by me, sunlit against rolling green mountains. Now that’s a great-looking car.
In recent years, BMW interior design has adopted a philosophy dictating distinct driver and passenger zones delineated by the shapes and placement of the trim on the dashboard and center console. I like the approach, which adds style to vehicles previously known for austerity.
My 435i test car included tan carpets and mats to match the Venetian Beige leather, but my preference here would be for black carpets and mats in order to hide dirt and create more of a two-tone appearance. BMW offers black carpets with every other leather color except for Venetian Beige.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
As a part of the M Sport Line Package, my 435i came with an M steering wheel with large paddle shifters, as well as front sport seats with larger bolsters and manual thigh extensions, wrapped in leather that felt less supple than expected. In my experience, the seats did an excellent job of holding me in place as I pitched the 435i into corner after corner, and the M steering wheel proved excellent to grip. However, despite the thigh bolster extensions, I still felt like I couldn’t dial in the exact mix of cushion height and thigh support that I prefer.
BMW mounts the transmission’s paddle shifters to the steering wheel. On the one hand, this is not an ideal approach because it can be harder to access them when the steering wheel is turned. On the other hand, it can be argued that downshifts ought to be executed prior to corner turn-in, and upshifts really ought to wait until you’ve begun unwinding the steering wheel. In any case, BMW’s Variable Sport Steering makes this a non-issue, as the driver needn’t turn the wheel much to get around corners.
If you’re thinking about carrying adults in the 435i’s rear seat, know that it is far more spacious than you might expect given the car’s coupe body style and sleek roofline. With the driver’s seat set to my comfort, I fit with no problem at all, and I’m not exactly the smallest guy on the planet. Getting out isn’t the easiest thing in the world, though, and due to the car’s long doors it is tough to load people, even into the front seat, in a world where parking spaces shrink in size with the erection of each new strip mall.
Despite the relatively light load of luxury upgrades, my test car’s interior materials were rendered in pleasing tones and textures, and they looked and felt good to the touch. The sizable 15.7 cu.-ft. trunk easily swallows a couple of roll-aboards and a couple of computer bags, and if you’ve got lots more stuff than that to carry the seatbacks offer a 40/20/40-split folding design. The middle section includes a large ski-pass-thru, so if you get a 4 Series with xDrive all-wheel drive and you want to go skiing with another couple, no problem.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
As I mentioned previously, my 435i test car was equipped to appeal to a driving enthusiast and not a luxury car buyer. That’s one reason why my passenger for a 3-hour road trip was flabbergasted by the as-tested price. At $55,325, this car lacked navigation, smartphone integration, premium sound, or any of the available safety systems. There wasn’t even a reversing camera.
I tried to explain. Really, I did. But he just shook his head, deciding that no matter how cool he thought the car looked on the outside, and no matter how much fun the car might be to drive, there was no way he would pay 55 grand for one that was equipped like mine.
Personally, the lack of extras didn’t bother me because I value driving dynamics and prefer simplicity. Simplicity certainly describes the basic version of iDrive installed in this particular example of the car, one that is quite easy to navigate once you’ve acclimated to how the system works. Still, it sure would be nice to tuck the screen away, forget about the center control knob, and get a stereo tuning knob to go with the power/volume knob and the row of pre-set station buttons.
Secondary switchgear is sometimes confusing for the uninitiated, but with experimentation and practice, everything within the 435i becomes second nature, allowing the driver to focus on the task at hand.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Because my test car was outfitted to provide maximum performance at minimum cost, it did not have the safety-related options that can be added to a 435i. The absentee list included parking sensors, a reversing camera, adaptive LED headlights, automatic high-beam headlights, and a Side and Top View Camera system. Also missing in action were the available Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go technology, and the Active Driving Assistant technology with forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems. Add all of this stuff to a 435i, and you’re spending another $5,950.
If you’re interested in learning how the 4 Series performs in crash tests, it’s going to be a wait. Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had performed crash tests on this model as this review was written.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
BMW installs a turbocharged, direct-injected, 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder engine under the hood of the 435i, one generating 300 horsepower between 5,800 rpm and 6,000 rpm and 300 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,300 rpm to 5,000 rpm. Automatic stop/start technology is standard, shutting the engine off when the car idling in traffic or at an intersection in order to conserve fuel, and by using the Driving Dynamics Control system the driver can select between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes.
As far as Driving Dynamics Control is concerned, if you want your 435i to drive like a traditional BMW, keep it in Sport mode. If you want to maximize fuel economy, select Eco Pro mode, but keep in mind that this latter choice makes the car feel sluggish, like its been drugged in order to keep it docile. Comfort mode delivers a fairly relaxed driving character, and Sport+ mode is best used on a track or similar controlled environment where it is safe for the driver to explore the car’s prodigious limits.
