BMW 435i xDrive - ultimate driving but ultimately annoying
By Jim Bray
Say what you will about BMW's new naming conventions, the German company still makes vehicles that are terrific to drive. (Click the image to open a slideshow in a new page)
Case in point: the 2014 435i, which used to be the 335i and which still rewards enthusiasts even though they may have to suffer somewhat for their Bavarian art.
The 435 isn't exactly merely a re-badged 335 coupe, but it's mostly that - and that's okay: the 335 coupe was a terrific place for BMW to start. I remember fondly a week's worth of seat time on one a few years ago, and this one is even better - mostly. And now that they're calling the two door 3 a 4 (just like the two door 5 series is, basically, the 6 and the two door 1 series is about to morph into the 2 series), "odds" are your BMW coupe will be "even" more easy to tell apart from its sedan siblings.
On the other hand, BMW is supposed to be introducing a new 4 series Gran Coupe soon which - wait for it - will have four doors! When will the madness end?
Maybe BMW thinks it gives its fans one more thing to, well, "adoor."
However you badge it, the 435i is a fantastic car to drive. The ultimate driving machine? Hard to say, since my experience with such cars as Bugattis, Maseratis, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and the like is sadly limited to, well, none. But of the cars I've driven, the 435i comes pretty close - especially when it's configured (as BMW Canada's sample was) with a manual transmission. I think I'd still take a Porsche, but they have nothing that really goes head to head with the 4.
Available with two choices of engine, the 4 series is wider and sports a longer wheelbase than the former 3 coupe. It's lower, too - and it looks terrific. In my never humble opinion it's BMW's most attractive vehicle right now.
The two engines include the 428i's TwinPower Turbo two liter four cylinder engine - rated at 241 horses and 258 torquish thingies - and the 435i's Twin Power Turbo three liter inline six that pumps out 300 and 300. Both are available with either an eight speed sport automatic or a six speed manual transmission and either rear wheel or the optional xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive system. BMW's sample had the inline six (thank goodness!), the stick shift (ditto!) and the xDrive option, all of which contributed their bits to the driving enjoyment.
BMW's sample also sported M Sport badging, but don't confuse that with the coupe being an M4; in this case - as with Audi's S-Line and, apparently, Lexus' F Sport - it's more a trim level than a performance package. Fortunately, its performance is splendid already.
The manual transmission is one of the best! It shifts sublimely and, thanks to a remarkably light clutch, I liked it even better than Porsche's otherwise-fantastic manuals - and if you're a regular reader of my stuff you not only have my sympathy (and gratitude) but you know that I'm an absolute slut when it comes to things Porsche. But unlike a Porsche, you could sit at a red light all day with the 4's clutch pressed to the floor and your left foot will only get bored, not tired. They should all be like this!
Ditto for the turbos. Usually, even with a twin turbo car, there's still some appreciable turbo lag. But here, if you didn't know it's a turbo you'd be hard pressed to tell, because when you tromp on the gas pedal, the car takes off with very little time spent spooling up.
The suspension would please Goldilocks because, rather than being too soft or too hard, it feels just right. Oh, it's sports car stiff, but it isn't jarring; in fact, it feels perfect considering this car's enthusiast mandate and I wouldn't change a thing about it. And that's in its normal mode! Up the ante via a console-mounted switch and you can access Sport and Sport Plus modes that are even more interesting.
The power-assisted steering is excellent, with great feel. And while it doesn't feel quite as hard wired into your psyche as a Porsche's, it's among the best I've played with in a "non-sports car."
Where the BMW falls down - and every one I've driven recently suffers from the same problems - is in its interfaces. While I'd not think twice about buying a 435i for its driving dynamics, I don't think I could live with one because of how you're forced to interact with it. Oh sure, everything's state of the art, with all the technology you could want (even including apps that have little to do with actually being in a car), but it's really, really frustrating to use.
For example, to get out of the car, you have to pull the door handle twice. The first unlocks it, the second actually opens it. And while BMW's sample featured push button start/stop, you have to jump through hoops to get the darn thing shut down! The first push shuts off the engine, then you have to push it again, with your foot off the brake, for the electronics to shut off. Apparently this is a feature, not a bug - so you can listen to tunes while parked, if you're waiting to pick up someone, for instance. But it's a pain in the buttocks!
Surely there must be a better way to do this. I surfed by a BMW owners' forum to see what those folks thought and it seems the feature varies according to vehicle configuration. One poster said if you hold the start/stop button down for 1.5 seconds (instead of merely pressing it) it shuts down completely - which would be more than satisfactory - but either it didn't work that way in BMW's sample or my attention span is ridiculously short. Or both….
Then there's the iDrive system, which is operated by a cursor control wheel thingy mounted on the center console just out of comfortable reach for a short dude such as me. It's really obtuse. Even a straightforward task such as storing radio presets is a major deal. Why?
Now, you'd probably get used to this if you spend more than a week with the car (and voice control can help to a certain extent), but why would a leading, world class car maker use design logic that's so fuzzy that it becomes a chore shutting the darn thing down? It makes no sense.
And to be fair, you may be able to get the dealer to perform surgery on the car's electronic brain to change certain settings, but I'm not sure it would fix all the issues (I asked a local BMW salesman about it when I had a previous sample and he didn't know!). And that's a shame, because it really is a fantastic car to drive.
As for pricing, the base 2014 BMW 435i coupe starts at $55,600. BMW Canada's sample also came with the $4,900 Premium Package (includes such stuff as an alarm system, rear view camera, auto dimming mirrors, park assist, a nice Harman Kardon audio system, navigation and more), the $2,500 Executive Package (high beam assist, lane departure/collision warning, surround view and head's up display) and the Connected Drive Package ($850, with BMW Online, advanced real time traffic information, Internet, BMW Apps, and more). This added up to an as-driven price of $63,850.
BMW really needs to look at some of its competitors to help ensure they're not only the ultimate driving machines, but the ultimate motor vehicles as well. And while I suspect they aren't losing too many sales because of things that might rub me the wrong way, it just seems to me that, if you're billing yourself as "the ultimate driving machine," it might behoove you to help facilitate drivers keeping both their hands on the steering wheel rather than pounding on the iDrive knob in frustration with one of them.
But it sure does drive beautifully!
Copyright 2014 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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