I like the Driving Dynamics Control system, and primarily used Eco Pro while cruising on the highway and Sport whenever I took an off-ramp and headed into the city, the suburbs, or the country. One thing I didn’t like much about the 435i was the automatic stop/start system. BMW has some work to do in terms of improving response, because more often than not I could move my foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal before the engine had re-started, creating both a delay and a significant recurring irritant about driving this car.
Rather than cater to the fantasies of a minority of potential buyers, BMW elects to deliver what most of its customers actually want in a transmission, and a clutch pedal ain’t on that list. Even the most enthusiastic of drivers can’t stand shifting their own gears through traffic-clogged streets and highways, day in and day out. That’s why an 8-speed Sport Automatic transmission is standard equipment for the 435i, delivering the power to the rear wheels, which is how most BMW buyers like it. A traditional manual gearbox is still available at no cost, but chances are you’ll need to special order one. Few dealers are likely to stock a stick.
Expectedly, especially in light of a 3,580-lb. base curb weight, the 435i is smooth-revving rocket, zooming to 60 mph in five seconds flat. That’s with the standard Sport Automatic transmission. Get the manual gearbox, and it takes 5.3 seconds.
Now, before your eyes well up with tears, you should know that you’re not missing much by eschewing the manual, other than a sore knee while driving in traffic. Put the 435i in Sport or Sport+ driving mode, activate the paddle shifters, and you’re going to cover ground rapidly and with a minimum number of shifts if you’re tackling the kind of road that I like, one with twists and turns and posted speed limits ranging from 20 mph in corners to 55 mph on the straights.
The engine’s massive power curve is one reason why you might not miss rowing your own gears. Maximum torque is almost always ready and willing to sling the 435i to extra-legal velocity, starting from just 1,300 rpm and running all the way to five grand. Then, just as the torque is dropping off, peak horsepower kicks in from 5,800 rpm to 6,000 rpm. With this power spread, and because the engine revs sweetly and smoothly all the way to redline in advance of the braking zone for the next corner, frequent shifting isn’t necessary on a favorite back road. Seriously, if you’re using more than second, third, and maybe fourth gear on the kind of road this car is designed to conquer, you’re making too much of an effort.
I’ll give two big thumbs up to the optional Variable Sport Steering, a setup which appears to address complaints about BMW’s electric steering. I still feel like the steering is a little too light right on center, but otherwise I’ve got no complaints. Quick and accurate, the steering feels nearly as good as what I remember from the previous-generation 3 Series Coupe.
I’m not very excited about the M Adaptive Suspension, though. Most of the time, the suspension performed beautifully, taking the edge off what might otherwise have been a stiff ride quality when driving down the freeway or on city streets while also delivering the composure synonymous with the brand on writhing back roads.
However, on one of my favorite roads in the world it didn’t feel as planted or as connected as I recall of previous BMWs. On at least one occasion, body motion failed to match what the wheels were encountering at the road surface, masking critical signals to a driver exploring the car’s handling capabilities. On another, the car encountered a large bump where the mountain road had been repaired and re-paved, and the suspension was a split second behind in terms of managing this impact. As a result of these unexpected side effects of the adaptive suspension, I think I’d rather stick with the standard setup.
I’m also not sure I’d upgrade to the M Sport braking system, which comes with blue calipers whether you want ‘em or not. They do provide extraordinary braking capability, but they also generate an ungodly amount of brake dust on the gorgeous wheels. I guess that if you’re planning to abuse the car on a regular basis, you’d want this upgrade. If not, save the money.
2014 BMW 435i Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
Historically, BMW has generated a deserved reputation for building surgically precise driving tools capable of making their drivers grin with every twist of the ignition, every turn of the tiller, and every thrust of the accelerator pedal. In recent years, though, the automaker has faced an increasing number of credible challengers to the title of the Ultimate Driving Machine.
There’s no question that the 435i is a blast to drive, and it doesn’t matter where you’re driving it. But BMW is no longer the sole purveyor of good times behind a steering wheel, and lots of people aren’t crazy about the brand’s styling, it’s eroding value proposition, or how it’s in-car technology works. Plus, lots of the people who buy BMWs today don’t care about anything aside from the blue-and-white propeller badge that’s sitting on the edge of the hood, proclaiming to the world that they’ve made it (to one degree or another).
As evidenced by my week driving the impressive 435i, BMW hasn’t abandoned the performance traits around which it built its reputation and enthusiast following. Neither, however, does a modern BMW stand clearly apart from direct competitors in this regard, placing the automaker’s products on more equal footing with the competition than ever before. That means that if you like the way the 4 Series looks, and you like the interior, and you like the features and technology, and you like the price tag, you’ll enjoy owning this BMW.
If not, there are credible alternatives.
BMW provided the 2014 435i for this review
2014 BMW 435i photos by Christian Wardlaw